June 20, 2024

A Functioning Addict’s Recovery Guide.


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What is a “functioning addict?”

I’ve met a few, and I am one. I am addicted to food. I use it to soothe myself. I often turn to food for enjoyment, but I also use it to quell loneliness and boredom. I use it for comfort. I know I do this, but I continue to function in a way that makes it appear I do not have a “problem.” I am a responsible addict.

Someone close to me was a “drinker,” which is a nice way of saying they were an alcoholic. They drank alcohol every day. But…they also functioned. They went to work on time, they enjoyed their hobbies, and they weren’t abusive. They were a happy person. Their daily alcohol consumption was contained at home, and they weren’t going to bed loaded each night, but addiction is addiction. Their drinking didn’t tear their life apart, but, they were still an “addict.”

There are lots of us hiding in plain sight.

“Functioning addicts” (alcohol, food, shopping, porn, video games, phone scrolling, marijuana, and so on) have these five traits in common:

1. Our addictions are sporadic or kept in check just enough to feel controlled. We don’t drink all the time. Sometimes we binge, but it isn’t ruining our life.

2. We tend to joke about the problem. We make it light while bringing it out into the light. “I better stop before someone thinks I have a problem!” is something we might say.

3. We justify and downplay it as a coping mechanism for other stresses. “I just need to take the edge off because I’ve had a really hard day! Can you blame me?”

4. We use it as a social amplifier or a solitary time filler. “I am bored to death and it makes me feel better.” “I can’t talk to people unless I’ve had a drink.” “Retail therapy is the best shot of dopamine out there!” “One more slice isn’t going to kill me, and besides, I’m out with my friends and I want to have fun.”

5. We’ve been able to close the door on our addictions completely, at regular intervals, before they sneak back into our house.

Can you relate?

Addictions that don’t ruin our lives are still addictions. It’s like having a miracle instant cure in our back pocket, at the ready when we need it. When the urge strikes, our addiction is there for us. But, if it’s something we know isn’t very good for us, why not try to improve? Why not try to live our lives without crutches? How do we cut way back or eliminate our addictions completely?

Here are five things we can do:

1. Own it.

Be accountable for it, and give it a name. Until our problem is defined instead of excused it will stay “at the ready.” It may not affect our lives to the point of ruin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on eliminating it in order to improve ourselves.

2. Forget about what others say about our issue.

Our friends and family will not help us overcome. In fact, they may roll their eyes and think we are making big deal about something small they don’t see as a problem. It’s not up to others to decide what we want to change.

3. Write down three truths.

1. I use [blank] to kill time or curb boredom.
2. I use [blank] to avoid doing work or feeling my feelings.
3. I use [blank] for fun because I can’t seem have fun without the rush of [blank].

4. Remove the fuel.

Disconnect from those who encourage our addictions, the substance itself, the apps that keep us “going back” for more (like gambling and TikTok, for example), the route home that takes us past our favorite fast food establishment. We can work to resist the social outings and instances that trigger our addictions.

5. Make friends with our FOMO.

The fear of missing out is a real thing. Getting over it is a huge obstacle. We need to be better friends with the fact that we may not want to or be able to do absolutely everything. If we want to stop drinking, we need to go to less parties, or have a plan in place for when we do. And we don’t need to talk about it. Telling everyone we are “quitting” something or going into a restrictive mode is often the kiss of death.

So many of us go about our daily business but continue to “use” our substances and actions of choice when we feel the necessity creep up. It’s possible to improve the way we deal with life’s ups and downs, but to do so we must identify the crutches we use to avoid the feelings we don’t want (loneliness, boredom, anxiety), and the ways we falsely cull the ones we do (euphoria, release, satiation).

The operative question is: what do we use?

Life shouldn’t be about functioning with our addictions; it should be about finding the best version of ourselves! When I think of the best version of me, it does not include my addiction to food.

To feel like a whole person, we must quest to lay ourselves bare. No addiction, no attachment, no masks, no blocking the feelings that come when we aren’t comfortable.

Crutches don’t hold us up; they are the things we lean on. When we venture to journey without them, we live our best life.


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