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Functional Addict

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"I'm a functioning alcoholic. The trick is not to get hung up on the 'alcoholic,' but celebrate the 'functioning' part of the sentence."
Nathan Ford, Leverage

Because Drugs Are Bad, the world of fiction is famous for treating drug addicts as feeble, broken people living in disheveled apartments (or in a worst-case scenario, homeless) and constantly muttering to themselves. However, there has been a general trend lately towards portraying addicts in a different light. These drug users, with addictions just as serious, can lead very normal lives, at least to the strangers on the street. They can wake up in the morning, go to work, have a family, and interact socially without any noticeable problems, as long as they are getting their "fix" when necessary.


Simply put, the addiction does not entirely dictate this person's actions. Typically, this kind of addict can go long periods of time without getting their "medicine" and doesn't depend on their drugs as a "crutch". Often, this is because they can always get the drug when they need it or have the willpower to keep themselves from getting out of control.

In Real Life these kinds of addicts can go their entire lives without ever becoming dysfunctional. It isn't real likely, but it can happen. Fiction, on the other hand, almost always treats them as ticking time-bombs, slowly working up to the one event that will send them over the edge. While crossing the line into dysfunctional territory definitely happens in Real Life as well, the key difference is that fictional sources treat this as inevitable.


Could be justified because fiction typically involves putting characters through unusual, dramatic, and stressful situations which do increase the likelihood of an addict becoming dysfunctional. Also, Conservation of Detail comes into play. It's usually not worth mentioning that the character has an addiction if it plays no role in the plot and tells us nothing important about the character.

It's common for none of the other characters in the work to even know that there is an issue until it becomes a severe problem. It is also commonly used as The Reveal for a particular character on a Very Special Episode, where it is revealed they have been a functional addict throughout the series and are now coming to terms with it.

Compare Dark Secret, for characters with any kind of sinister secret in hiding, and Drugs Are Bad, for when problematic drug use is the only kind of drug use. Also compare/contrast Addled Addict, when drugs are taking their toll. Compare Recovered Addict, who may cycle into and out of addiction.



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     Anime And Manga 
  • Maiden Rose: Klaus exhibits the deconstructed form of this trope. He is implied to have been addicted to morphine in the past so that once he is injured and needs it to help enhance his performance it's not very effective and he has to increase dosages. As one would expect, he doesn't stop using it after that and it's still up in the air whether he'll be able to curb the addiction again or not.
  • Misato of Neon Genesis Evangelion drinks a lot of alcohol, to the point of having a fridge full of nothing but beer, but it's never shown to interfere with her job, where she's actually quite competent and is one of the (relatively speaking) more well-adjusted members of an extremely dysfunctional cast. She also seems to quit near the end of the show, replacing alcohol with coffee and cigarettes.
  • In A Cruel God Reigns Jeremy becomes a drug addict and prostitute to help him cope with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he suffers from due to months of torture and rape at the hands of his step-father. So not quite "functional," but more functional than he would have been.
  • Bird's Nest in Copernicus Breathing takes drugs when he is overwhelmed by the memory/ghost of his little brother Michel and is borderline Driven to Suicide.
  • Ruriko Daichi from Private Actress is an extremely famous and talented actress. She's also a very bitter Lady Drunk, which is driving people away from her.
  • Kobayashi from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid drinks a lot of beer (and is often seen suffering from hangovers), but it never interferes with her job as a programmer or her role as Kanna's Parental Substitute.

  • In Cruelty, Reis Northcotte's mother is definitely dysfunctional, but Reis himself fits the bill. The facade is beginning to crack, however.
  • Despite his far more well-known breakdowns, Tony Stark actually spent a lot of time beforehand as a functioning alcoholic. Of course, as typical of works of fiction, that went downhill so steeply that he slammed straight into rock bottom. Hard. Granted, Tony's gone through a lot of awful shit, so his descent into full-blown alcoholism wasn't unjustified.
  • Tarn of the Decepticon Justice Division in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is addicted to transformation but carries out his duty (torturing and killing Decepticon criminals) none the less. Somewhat subverted in that it causes him to rapidly burn through transformation cogs, which can lead to death if he wasn't getting replacements from Pharma
  • In Blue Is the Warmest Color, Clémentine, who's an English language teacher, became one after being dumped by Emma for cheating on her.
  • Cade Skywalker in Star Wars: Legacy seems to do fairly well despite his death stick addiction. Especially since many users don't survive too long once they're addicted.
  • Derrick Hinch of Revival smokes weed regularly during his downtime, but he's holding down a job as a freelance tattoo artist, maintaining relationships with his girlfriend and son, and is very useful to Dana on high-risk missions. None of that redeems him in Dana's eyes due to the addiction and his lack of ambition.
  • Dynaman, the Tex Thompson-created Superman expy in The Golden Age, is shown to be a cocaine addict long before it is revealed that he is actually Adolf Hitler's brain transplanted in Daniel Dunbar's body, yet it doesn't affect his abilities as a superbeing, as he could still take quite a beating in the final massive superhero confrontation before Alan Scott as Green Lantern started turning him into hamburger.
  • In Chassis, Covergirl is in constant pain and addicted to painkillers as a result of the accident that nearly crippled her. However, she is still one of the top drivers in the Aero-run despite her addiction.
  • Baker Street: According to Inspector Pinner, even when she was addicted to cocaine, Sharon Ford was still the best detective in CID.

