In South Africa, just as in many other parts of the world, there exist misconceptions and myths about addiction, often fueled by media portrayals and individual assumptions. One common myth pertains to the physical and mental state one must reach to be considered addicted.

The prevailing stereotype of addiction often paints a picture of rock-bottom scenarios: destitution, homelessness, and near-death experiences. While these extreme situations can indeed serve as catalysts for change, one need not wait until hitting rock bottom to seek help.

It is entirely possible to grapple with addiction or a substance use disorder (SUD) while still maintaining a home, a job, and financial stability. Many individuals navigate their daily lives, attend appointments, and appear responsible, all while living under the shadow of addiction.

Some may use their functional exterior as evidence they don’t have a problem, while others downplay their use, labeling it “functional addiction.” However, this can be perilous, and often, friends and family only discover the truth when it’s too late. Addiction typically worsens when left untreated, making it crucial to acknowledge the problem sooner rather than later.

Functional addiction manifests differently for each person, but several key signs can help identify it, whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one:

  1. Regularly Consuming Alcohol or Drugs

    The most evident sign of functional addiction is a frequent and consistent consumption of alcohol or drugs. It’s essential to note that individuals with high tolerance levels may appear normal even after consuming significant amounts.

    Over time, they become adept at masking the more apparent signs of intoxication. Excuses and lies about consumption levels are common as they seek to downplay their habit.

    You might often hear justifications like, “I had a tough day at work,” or “I’m under a lot of stress,” as they constantly have a drink in hand.

  2. Social Life Centered Around Alcohol or Drugs

    Beyond consuming substances regularly at home or in solitude, you may notice a pattern of gravitating toward events where alcohol and drugs are prevalent.

    Conversely, they might become less interested in attending events that don’t facilitate substance use, such as family outings. Socializing without chemical assistance may prove challenging for them, resulting in a noticeable personality shift at such gatherings.

  3. Secretive Behavior

    People dealing with functional addiction often go to great lengths to conceal their habit. While this deception may work with casual acquaintances and co-workers, close friends and family members are more likely to notice inconsistencies in their behavior.

    You might discover alcohol hidden in unusual places, like garden sheds, glove compartments, or drawers. Physical signs, such as nosebleeds, congestion, or the scent of alcohol out of context, may also be evident. When questioned, they may have prepared excuses or offer partial truths, minimizing their consumption levels.

  4. Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

    A hallmark sign of addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms arise when prolonged substance use disrupts the body’s neurotransmitter balance, leading it to depend on the substance for regulation.

    While the specific withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance, they often share a common theme: a distressed mental state. You might observe sudden mood swings that appear out of character and happen unpredictably. They may also exhibit extreme depression or anxiety when they haven’t had their substance of choice but experience a sudden uplift in mood when they get a chance to use it again.

In South Africa, as elsewhere, it’s crucial to recognize that addiction can take many forms, and seeking help sooner rather than later can make a significant difference in one’s journey to recovery.

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