Everyone has their secrets. Sometimes they are small — like when you steal that really tasty snack from the refrigerator at work that you know isn’t yours.
But some are big. Some secrets eat away at you until you have nothing left. Some secrets ruin your life and also the lives’ of your loved ones.
That’s the kind of secret I had.
I was addicted to drugs for 10 years of my life, and I hid it from my family and everyone I knew.
At least I thought I hid it.
I was a high functioning addict — meaning it looked like I had everything together on the outside, but really my life was consumed by my addiction. I thought if I could still hold a job, pay my bills, and act normally around my family, then I wasn’t truly an addict.
What I didn’t know is that addiction doesn’t work like that. If you are using a substance on a regular basis, even after you’ve declared to stop, you are an addict.
After the years of denial, my secret caught up with me, and it almost cost me my life. I knew I had to change. So I’ll let you in on my secret so you know that you can change too and that there is hope for addicts if you choose to get sober and turn your life around.
Keep reading if you are struggling with drug addiction or if you think a loved one may be a high-functioning addict.
How It Started: The Opioid Trap
I am a 31-year-old man from Bellevue, Washington. I had the typical, Pacific Northwest suburban upbringing. I grew up in a middle-class family, without needing for anything.
My childhood was full of bike rides, hikes, and camping trips with my parents. I filled my free time with baseball practice, video games, homework, and riding around with my friends. I studied, got decent grades, took all the right tests, and got into a decent college.
Like I said, the classic suburban existence.
But that all changed after my first year of college.
I was 19 years old, and I was driving with a friend late at night. As we drove through an intersection, a car ran a red light and t-boned us. The driver side, my side, took the brunt of the impact. I suffered a broken leg, fractured collarbone, and head trauma.
It took over a year to recover from my injuries. But there was a much more destructive disease that would last a lot longer than the injuries I had from the accident.
The doctors prescribed me the opioid Oxycontin to manage the pain of my broken bones. I was taking the prescribed amount originally, but the pain was excruciating, so the doctor upped my dosage, and my tolerance built up.
When my prescription ran out, I felt terrible; physically and mentally. I had experienced the high of the drug, and I needed more. Since my first doctor wouldn’t prescribe me more, I started “doctor shopping.” I found a new doctor, described my pain and needs to them, and I got a new prescription. And when that prescription ran out, I found a new doctor who would give me more.
I told myself that it was because I really needed it. I was still feeling pain in my collarbone from the accident, and I needed this to help me recover. I couldn’t go to school feeling like this. I needed to be on top of my game to get good grades. Yet, I hid my doctor shopping and painkillers from my friends and family.
That was the summer that started my opioid addiction.
The Evolution of My Addiction
I stayed in college and did well in my classes, all while still using. I felt like I was on cloud nine. I felt like the drugs were helping me stay on task. While all my friends were struggling, I was completing my tasks, keeping up with my social life, and I even had a job. I went to college close to home, so I visited my parents frequently.
And while I appeared to be the epitome of a successful college student on the outside, on the inside my opioid addiction was slowly starting to take over.
Doctor shopping worked for a while, but it became tiring, and I had exhausted my resources. So I did some research, and I found someone on campus who sold Oxycontin pills for cheap.
It was an easy solution. Although I spent more money, the pills were accessible. And nobody knew. It all stayed between me and my dealer. I was really careful to use in the right places, at the right times, and hide all evidence.
I sailed through college and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. I saw my whole future ahead of me.
I was completely unaware that my addiction would soon take hold of many of those years for me. I didn’t see myself as an addict at that point. I didn’t think it was affecting any other part of my life besides my wallet, but I was about to start a new job and with a full-time salary. I convinced myself that my drug abuse was helping me.
I found a sales job in Seattle, which is close to my hometown. I decided to move back in with my parents to save some money and focus on my new career. I was close to my parents and loved spending time with them, so it was a relatively easy move. They were so proud of me, and the hard work of college was about to pay off. All I had to do was hide my opioid addiction from them.
When I started working, I was at the peak of high functioning addiction. To my co-workers, I was a dedicated, bright-eyed new employee. To my parents, I was hard-working. Even though we were close, they had no idea I would use the excuse of working late to get more pills from my supplier to sustain my high. And I was still very careful to hide or dispose of anything that would give me away as an addict. In my mind, my addiction wasn’t affecting our relationship, so it didn’t matter that I was keeping this huge secret from them.
I never thought of telling anyone at this point because I was doing so well. Sure, I was stressed, but so is every other adult out there.
But, then the reality of the numbers hit me, and I realized this wasn’t going to be the simple path to success that I thought it would be.
I was in an entry-level sales position. I was constantly stressed about doing well and making my numbers. I would work late and come in early, which looked like determination, but it was really just me trying to stay on top of my sales to get enough money to use.