    Fan Works 
  • Eugenesis has Springer, a former junkie who's attempting to wean himself off the normal drugs he used to take and is also dosing up the Transformer equivalent of steroids to try and keep up on the battlefield. He falls off the wagon at the worst possible time and ends up OD'ing just as Autobot City is swarmed by Quintessons.
  • New Tamaran: Supergirl is a sex addict who's proudly banged almost every other young hero (and heroine) in the world. This doesn't stop her from being an inspiring superheroine or a good friend. She also harbors romantic feelings for Jimmy Olsen and claims that she would gladly give up her promiscuity to be an Official Couple with him.
  • Sugar Plums the main character Ume is mentioned in passing to dependent on sleeping pills to get more than few hours of sleep a night because of constant nightmares caused by her experiences. This isn't treated as a big deal by anyone until she also starts using antidepressants but neglects to tell most of her companions for fear that they'll think she's broken. Not only do said antidepressants cause negative side effects (like headaches and nausea) when she uses jutsu (because chakra is linked to emotions, so chemicals that regulate emotions messes with the drug) but after being heavily injured in a fight and going unconscious for several days she almost dies in the hospital because she starts suffering seizures from withdrawal.
  • In Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto, Asuma reveals to Naruto that in his youth he took a Super Serum that makes you far stronger but also kills you if you don't take it daily. His cigarettes are actually laced with minute traces of the drug, just enough to keep him from suffering withdrawal but not enough to continue improving him.

    Film — Animation 
  • Evelyn in Incredibles 2 is implied to be an alcoholic, but she's functional nevertheless.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Carlito's Way: Sean Penn's character David Kleinfeld is a mob lawyer and frequent cocaine user. He starts off the film apparently able to keep his act together, but he rapidly goes downhill into a spiral of ego, paranoia, and making incredibly rash and foolish mistakes with the various criminals he surrounds himself with. It doesn't end well for him.
  • The Expendables: Gunnar is heavily suggested to be a junkie (a heroin addiction, presumably, based on the typical understanding of the word "junkie", but his exact addiction is a mystery), which heavily clouds his sense of better judgment and seriously afflicts his personality, yet he was still able to take on Ying Yang, and would have beaten him in one-on-one combat had Barney not interfered.
  • John McClane of Die Hard series is a near-alcoholic, and as a result, almost always has a hangover. While it causes him no small amount of suffering, he manages to remain fully capable of kicking the bad guy's ass.
  • Ghosts of Mars: Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) is a drug addict, but manages to hold down a job as a police officer. Ironically, her drug use ends up saving her life. When she's possessed by a Martian ghost, Jason Statham's character gives her a puff of her own drug. Melanie can take it, the alien ghost can't and bails out. Compare one of the thugs, who is addicted to a different drug (a highly-nitrated compressed air) that results in him cutting off his own finger and, eventually, dropping a grenade at his own feet. Definitely not an example.
  • Minority Report: John Anderton has become addicted to "Neuroin" as a means of dealing with the loss of his son and his being framed for future-murder. He is able to hide this from all but his closest acquaintances, and it does not seem to hinder his ability to function as a cop. It's implied that New hEROIN is specifically designed to produce functional addicts. The same drug is also responsible for the creation of the precogs, whose mothers were addicts.
  • Implied to be the case with Johns in Pitch Black, who steals morphine from the medkit and injects it into his eyesocket, possibly to avoid leaving visible needle marks. In the Director's Cut of the film, he explains that he got hooked on heroin due to chronic pain from a piece of metal lodged in his spine after a fight with Riddick.
  • Requiem for a Dream: All the characters begin their addictions completely functional, and most of them are functional for almost the entire film.
  • Tropic Thunder: Jack Black's character Jeff Portnoy. Obviously an Expy of Chris Farley.
  • The title character in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. To the nth degree, and typically with hilarious results. He's still a good cop and even a badass, but always in a believable way (I.E. not an overblown action-movie way).
  • "Teardrop" in Winter's Bone. He's competent and level-headed despite being hooked on meth.
  • El Indio, the Big Bad of For a Few Dollars More spends the entire film in an opium-induced haze. While it definitely affects his personality, it doesn't seem to impair his planning, and he remains an efficient, competent, and frightening villain, who stays one step ahead of Monco and Colonel Mortimer until the final act of the movie.
  • Gary King from The World's End is unquestionably an alcoholic, and harder drugs are implied. While he literally prioritizes getting drunk over his own survival at several points, a hint at his suicidal tendencies, he still manages to go hand-to-hand with the Blanks and maintain his toxic charisma.
  • Michael of Life of the Party has managed to keep his life together pretty well for being drunk through a good bit of it. However, the movie opens as his attempts start to fall apart.
  • Looper. Joe is efficient at his job in spite of his youthful addiction to the "eyedrop drug." His older self got help from his wife in getting off of the stuff.
  • Schindler's List: Oskar Schindler is shown to be a very heavy drinker. He uses this to his advantage by taking Nazi officers out in the town, matching them drink for drink and staying level-headed while the Nazis get sloppy and easily manipulated.
  • Better Living Through Chemistry: Doug Varney is addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, but manages to fulfill his obligations despite his addiction, although it's clearly taking a toll on him. It helps that, as the chief pharmacist, he knows the effects of the drugs and tries to balance them out to avoid lasting damage.
  • Molly ultimately becomes this when she starts taking drugs to help deal with stress in Molly's Game.
  • The Assistant: It's implied that Jane's powerful Bad Boss is one due to the sheer volume of prescription medication she loads into his office desk. She even has to pick syringes from his garbage to put into medical waste bags.
  • In Itsy Bitsy, Kara is still functional in her job, but she gets caught stealing pain pills from Walter, and Sheriff Jane notes that she's showing the signs of an addict jonesing for their fix.
  • Laura from Nathan's Kingdom is an opioid addict, but she still manages to hold down a job (at least until Nathan unintentionally gets her fired).

