“Functional Addiction” is Commonplace Among Workaholics and Silicon Valley Engineers
Functional addicts and alcoholics appear okay. They go to work every day, complete projects on time, and even drive well. Most functional addicts are workaholics. Most are well-respected by their peers at work.
Most of the time you’d never know a high functional addict on sight. They’re law enforcement officers, doctors, CEOs, salespeople…people who do their job and (appear to) do it well.
In fact, functional addiction often appears to work great. The problem is, functional addiction works for the user…right up until the moment it stops working. That’s the moment when the user is on a stretcher, carried out of their home or workplace by EMS personnel.
Most functional substance users don’t think they have any issues with their ‘performance enhancing’ activities. However, their damaged hearts, livers, and lungs always have a differing opinion.
How “Pressure Cooker” Work Environments Lead to Drug Use and Functional Addiction
Silicon Valley is one of the most productive work environments in the world. As anyone who has worked here knows, it’s also one of the most demanding! Employees describe tech companies in the Valley as fast-paced, driving, and incredibly demanding. This can include 70+ hour weeks and no time off.
In a 2015 Computerworld article, Silicon Valley’s ‘pressure cooker:’ Thrive or Get Out, the author describes Google’s environment as having ‘world-class chefs cooking free food for its employees; while also setting up nap pods, meditation classes and sandy volleyball courts.’
According to Megan Slabinski, district president of Robert Half Technology: “All those perks – the ping pong tables, the free snacks, the free day care – in the tech industry come with the job because the job is so demanding,” she said. “There’s a level of demand in the tech industry that translates to the work environment.”
This has only gotten worse over time. How Silicon Valley Made Work More Stressful documented punishing business practices, the lack of security in contract-only work, and growing misery.
These types of work environments heap pressure on employees & contractors daily. No surprise that some turn to drug use.
From Bio-Hacking to Drug Addiction
The temptation to ‘get an edge’ on the competition always lingers. In startups, workers are expected to work until projects are complete. This can mean working 24+ hours at a stretch.
Some tech workers bring in sleeping bags to catch a few hours’ rest at the office before deadlines. Productivity techniques called “bio-hacking” help them focus longer, work harder, and stay awake for longer stretches. These “bio-hacks” include meal replacement, mushroom supplements…and performance-enhancing drugs.
How Silicon Valley Workers Progress from “Bio-Hacking” to Functional Addiction
We already know the most widely-used performance enhancer, right? It’s caffeine. Coffee, tea, energy drinks…caffeine is everywhere. While innocuous, caffeine demonstrates how easy it is to progress from ‘a little performance boost’ into becoming a high-functioning drug addict.
Drink enough caffeine over time, and the body develops a tolerance for it. You need to take in more caffeine for the same effect. Just one more cup. Then two.
The same pattern occurs with other, more addictive substances.
What kinds of drugs do functional addicts use? Everything from substances tailored for creativity & memory boosts…all the way to heroin and LSD.
Here’s a list of substances we’ve seen our high-functioning addict clients use:
- Nootropics – A group of ‘supplements’ reputed to enhance brain activity for stamina and creativity. Most are legal, but not tested thoroughly enough to meet FDA standards.
- Adderall – Performance enhancer; a form of amphetamine. Available by prescription only.
- LSD – Reputed to enhance creativity in ‘micro’ doses. LSD is a classified Schedule I drug by the DEA (which means there’s no currently accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse).
- Crystal Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) – Stamina booster. The DEA classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II substance, under the Controlled Substances Act. Side effects can include paranoia, severe insomnia with possible hallucinations, and psychotic episodes!
- Opioids – Pain relief, relaxation. Available by prescription only. Often used to alleviate the side effects of meth use.
- Heroin – Euphoria and pain relief. Often used to alleviate the side effects of meth use. Like meth, the DEA classifies heroin as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Let’s go through an example of the progress into functional addiction. This story comes from a client, anonymized for their protection. “Bill” had a couple of bad weeks at his job. Work piled up. He worked more hours, but couldn’t keep his energy up. A co-worker suggested he take some pills for ‘focus.’ He did, and got through the week.
Then another bad week came up. And another. He took more pills, eventually popping two or three every day. Bill told himself it was a ‘safe’ drug, and he was fine. He focused on his accomplishments…finishing his work, getting the job done.
What Bill didn’t notice was that everything else in his life fell apart. His reliance on the pills caused his wife to leave, and take their young son. Bill just spent more time at work to escape the reality. Taking more pills. Work and drugs…that’s all Bill had.
Until he suffered a heart attack at 43 and had to face reality. He was an addict. A high-functioning addict…but an addict nonetheless.
Is my Friend/Co-Worker a Functional Drug Addict? How to Tell
You may work right alongside a high-functioning addict. They may display a few questionable behaviors, yet remain ‘normal enough’ to most people.
If you’re concerned about a hard-working friend or co-worker, remember…it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them. If you do see behaviors like the following, just be supportive and encouraging.
- Obsessive behavior, usually involving work quality or hours
- Failing memory
- Neglecting some responsibilities or personal commitments
- Minimizing their failures
- Praising their own substance use, e.g. “This pill gives me an edge.”
- Deteriorating appearance. This is a late-stage symptom; high functioning addicts usually pay close attention to their appearance, especially if it’s a factor in their work (e.g. big sales).
Do You Work in Silicon Valley as a “Functional Addict” and Need Help?
Just making it to work every day is not an indicator of physical or emotional health. Addiction is a terrible disease, no matter how “well” you function when using. Eventually, it catches up to you.
Unless you take a good hard look at your life. You may find you don’t actually need the substance to turn in great work.
For help in looking honestly at your lifestyle, take our online Addiction Self-Assessment below.
If the assessment indicates you may have a substance abuse problem, even if you don’t feel like you do, then you may be a functional addict. The good news – there is treatment to help you.
Support Systems Homes (SSH) is an internationally accredited, state-licensed substance abuse treatment program dedicated to the innovative and cost-effective treatment of chemical dependency (drug/alcohol addiction).
Based in Northern California’s Bay Area, our San Jose rehab facilities provide confidential recovery services with a comprehensive structure of addiction treatment programs, sober living environments, and services for those suffering from the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction.
Support Systems Homes has drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs of the highest quality for the most affordable rates. We have a full spectrum of drug & alcohol treatment services…including custom programs for functional addicts.
How to Get Started: Assessment and Insurance Verification
please call us 24/7 at 408-370-9688. Or use the forms below.
Start your journey home to sobriety today.
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