I wasn’t making the salary I had expected to, even with the extra effort.
The stress over money continued when I started paying off my student loans. I was never going to afford to move out of my parents’ house.
And then, of course, there was the cost of the Oxycontin that I was continuing to buy from my dealer. I needed it. The stress of the job along with the physical dependency had me craving a fix more often than before. Even though I was struggling, the senior staff members were noticing my determination to get my work done. I knew that I just needed a little extra boost and I would be living the dream.
I was getting desperate, and I knew I had to do something. The sensible thing would have been to get off the opioids and stop paying for them. Instead, I went deeper into the dark hole that is an addiction.
One night, when I was “working late” with my dealer, I started explaining my money problems to him.
“That’s easy, man!” he told me. “If you’re looking for something that can get you high for cheap, I got some smack.”
Of course, I knew about heroin, but I never thought I’d end up using it. I always associated it with junkies living on the street. But I was running out of money, and this would be less than half the price of my opioid pills. I had to figure out some way to stay productive and make money too, or else I would end up on the street like the “real” drug addicts.
He had it right there — just some white powder in a bag. So I thought I’d just try it to see. And we did.
That hit changed everything. At that moment, I felt instant euphoria — so much more intense than what I felt with Oxycontin. It was like blissful oblivion to the world around me. All I was focused on then was that feeling. And I knew I needed to feel it again.
What I didn’t know was that it would send me into a freefall from the mountain of life I thought I was on top of. I knew I had money problems, but I finished college, I had a career and a plan that I needed to follow through with.
But after that first hit of heroin. It was all downhill.
The Facade of a High Functioning Addict
In theory, the switch to heroin was fairly easy. I went to the same dealer, but instead, I got a white powder (sometimes brown) instead of a pill.
Well, it started with just powder. Until I started needing Adderall as well to bring me back up and give me energy after using heroin, so I got the powder and a pill.
This combination called a “speedball” is meant to give you that perfect balance between relaxation and energy. But really, it’s a perfect balance for addiction and overdose.
Even after the switch from Oxycontin to heroin, I thought I had it all under control. I did my heroin, then popped some Adderall so I could go to work and perform in that sweet spot. I was getting my work done, and none of my co-workers could tell I was high at work basically every day. Or so I thought.
At this point, there should have been no denying in my mind that I was an addict. But I continued to lie to myself. I was careful about using — never in the office, always somewhere off-site on a lunch break or before or after work. It wasn’t affecting my social life either. I had friends outside of work that I hung out with regularly. They never said anything to me. I didn’t act crazy like people think all addicts do. If no one else in my life could tell, and if I kept it “under control,” then I wasn’t really an addict.
But I was ignoring my body’s own warning signs. After some time, I wasn’t using to get high. I was using to feel normal. I didn’t feel those same feelings I did when I first got high. When I didn’t use regularly, I felt the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal.
It would start with excessive sneezing (which I attributed to allergies or a cold), which would evolve to aches and pains all over my body. And then the intense stomach pain. When it was really bad, I would have diarrhea, vomit, or have hot or cold flashes. I took frequent bathroom breaks at work, but so did a lot of other people. And since I still got my work done, no one really knew. It was a big office building, and everyone stuck to their own cubicles, so my warning signs of drug addiction slipped through the cracks.
I didn’t want to admit it, but even then I could feel it. I could feel my life slipping away from me. But since I was a high functioning addict, the facade of a successful life fed my drug abuse. I felt like I needed it to continue to perform at a high level of work.
When I think back to that time now, my addiction was in total control of my life. It controlled my physical body, my mental state, and even the way I related to the world. I can’t believe I ever thought I was still in control.
Then, it all started to unravel. I still thought I was being sly and clever in hiding my addiction. But by that point, I was so deep into heroin that I had to start shooting it to get high and feel normal again. And injecting yourself with heroin daily is pretty hard to cover up.
When I started my job and my heroin addiction, I was still living with my parents. We were close, and I had never kept a secret like this from them before. I felt so guilty, but since I felt like I still had it all under control I didn’t think I really needed to tell them.
After I made some more money, I wanted to prove to them that I was independent. I also wanted to make sure they didn’t catch me in my secret. So I moved out when I was 26.
My job was in Seattle, so I found an apartment downtown. It was close to work, friends, and lots of dealers.
From an outsider’s perspective, I had it all. The nice, city apartment, the sales job downtown, a girlfriend, and social life. I was a well-rounded, functioning adult. I paid my bills on time, and I was starting to pay off my loans now that I was making more money. It also helped that I was buying cheaper heroin.
Black tar heroin, the stuff you shoot, is significantly cheaper than the high quality, fancy stuff. But at that point, I didn’t care. I just needed it to continue to function, feel normal, and keep up my front of having it all together.