  • Discworld black ribbon vampires specifically try to become this. Human blood isn't strictly necessary for Discworld vampires to survive, with animal blood being a perfectly serviceable if distinctly unsatisfying substitute. To help them be better neighbors and stop mobs from forming every few weeks, Black Ribboners take up drinking animal blood and shift the leftover addiction to a more benign hobby - shown examples include photography, politics, and police work/spying. It doesn't matter what they're doing, they're all addicted to something.
  • Sherlock Holmes is a cocaine addict, but there was nothing wrong with it back in Victorian times. He apparently needs his fixes only when there aren't any interesting cases to solve.
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was actually ahead of his time when he had Watson give Holmes a tongue-lashing over his habit in Sign of the Four.
    • Although technically even Holmes fits into the "ticking time-bomb" trope: in one of the later stories (written after the harmful effects of cocaine had become more widely known), Watson mentions that Holmes' addiction had eventually gotten bad enough that it had started seriously interfering with his work, upon which he was finally persuaded to quit. Yet even after he kicked the habit, his severe boredom during downtime between cases would always cause Watson to worry about the possibility of a relapse.
  • By all evidence, James O. Incandenza, Jr., of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest was one of these (for the Incandenzas)...until he became a straight-up alcoholic and ended up baking his head in the family microwave.
  • Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan has a heroin problem, acquired during his recovery from the helicopter accident that resulted in his medical discharge from the US Marine Corps; a well-meaning nurse over-prescribed his morphine. In Patriot Games, it's noted this makes him leery of painkillers in general. It should be noted that he appears to have entirely beaten this addiction - apart from painkillers prescribed for him at the beginning of Patriot Games while recovering from a gunshot wound, he is never seen taking any kind of opiate or painkiller. His low-level cigarette addiction (A result of job stress) on the other hand...
  • Tyrion Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire could be considered one. He is frequently depicted drinking and expresses a fondness for it, but is almost always in control of the situation and manages to perform most of his duties. The fact that his drinking seems to have spiraled out of control at the beginning of A Dance with Dragons underscores just how badly events have spiraled out of control for him.
    • Gregor Clegane is addicted to opium, or "milk of the poppy" as it's called in setting. It doesn't stop him from being one of the most deadly fighters in Westeros. Or really have much of an effect on him at all, seeing his horrible migraines continue with or without the stuff.
  • Christiane F.: Christiane is a drug addict and a prostitute, but for all that she continues to attend school every morning (in Germany at the time, school was only half a day).
  • In Addicted, Loren and Lily seem like this at first, but it soon becomes clear that their addictions — alcohol and sex, respectively — rule their lives and ruin most of their relationships outside of each other.
  • Numerous characters - notably Paula Fenice and Laura - from ML Lanzillotta's books fit this trope. The author herself (a prolific artist, writer, and filmmaker who happens to be an injecting heroin addict) also counts.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Alethi are afflicted with something called "the Thrill," a nationwide bloodlust that drives them to fight, kill, and conquer. The Alethi make little attempt to rein in the Thrill, and commanders often use it to motivate their troops, letting them descend into controlled bloodlust in battle. Much of Alethi culture makes more sense when you consider that many of them are literally addicted to killing people, and have constructed their entire society to justify it. The downside of this policy comes to a head in the climax of Oathbringer, when Odium brings Nergaoul (the source of the Thrill) to Thaylen City, driving the entire Sadeas army insane and turning them on the city they were supposed to be defending.
  • Temeraire:
    • The Alcoholic Mr. O'Dea is sentenced to transportation and labour in Australia, where he meets Laurence and soon reveals himself to be one of the most dependable and well-rounded members of the crew. This may be due in part to the fact that his employment guarantees him a daily rum ration for good behaviour.
    • Ambassador Hammond starts chewing coca leaves in Book 7 to help his airsickness; by Book 9, he is never without a substantial supply, which doesn't stop him from feats like gunning down an obnoxious nobleman in a duel.
  • To Sail Beyond the Sunset: Maureen Johnson is addicted to casual sex, yet she still lives a wholesome life.
  • The protagonist of Heroin Story manages to have a successful and respectable career, despite being addicted to opioids for decades.
  • Dr. Hetterton from Naked Came the Stranger takes morphine to deal with his disappointing career and the wife he's grown to dislike.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Tyrion and Cersei both spend an inordinate amount of time with a cup of wine in hand, particularly when they are nervous or upset, but it generally doesn't affect their control of a situation.
    • A minor character example is Thoros of Myr. He appears to be at least slightly buzzed, if not actively having a drink, about every time he's on screen. It doesn't stop him from surviving the harsh sociopolitical climate of Westeros (and being around to revive Beric Dondarrion a half dozen times) but it does come back to bite him when he joins the ranging party north of the Wall in the penultimate season. He takes a wound and dies overnight from a combination of injuries and hypothermia - something that may have been avoided had the alcohol in his system not dulled his senses.
