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What Does Addiction Look Like? A High Functioning Addict Shares His Story

Photo credit: Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Photo credit: Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

When it comes to identifying signs of addiction, it’s not always easy to see them in the ones we love, or the people we admire for their success. But, in truth, no one is immune to addiction, regardless of success.

In fact, nearly 17.6 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Further research even points to 20 percent of alcoholics being ‘high-functioning addicts,’ well-educated professionals with a solid income and professional career.

No one knows that more clearly than Douglas Tieman, president and CEO of Caron Treatment Centers. In March 2008, after working with addicts for nearly 25 years, he found himself working to recover.

“High-functioning alcoholics look successful—they have careers and jobs, they do well professionally—they succeed in spite of it,” says Tieman. “Their behaviors and problems caused by their drinking continue to be tolerated by family and friends because they manage to maintain success in their careers.”

Tieman concealed his addiction by working long hours in the office, hid his habits by traveling for work, and was able to dodge any questions by maintaining his success. From the outside looking in most people wouldn’t have been able to tell he was an addict, but those that knew him closely began to notice something was different about his demeanor.

Tieman, like many high-functioning alcoholics, was in deep denial about his addiction. High-functioning alcoholics are able to maintain their appearance of success in spite of addiction and, in some instances, have co-workers or friends that help them conceal the consequences of drinking by unconsciously encouraging or enabling the behavior. Not only was Tieman convincing others he was fine, he was convincing himself. But slowly he realized that the successes he was so accustomed to were slipping away.

Tieman’s story and his journey to sobriety show that even the most successful people may be fighting a hard battle when it comes to addressing addiction.

“At Caron Treatment Centers, we seek out the root causes of a person’s problems and have a wide variety of tools to make treatment individualized for everyone—not just executives,” says Tieman. “Individualized programs make a big difference in the level of comfort our patients and their families have going through treatment because each family has unique circumstances.”

Having programs specific to a person’s background, beliefs, career, or age is key for successful recovery and long-term sobriety by creating a level of comfort throughout their journey.

“We also treat co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression, and multiple addictions such as gambling and work addiction—all of which, if left untreated, can continue to fuel a patient’s addictive behavior,” notes Tieman.

“It’s a whole-person approach to helping the addicted individual and their family become and stay healthy,” says Tieman.

Addiction isn’t an easy issue to address with an executive—after all, it’s their skill to rationalize and negotiate that likely lead to their success. But these traits are what can also make addressing addiction so intimidating and difficult for their loved ones. With a strong support system, which may include an interventionist or team of trained professionals who are able to look past these characteristics, you’ll have the help you need to broach the topic with your loved one. The team at Caron Treatment Centers is there to help you and your loved one every step of the way.

If you suspect a loved one is struggling with drug use or addiction, don’t wait until it’s too late. For more information on taking the next steps toward recovery, visit Caron Treatment Centers.