Heroin abuse is not always obvious. For some, heroin addiction looks like going to work, running by the grocery store, and doing other normal tasks, then going home to use heroin.
This is a high-functioning heroin addict*, someone who maintains a facade of normalcy in the face of addiction.
Though we often associate heroin addiction with images of people at rock bottom, most people who abuse heroin begin as high functioning, attempting to maintain an appearance of normalcy.
*Disclaimer: ‘Heroin addict’ is an outdated, stigmatic term. We try to remove all stigmatic language as much as possible within our content but also aim to cover all topics related to addiction and addiction treatment. We will use such terms only in this context.
What Is A High Functioning Heroin Addict?
A high functioning heroin addict is someone who abuses heroin but does not give the impression of having an addiction.
Many functioning people with addictions have families and significant others. They could be your coworker, your neighbor, or a family member.
These individuals will do everything they can to keep their heroin addiction a secret, which can end up hurting them and the ones they love in the long run.
But addiction is powerful, and a high-functioning individual may have become so accustomed to a certain lifestyle of substance abuse that it’s extremely difficult to stop on their own.
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What Does A High Functioning Heroin Addict Look Like?
There is no definition of what a high-functioning individual with a heroin addiction looks like. Though, there are usually a few common traits in those who are high-functioning.
They Are Often Employed
A high-functioning heroin addict usually holds down a job.
They sometimes work even harder than the average person to keep up their identity as a normally functioning individual.
Finances are also an important part of maintaining an addiction, so staying employed is essential.
According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the job is the last thing to go for a functioning person using heroin.
A person abusing heroin must keep a steady income to fund their addiction. Because of this, you’ll often find these individuals employed with stable careers.
They Often Appear Healthy
It’s normal for high-functioning heroin addicts to find just the right amount of the substance to where they do not experience withdrawal and therefore look healthy to most people.
They might regularly use lower doses to maintain a steady flow of the substance without doing too much or stopping suddenly so withdrawal doesn’t set in.
However, this escape from withdrawal symptoms will only last as long as a person can keep up the same dose of heroin. As soon as the drug is removed, severe withdrawal can occur.
A person may also be able to hide their scars from shooting up or choose to smoke or snort heroin instead to avoid people seeing visible signs of heroin use.
Subtle Signs Of A High-Functioning Heroin Addict
Though a person may be high-functioning, there are certain identifiable factors of someone who abuses heroin.
These signs are often very subtle and not noticeable to someone who isn’t looking for it or who is not aware of what a heroin addiction could look like.
Here are a few behavioral and social warning signs of a high-functioning heroin addict:
- making up excuses for behavior or physical bruising (“tracks”)
- pulling away from friends or family
- always wearing long-sleeved shirts or jackets
- becoming isolated
- losing interest in hobbies
Here are some of the physical warning signs of a high-functioning heroin addict:
- chapped lips and dry mouth
- withdrawal symptoms, which often look like a bad flu
- flushed skin
- nausea and vomiting
Debunking The Term “High Functioning Heroin Addict”
One argument made by experts from the Canadian Medical Association Journal is that using the term “high functioning addict” dismisses the heart of the issue completely.
The term focuses solely on the functionality of an individual as the primary indicator of assessing how well a person is doing while using drugs.
In reality, there is no safe level of heroin abuse or any substance. Addiction has immense impacts on families, friends, and the addicted person’s overall well-being.
Being high-functioning does not mean that a person is well or that they do not need help in treating their addiction.
Treating A High-Functioning Heroin Addiction
When a person can go to school, keep a job, and pursue other regular life activities, they may not believe they need help for their substance use.
For them, the addiction may be a way to deal with pain, escape from stress, or feel better in some way. But this can be a damaging thought process, because long-term use of any drug is not safe.
If you believe yourself or a loved one to be a high-functioning heroin addict, it’s possible to treat the addiction before hitting rock bottom.
Several addiction treatment programs can help, including:
Going To Rehab With A Job
A healthcare professional may recommend a long-term treatment option such as inpatient rehab. This can require leaving work for weeks or months, which can be difficult for most.
Many people seeking recovery fear the social and financial repercussions of entering addiction treatment or feel they can’t leave their job for weeks at a time and be able to keep it.
But there are laws that protect people from being discriminated against for seeking necessary addiction treatment.
While it may be difficult at the moment, getting help for heroin addiction while employed can provide the important stabilizing framework to further career goals and ambitions.
Find Treatment For High Functioning Heroin Addiction
It is possible to treat an addiction whether a person has reached rock bottom or remains high-functioning.
If the characteristics of the high-functioning heroin addict feel applicable to your life or the life of someone you love, addiction treatment may be the right option.
When you call our helpline, you’ll be able to speak with someone who understands the actions and behaviors of high-functioning people with addiction.
We’ll connect you to an addiction treatment center that can help. Call us today to learn more about your options in treating heroin addiction.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- CNN Health—Inside the secret lives of functioning heroin addicts
- U.S. National Library of Medicine—“High-functioning addicts”: intervening before trouble hits
- U.S. National Library of Medicine—“I Always Kept a Job”: Income Generation, Heroin Use and Economic Uncertainty in 21st Century Detroit