  • Many characters are like this in Mad Men, particularly around booze. Don Draper himself can usually work well while being an alcoholic, even boozing up at work. However, when characters in this series fall down the steep slope of addiction, they crash hard.
  • 24: Jack Bauer battles a heroin addiction after having to go under a cover as a Junkie just before season 3, but remains functional.
  • Southland: John Cooper starts out needing a lot of painkillers to cope with chronic pain from a back injury, and then spends the next three seasons becoming steadily less and less functional until it all comes to a head. Sherman threatens to report him if he doesn't get some help after catching him stealing evidence.
  • Dexter: Obviously not addicted to a "drug", but still battles with an addiction of sorts and maintains a "normal" lifestyle. Played with, however, when Dexter is forced to go to NA and uses his "addiction" to give his presence authenticity.
  • Heroes: Exaggerated with heroin addict Isaac Mendez, who is actually most functional when he is using heroin.
  • House:
    • Prior to season 6 and his being detoxed at the asylum, Dr. House bounced between functional, barely functional, and "holy-crap-I-need-my-Vicodin-right now." In fact, when they first got House to admit that he was addicted to Vicodin, he refused to admit that this was a problem, since, he argued, he functioned just fine.
    • And late in season 7, he appears to be headed for a full-on relapse after dealing with Cuddy's health scare by taking Vicodin. After which she broke up with him, after which he took more Vicodin. It seems to be up in the air whether he continued taking Vicodin following the events that ended the series.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Sonya Paxton is eventually revealed as a functioning alcoholic. She's able to disguise her behavior by being a hardass, but eventually she gets so out of control that she's forced to take a breathalyzer test in the middle of a trial and is subsequently disbarred... or rather, suspended. She returns the following season, attending AA meetings and overall putting in a really solid effort not to drink. Ironically, she's actually nicer when she's sober, even though irritability is an extremely common withdrawal symptom.
  • The Wire:
    • Jimmy McNulty is a particularly believable example; hard-drinking and described by his best friend as "an emotional train-wreck of a human being", he clearly has many issues. While he is obviously alcoholic, it's not until season 5 that his alcoholism is explicitly called such (it mostly gets accepted as typical "cop" behaviour), but in a scene where the FBI are investigating a fake serial killer McNulty has invented to gain access to funding that would otherwise be denied to less glamorous cases. The FBI only listens to a short piece of "serial killer"McNulty talking, but they use it to nail his personality almost exactly, describing him as an arrogant, high-functioning alcoholic. McNulty is visibly shaken by how accurate they are, especially given that he was loudly proclaiming the inaccuracy of FBI profiles not a minute earlier.
    • Bubbles is as functional as a homeless junkie can be, which hints at all the squandered potential he had before succumbing to his addiction. He mentors two different homeless youths on how to stay alive on the street, providing a range of schemes for them to make ends meet.
  • Leverage:
    • Discussed by Nate:
      "I'm a functioning alcoholic, you know? And the trick is not to get hung up on the alcoholic but celebrate the function part of the sentence."
    • Nate's battle with his addiction is a frequent plot point and major recurring theme throughout the series. It reaches its nadir in "The 12 Step Job" when he has to be in a rehab center as part of a con, leading to him genuinely suffering from alcohol withdrawal.
  • Nurse Jackie is a functional addict to Oxycodone. She regularly snorts or chews it, yet she never shows any signs of inebriation and she is able to work effectively as a nurse. Contrast to her coworker Sam, who was very clearly high at work including showing no response to pain, having glossy eyes, and showing too much amusement at the way a sheet moved while making a bed.
  • Will & Grace: Karen's complete addiction to pills and alcohol is a Running Gag, but she is entirely functional and coherent in her daily life. Oddly, not lampshaded at all in the episode where Will gets addicted to pain pills.
  • Played with in Dark Angel. A flaw in Max's engineered genetics means she has tryptophan deficiencies. Without large regular doses, she has crippling muscle spasms. Because of the state of America After the End, the stuff is expensive and hard to come by - though not quite as much as the steady supplies of chocolate, milk, yogurt, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, and/or peanuts she'd need to get by without supplements. Because she keeps her condition a secret from her friends, they think she's addicted to recreational drugs and throw away her pills before even confronting her. It comes across as kind of a dick move, though it doesn't help that she won't even explain herself even when they stage an intervention for her.
  • You could make the argument that just about every main character on M*A*S*H has an alcohol problem.
    • In one episode Margaret catches an old friend drinking during surgery and busts her. The withdrawal symptoms she goes through are...a bit disturbing. And toward the extreme end, but well within the normal range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol detox (and depressant drug detox in general) is nasty.
    • In another episode, Hawkeye temporarily quits drinking, just to see if he can. At first it peps him up, but he becomes irritable and gets on everyone's nerves. Still, he doesn't exhibit truly bad symptoms.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Jesse starts out this way, mainly a pot smoker who occasionally dabbles in meth while still functioning close to normal, at least until his girlfriend gets him hooked on heroin and he turns into a junkie.