In reality, I was a full-blown junkie. Using daily, and buying almost as frequently. Those extra hours my loved ones thought I was putting in at the office were really spent with my dealer, who was quickly becoming one of the people I visited the most. I spent years keeping up this act, thinking that I was fooling everyone.
I continued to keep in touch with my family even after I moved out. My girlfriend Kelly and I went to all the family functions — holidays, birthdays, barbeques, and movie nights.
I invested in nicer clothing that would cover up my track marks, Always long sleeves. I thought if my shirts looked nicer, more fashionable, people would just think that was my style.
My clever tricks worked for a while. And then, I fell so deep into my heroin addiction that everything fell apart.
The Downward Spiral of My Heroin Addiction
My girlfriend Kelly caught on first. She started to notice that every time I came home from working late I would be in a great mood, which would turn into anger after a couple of hours. And when she asked me why I was acting that way, I would get defensive and blow up at her. I would talk about how stressful my job was and how I was working so hard to get sales so that I could take her nice places and treat her well. These fights usually ended with her in tears and me in the bathroom feeling nauseous and then shooting up again while she cried unknowingly.
And I was completely lying. I wasn’t working late, of course, I was out buying and using. And I wasn’t making money to take care of her — I was using all my money to support my addiction.
I tried to be careful about using at home. I kept the drugs, needles, and other equipment in a small box, and then I would dispose of my used needles in a dumpster by work. But I slipped up a few times, and despite my attempts to quickly hide it all, I’m sure she saw.
I even used excuses to cover up my arms with my girlfriend. Even though I was slender and skinny (a side effect of the drugs), I just told her I wasn’t comfortable in my body so I could cover up my arms at all times.
She finally put the pieces together.
She never actually confronted me personally about it, because the fights and the mood swings were enough to drive her away without bringing up the drug abuse. She broke up with me, saying she couldn’t handle my lashing out and that I needed to figure out how to manage my anger. I brushed this off. I was sad, but I knew I still had heroin. I could numb my sadness with that. And I didn’t know that she had figured me out at the time.
But since she was close with my parents, she told them instead. And they did confront me.
That was the scariest moment of my life up until that point. Little did I know the worst was still to come.
My parents invited me over for dinner a few nights later. They didn’t ask me to invite Kelly, which I thought was strange since I hadn’t told them about the breakup. But I was just glad to not have to explain myself and decided to tell them at dinner.
As we sat down to dinner though, they started off the conversation with, “We know what happened with you and Kelly.”
Honestly, I felt relieved at that point. I started to go into my rehearsed explanation about how it just didn’t work out and that she’s a really nice girl, just not “the one” for me.
But my mom stopped me. She said, “No. We know everything. She told us about the heroin.”
My world started spinning around me. I was in shock.
My mom explained how Kelly had figured it out, and one day she decided to follow me home from work to see if her suspicions were true. I had texted Kelly that I was staying late to work, but she was already at my office. I left to go buy and use with my dealer, and she followed me. She saw it all, and then she called my mom to tell her after the breakup.
My mom was crying. My dad was more disappointed than I had ever seen him.
My mom ended the recount of my drug use by saying, “We know. And we want to help you.”
There was no denying it. No way to talk my way out of this. What I should have done was surrendered. I should have been humble, recognized I needed help, and asked for it.
But that’s not what I did. I blew up at them. I stood up and started yelling about Kelly didn’t know anything. That she was the crazy one. She was just upset that we broke up and she was out to get me. My parents tried to get me to calm down, but instead, I just left. I drove away.
They tried calling me, but I refused to answer. I shut myself off from everyone, and I turned to my drugs for support. In my mind, there was no point in trying to get sober now. Even though my parents really cared, I was so angry at them for confronting me like that that I didn’t care about hurting them. Or myself.
It was that mentality – that drugs were my only reliable friend – that almost led me to my death bed.
The Final Straw and Turning Point
After that night with my parents, I went into a heroin binge. When I drove home that night, I stocked up. I didn’t go into work for the next 3 days. I actually didn’t even leave the house. I shot up, sat there in my drugged euphoria, slept, woke up, and used again. Repeat.
It was on that third day holed up in my apartment that I overdosed on heroin to the point where I should have died. I don’t remember anything, and I didn’t feel anything. Those 3 days I was honestly barely alive, so I couldn’t tell the difference.
Meanwhile, my mom had been calling me constantly, and I had ignored every single call. My dad was done with me after the scene I caused at dinner, but my mom wasn’t giving up.
And she’s the only reason I’m alive today.
Since she hadn’t heard from me, she decided to track me down. She called Kelly, who hadn’t heard from me either. She called my boss, who said she hadn’t seen me in three days and I hadn’t called in sick.
