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Are You a High-functioning Drug Addict?

High-functioning drug addicts and alcoholics are people who have a substance use disorder but can still manage their day-to-day activities.

The stereotypical addict or alcoholic is someone who is without options. They might have multiple DUIs, relationship problems, are unemployed and don’t have a place to live.

A high-functioning drug addict or alcoholic may not have any of these consequences. This is a common problem with self-identifying if you are an addict or alcoholic.

Often someone who questions if he or she has a problem with addiction will compare themselves with the consequences of another addict or alcoholic.

Often addicts comparing their bottom will think, “I’m not as bad as that person,” or “I haven’t had a DUI or lost my job.” This can justify an addicted person with few consequences that he or she does not have a problem.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, on the other hand, doesn’t discuss the many consequences alcoholics have as a qualification for chronic alcoholism.


We help people with addictions and substance use disorders recover. Get mindfulness training and learn the 12 Steps for deeper healing.


Two Qualifications for Addiction or Alcoholism

There are only two requirements for addiction and alcoholism.

“If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or, if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.” Alcoholics Anonymous Page 44

You Cannot Quit Entirely

If you are a high-functioning alcoholic, you can get your work finished while on a bender. However, if you are a true alcoholic, then you have tried to stop before on your own.

But inevitably, you started drinking or using again. The weird thing is that you’re probably not even sure why you started again. But you did, and it is hard to stay sober.

Little Control Over the Amount You Take

The book says that you either tried to stop before or cannot control the amount you take when you start drinking or using.

In other words, you do way more than you intended. You do way more than you thought you were going to do.

Often when we do way more than we intended, consequences follow. But these consequences don’t happen to everyone.

Either/or

Notice the use of the language. The book uses the word “or” instead of the word “and.”

To identify as someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction, you only need to identify with either not controlling the amount you take or not quitting entirely.

High-functioning drug addicts are no different; they only need to have one of the above characteristics to identify themselves with substance abuse problems.

Why Only Two Qualifications for Alcohol or Drug Abuse

The American Medical Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine define addiction and alcoholism as a disease.

According to the AMA, a disease impairs the normal function of some aspect of the body and has signs and symptoms.

Instead of focusing on the consequences of drinking and using, someone should focus on the two signs and symptoms, controlling the amount you take and stopping entirely.

These are the two symptoms that are consistent with every alcoholic or addict.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine: “Addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

It’s a Chronic Problem

No matter if you are high-functioning or someone who has had many consequences, addiction will treat us the same.

If you stop, you are going to eventually start again if you are not properly treating it. Addiction is a chronic disease, and if it is not properly treated, it will return with relapse.

While rehab programs can help family members and people with withdrawal symptoms, recovery is not required.

However, if you have mental health problems, then a treatment program might be best for you to treat both at the same time.

Admitting We’re An Alcoholic

Admitting we are alcoholics or addicts can be difficult. No one wants to think that we are different from others. Many drinkers have tried to control and enjoy their drinking and using.

The Big Book sums it up bets on page 30.

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.


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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
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John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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