    • Andrea is a much more straight example. She is clearly a meth-head, but it doesn't stop her from forming relationships or being a responsible and loving parent. It appears that she's outright stopped using after she and Brock moved into a new (safer) home.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Doctor Stephen Franklin is addicted to Stims during the third season, having started on them in the second season to keep up with the crushing burden of running an understaffed hospital and dealing with the many crises that occur on the station. When he nearly gets a patient killed due to being strung out from lack of rest and having dangerous amounts of the stuff in his system, he tenders his resignation and goes on a walkabout to detox.
    • Londo is a more-or-less functional addict, holding down his job despite heavy drinking and gambling; as his arc grows progressively darker, the gambling and the drinking both taper off, except when he's drinking to put his Keeper to sleep. For contrast, Garibaldi is an almost completely non-functional alcoholic; once he starts drinking, things go downhill for him and anyone around him at a staggering rate of knots, but once he's made aware of just how bad it's gotten, he fights his way back to sober and apparently stays there.
      • Keep in mind that sobriety and teetotalism is regarded as a vice in Centauri society. Presumably, many in the royal court and governing assembly are functional addicts. Londo states in one episode that since Centauri always have duties to consider, they turned the pursuit of pleasure into another of their duties, one which must be performed diligently. So drinking is literal Serious Business for them.
  • Justified: Played with. Detroit mob lieutenant Robert Quarles pops Oxy pills like candy, but he's still shown to be a cunning and ruthless villain. However, as his plans are thwarted by Boyd and/or Raylan, his drug use increases and his stability and sanity decrease.
    • Colton Rhodes is a former military policeman who was kicked out of the army due to drug use. He initially seems to have his drug use under control and quickly becomes The Dragon to Boyd Crowder. However, a few setbacks and having to go against his Even Evil Has Standards morals causes him to start seriously abusing heroin again and he quickly becomes a wreck. Toward the end of the season he manages to stop using for a bit and he briefly regains his previous competence.
  • Buffyverse:
    • After being cast out of Angel Investigations in Angel season 3, Wesley starts drinking heavily, and again in Season 5 after Fred's death; in the latter case, Spike himself sniffs out that Wesley's been getting hammered constantly. Despite this, he's still able to keep fighting the good fight on both occasions.
    • A big part of Willow's character arc in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6 is her becoming addicted to using magic. Buffy even notes that Willow has an "addictive personality".
  • Zig-zagged in Elementary, given that Sherlock Holmes is a recovering addict. He claims that he doesn't need a sober companion, anonymous meetings, or a sponsor, saying he's done with drugs. However, various episodes reveal that, at different times, he was either a complete wreck or at the top of his game. In fact, one episode ("A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs") has his former drug dealer come into town asking Sherlock to find his kidnapped daughter. When he notes that Sherlock doesn't appear to be on the same level as before, he offers Sherlock a hit out of desperation. Sherlock appears to want the bag but then throws the guy out. At the end of the episode, he reveals that he fights the desire every day, and that particular temptation was merely one of many. Later episodes reveal that when his addiction was at its peak, he was barely functional and bungled quite a few cases due to this.
  • Sherlock:
    • The titular character's addictions include nicotine (in the form of patches) and mysteries. He can normally function well as long as he has the latter. However, at least one episode has him running around demanding just one cigarette when no cases are available.
    • There is also this exchange from "A Study in Pink" that implies that if Sherlock isn't using currently, he did at some point. (The fact that Lestrade thinks to call it a drugs bust at all also suggests that maybe the police know something that John doesn't.)
    DI Lestrade: It's a drugs bust!
    Dr. John Watson: Seriously. This guy, a junkie? Have you met him?
    Sherlock Holmes: John.
    Dr. John Watson: I'm pretty sure you could search this flat all day and you wouldn't find anything that you could call recreational.
    Sherlock Holmes: John, you might want to shut up now.
    Dr. John Watson: Yeah, but come on... (sees Sherlock's expression) No...
    Sherlock Holmes: What?
    Dr. John Watson: ...You?
  • A surprisingly realistic example in Supernatural: by Season 4, Dean is drinking heavily in order to self-medicate his Hell-induced PTSD. He never really quits, but his alcoholism doesn't interfere to any great degree with his ability to function. Bobby and (it's strongly implied) John were also functional alcoholics. It seems to be a fairly common affliction for hunters. The rest of the characters certainly treat it very matter-of-factly.
    Sam: Can you even get drunk anymore? It's sort of like drinking a vitamin for you, right?
    • Sam is also this but with demon blood instead of alcohol
  • A number of characters on Cheers could be considered high functioning alcoholics - excluding Sam, a teetotaller due to his past experiences with the bottle. Norm Peterson might be the prime example. He's able to keep up with his accounting job for years despite the alarming amount of time he spends getting soused at the bar. One episode has the characters trying to convince Sam to let Norm do his taxes. Sam doesn't want him to, not because he thinks Norm will screw it up, but because he doesn't want to have to figure out what to do with a massive refund. When he loses his job it has nothing to do with his drinking, and he rebounds into a successful housepainting career.