At the very moment, I was experiencing a heroin overdose in my apartment, my mom was on the way to see me.
When she walked into my apartment, I was sprawled out on the couch passed out. There were used needles everywhere, my arms and legs were limp, and she told me I looked like I was turning blue.
She immediately called 9-1-1 and were rushed away in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. They injected me with naloxone in the ER, which stopped the effects of my opioid overdose almost instantly, shook me awake, and started my breathing again.
I woke up completely unaware of what had just happened. I remember feeling agitated, sick, confused, and dizzy. They pushed me into a hospital room and I felt my anger rising because I wanted to know what was going on. And then I saw my mom.
She was crying next to me. She looked at me and said, “I’m so happy you’re alive!” and gave me a big hug.
That was the moment it hit me. I had almost died. At 29-years-old, I had almost lost my life to drugs, and my mom had almost lost her son. She didn’t deserve that, and I had so much life left ahead of me. How did I let this happen?
I broke down and cried with her. We held each other in that hospital room and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry.” She clung to me and promised to get me help.
I spent the next 3 days in that hospital room recovering and going through extremely painful withdrawal symptoms. But my mom stayed with me the whole time. She gave me the strength I needed to get through it. She was my reminder of why I couldn’t go back to who I used to be.
We walked out of that hospital together, and I had a completely new perspective on life. From now on, I was going to be in control of my own life — not the drugs. I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but my near-death experience changed me.
The Healing Process
Three years later, and here I am telling you my story as a recovering addict. I’ve been sober for two years, thanks to the dedication of my family and the support I’ve found in my recovery groups.
After leaving the hospital, I decided to move back in with my parents to give myself time to heal and think about my life. I quit my job, and I wanted to focus all my efforts on recovery.
For the first 3 months, I attended activities at an outpatient rehabilitation treatment facility. It was there that I was able to confront my addiction head on. To finally admit to myself that I was an addict. And I was met with grace and understanding from everyone there because they were all struggling like me. While I went through the detox process in the hospital, there are many facilities that offer a medical detox process as part of their program.
The staff at the treatment facility treated me with respect and dignity, and they gave me tools that I needed to control my addiction. I learned what my own triggers and warning signs for using are, and by recognizing them, I could proactively stop the urge to use.
The best thing I did for myself after completing rehab was to start going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. It was there that I found a group of people that really understood me and accepted me. They’ve become my family.
My sponsor’s name is Doug. Doug and I have spent countless hours together hanging out, going on walks, attending sports events, and really getting to know each other. We’ve also spent many hours on the phone as I was breaking down to him, screaming about how I needed to use again. How I couldn’t take it anymore.
And he would remind me of my purpose. Of why I couldn’t do that. And it would calm me.
Doug had such a positive impact on my life and my recovery journey that he inspired me to become a sponsor as well. Now I have the opportunity to help a young man, just like me, regain control of his life.
These programs and recovery tools saved my life, and they can do the same for you or for a loved one. Whether you need to find an alcohol detox and rehab program, or an opioid addiction treatment facility like me, there are resources available to help.
As a recovering addict, I live each day one day at a time. I’m conscious of my tendencies and my disease, but I am grateful for the people who have helped me get my life back on track.
If this story sounds familiar to you, don’t be afraid to get help or confront someone who you think might need help. It could save a life.
5 ways high functioning addicts hide their addiction:
Putting in more hours at the office.
High functioning addicts use their career success as a fuel for their drug use as well as a cover-up. If you notice a loved one constantly working late or going in early, coupled with mood shifts around those times, that could be a sign of drug use.
Excuses to cover up withdrawal symptoms at the workplace.
If you notice a coworker who takes frequent bathroom breaks, complains of cold symptoms or stomach pains, or leaves consistently for lunch but doesn’t comment on eating or doesn’t return with food, they may be covering up a drug addiction.
Heroin addicts specifically will use long sleeves to cover up their track marks. If you notice a friend or coworker who never takes off their jacket or always wears long-sleeves, they may be hiding something.
Blaming others for issues or problems.
Addicts are usually more irritable and easily-frustrated due to withdrawals, and they typically blame someone else for their issues as a way to release emotions and distract attention away from themselves or their own actions. If someone you know is repetitively over-reacting to confrontation or simple questions that show interest in their lives, it could be because of drug abuse.
Multiple side-jobs or money-making schemes.
High functioning addicts are driven by performance and appearance of success, but being a drug addict is expensive to maintain. If you’ve noticed someone selling a lot of prized, valuable possessions, or taking multiple jobs when they have a well-paying full-time job already, they may be funding a drug addiction.
Addiction is a sleeping lion, that if poked, will wake up hungry and ready to devour you. Thank you for reading my story and if you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them below.