  • Call the Midwife has Nurse Beatrix "Trixie" Franklin, a seemingly bubbly glamour girl who is—although genuinely trying to be happy, positive, and having a good time—also hiding a childhood with a Shell-Shocked Veteran father where she was one of a very small number of good things in his life. While her drinking is always seen as a little on the high side, it doesn't affect her work until Series 4 (1960), when she runs into several major crises at once.
  • Bron|Broen: Henrik takes pills for insomnia, then takes stimulants to counteract the strong sleep aids and get through the day. He does not get high, and it does not affect his professional performance negatively. However, his illegally obtaining the stimulants opens him up to blackmail; he can't quit without going through withdrawal; and eventually he overdoses.
  • ER's Doug Ross, who from the very first episode—where he showed up at the hospital drunk and his coworker's reaction made it clear that this wasn't the first time—was established to have a drinking problem, but never once admitted to being an alcoholic, even when he finally got his life together. Given that it never caused him any professional problems and he seemed less inclined to drink when his life was going well, it's possible he was just very good at Drowning My Sorrows.
  • Pulsaciones: In the first episode Álex Puga can perform successfully more than half of the surgeries in his department due to the drugs he takes allowing him to stay active for longer. But eventually Reality Ensues and his drug abuse gives him a serious heart attack.
  • In Arrow Season 2, Laurel having turned to alcohol and other drugs to deal with repeated trauma, grief, and guilt is initially this. Several other characters are noticeably worried, but she manages to balance her addition and job as an ADA. Then Sebastian Blood exposes the fact she's illegally self-medicating when he realizes she knows he's a Villain with Good Publicity, leading to her being fired from the DA's office and facing a review from the Bar Association. Lacking a reason to be functional, she quickly stops being functional and spirals.
  • Community: In the last season, Jeff has slipped farther into alcoholism and depression, but is still able to do his job without much trouble. He doesn't seem to understand what the word "alcoholic" actually means, as when Frankie calls him a "functional alcoholic" he thinks it's an oxymoron.
  • Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation was born a drug addict, as her mother was an addict who didn't make any attempt to regulate her habit while pregnant. It only gets mentioned a few times (most notably in an episode where she gives a lecture to Wesley on how people get into drugs at all), and she is never shown using.
  • Played with in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: the Jem'Hadar are an entire race of addicts, the Founders having created them with an addiction to a narcotic called "ketracel-white", which contains an enzyme their bodies cannot naturally produce. Jem'Hadar with a steady supply of white are capable of operating normally, but without the white, they suffer from horrifying withdrawal symptoms that include increasing anxiety, an inability to "shroud", and eventually, berserk rage before their genetic structure ultimately collapses and they die.
  • In the Miami Vice episode "Theresa," Crockett's titular girlfriend thinks of her opioid addiction as a relatively minor flaw that doesn't interfere with her work as a doctor. She still winds up selling police information to criminals in order to pay for her addiction.
  • Played to hilarious effect in the episode "The Intervention" of Titus: Christopher Titus' father Ken, in Titus' words "never missed a drink, or a joint, or a party, or a chance to get laid in his life. But he also never missed a day of work, or a car payment, or a house payment." The plot of the episode is that Ken has become a shambling mess of a man...because he's stopped drinking, and the intervention is to get him to start drinking again. So here's a case of a functional addict who's only functional when he's drunk!
  • Hannibal: When Zeller makes a comment about recovering alcoholics in Jimmy Price's presence and belatedly apologizes, Price only quips, "Oh, I'm not recovering." Nonetheless, he's a dependable FBI crime scene investigator and his addiction doesn't get any screen time.
  • In Charite, Doctor Behring tries to treat his psychological issues with Laudanum. He also attempts withdrawal a few times, but at those occasions, he winds up with shaky hands and thus useless as a surgeon, and his mood swings get worse to the point of a total emotional breakdown.
  • A French Village: Müller is addicted to morphine he uses for dealing with the pain of an old war injury. Usually he's fine but when his supply is cut off, he struggles greatly.
  • Hightown: Several.
    • Jackie has a job, a car, a social life and her own place at the start of the series.
    • Junior has a car, job, social life, baby and good relationship with his dad.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Doonesbury: Duke has consumed an enormous amount of alcohol and other drugs throughout his life, in accordance with the Hunter S. Thompson caricature he was originally. While few of his many schemes and high-profile jobs have proved successful in the end, that hasn't been due to Duke's substance abuse so much as his arrogance, jerkassery and poor judgment even when sober.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is possibly the best example. A heavy drinker who takes his beer very seriously yet doesn't let it affect his ring work.
  • James Storm, who would ride a motorized beer cooler to the ring.
  • "Hangman" Adam Page, who is rarely seen without a drink in his hand, has mentioned sitting at home with a bottle of whiskey while not working and regularly drinks beer during matches, yet is still able to defend his title.

  • All vampires in This Is War count as this, being equally fleshed-out and functional characters as any other species, but needing regular hits of blood to survive

  • The Mrs. Hawking play series:
    • Miss Zakharova with her laudanum habit in part III: Base Instruments.
    • Nurse Violet Strallan is an alcoholic in part VI: Fallen Women.
    • Subverted with Dawson Frost in part V: Mrs. Frost, who was so much addicted to opium that he no longer had the wherewithal to leave his dressing room.

    Video Games 
  • Heavy Rain: Norman Jayden is apparently a functional addict of Triptocaine (however, ARI is what's actually causing the withdrawal effects), though he can die from overuse.
  • The Templars of the Dragon Age series are essentially this. Their anti-magic powers are strengthened by eating lyrium, which is extremely addictive. All active-duty templars are functional addicts, but for every one of them, there's several for whom the years of enforced lyrium dependency have led to becoming burnt-out shells. Alistair, a Templar-in-training who became a Grey Warden before taking vows, still has Templar abilities without the lyrium or the addiction - "lyrium just makes templars' talents more effective, or so I was told. Maybe it doesn't even do that."
  • Frank Fontaine from BioShock is on ADAM, like the rest of Rapture, but has used just enough of it to survive while avoiding going into full-on Splicer status. When you corner him at the end, though, he overdoses on all of the ADAM in his possession, becoming superhuman... and utterly insane.
  • Max Payne, arguably. The painkillers are not just a gameplay mechanic, but per the Word of God, Max has a genuine addiction to them. He still manages to do his job, or at least shoot straight. Which, in Max's case, makes up about 95% of his functionality. Deconstructed in Max Payne 3: the painkillers and alcohol (and V drug) combined make Payne superhuman when fighting normal mooks, but half of Payne's problems and failures throughout the game wouldn't have happened if he didn't have a serious need to drink himself stupid. Most notably, Mrs. Branco (his boss' trophy wife) might have stayed alive if Max wasn't busy drinking instead of doing his job - BODYGUARDING.
  • High Elves in World of Warcraft were essentially too addicted to magic and functioned for generations by sustaining themselves on the magic of their sacred Sun Well, but when the Sun Well was destroyed their entire race descended into withdrawal and they became the Blood Elves. The Blood Elves started siphoning fel magic from demons to soothe their withdrawal and a faction of them even enslaved an angelic entity to feed off of it. Player Character Blood Elves up to restoration of the Sun Well were functional addicts; and various forms of degenerate blood elves who had descended too deeply into their depraved addictions were common antagonists in the Burning Crusade Expansion.
  • Anthony "Gay Tony" Prince from Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony is pretty much constantly off his ass on cocaine. And he somehow manages to run two of Liberty City's hottest nightclubs.
  • Trevor Philips from Grand Theft Auto V is a psychotic meth-head, alcoholic and gasoline huffer. He's also a crack pilot, and pretty much rules the meth scene in the desert almost single-handedly, gleefully stating that meth keeps him young.
  • Fallout:
    • Using chems can lead to chem addiction, which gives stat penalties while you're in withdrawal. It's not that hard to get by with an addiction, however, as chems tend to be plentiful, and doctors can cure your addiction for a few caps. In the earlier games, it was possible to become addicted to Nuka-Cola. Nuka-Cola withdrawal didn't even give stat penalties, just messages about how a Nuka-Cola would be nice to have.
    • Fallout 4:
      • John Hancock, a possible companion of the player character, abuses every chem in the Commonwealth (and even became a ghoul originally after taking a hit of an experimental radioactive drug) but it never fazes him one bit. How much of this is due to using chems for so long, or his ghoul physiology, is unknown.
      • Cait, a human companion in the same game, is also an addict, but in her case, it's treated as a legitimate problem for which she eventually seeks assistance from the Sole Survivor in curing, if she ends up liking them enough. Depending on the player's actions, this can become a case of Compressed Vice, since the player may have Cait accompanying her constantly, and never see her taking chems. There's even a dialogue option to mention this. Cait shrugs it off by stating that she makes sure the Sole Survivor can't see her when she's taking chems.
  • Every dwarf in Dwarf Fortress "needs alcohol to get through the working day". Trying to run a functioning fortress without booze is generally a bad idea, as a sober dwarf will work increasingly slowly and get unhappy thoughts from not having their alcohol, and any alcoholic creature (not just dwarves) will perform tasks just as well as sober ones, except for the occasional incident when they drink too much and start ludicrously deadly bar fights or just die of alcohol poisoning.
  • In Piss Moira functions well enough to maintain her job as a mercenary, despite a severe drink problem.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2, Solid Snake wryly notes that his "retirement" consisted of him being "holed up in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, drinking too much." He was still, however, able to properly raise and race an absurd number of huskies during that time, and when called back to do the mission on Shadow Moses, he seems to suffer from no ill effects from being away from alcohol over a 24 hour period. As well as this, Snake is a heavy smoker for the entirety of the series; it's only when his health begins to fail him in Metal Gear Solid 4 that the other characters become concerned and insist that he quit, despite his refusal to do so (the logic being that if he's going to die soon anyway, what harm could it do now?). He does eventually quit, however.
  • LISA has party members who are often addicted to Joy which has a lot of nasty withdrawal symptoms often than not rendering the party member useless. The two exceptions being Brad and Carp who still can hold their own while in withdrawal.
  • Stellaris implies this with leaders who develop the "Substance Abuser" trait. The description notes that the leader has turned to substance abuse (the specific substance being left to the player's imagination) to cope with the stresses of their position. While it noticeably shortens their lifespan, they're not any worse at doing their job until they shuffle off the mortal coil.

     Web Comics 
  • String Theory: Dr. Schtein, without a doubt. Considering all the drugs he's on, it's astonishing he can manage to walk, let alone work as a super-scientist for the government.
    Schtein: I sometimes take amphetamines. You know, to stay alert...but that's more of a casual use thing...Um, then...sometimes I take sleeping pills. You know, the speed sort of keeps me awake. Maybe a little pot, and if someone offered me coke at a party I wouldn't exactly say no, uh...Spent an entire weekend when I was nineteen tripping balls on Ayahuasca...that's not important though, is it?
  • Irrelevator: The green stickman is a meth addict who's functional, but he's still pretty stupid most of the time.
  • Imp: Celina seems to have no problem staying sober when she's away from home, according to her imp.
  • Homestuck has a variant with Gamzee Makara. His addiction to sopor slime makes him too addled to accomplish much of anything... which is a good thing, because when he sobers up he remembers that he's actually Ax-Crazy and the high priest of this setting's Religion of Evil and starts artistically murdering people.

    Web Original 
  • Parody Janeway in SF Debris's reviews of Star Trek: Voyager survives mostly on a cocktail of coffee, booze, nicotine, and an ever-shifting blend of Romulan marijuana and old-fashioned human cocaine. While it wouldn't be technically accurate to call her "functional", given her status as a Memetic Psychopath, most of her dysfunctions are independent of the drugs and come from her being a cackling supervillain.
  • We Are Our Avatars: Basse is confirmed to be an alcoholic and regularly engages in drug usage, however she is frankly one of the group's more consistently rational and collected characters.
  • Hazbin Hotel: Angel Dust is a drug addict and Husk is an alcoholic, but they're mostly coherent and no more comedically sociopathic than the rest of Hell.
  • RWBY:
    • Qrow Branwen's alcoholism doesn't seem to dull his abilities as a professional Huntsman all that much. He can fight with the best huntsmen, is quick on the uptake and perceptive. Aside from the occasional bout of severe drinking where he ends up insensible, most of the time he acts like he isn't drunk beyond a slight slur to his speech. In Volume 6, learning Ozpin's secrets about Salem so shatters his faith and trust in Ozpin that he quickly stops being functional, with Ruby being increasingly worried about his ability to cope; when the group is attacked by a horde of Apathy Grimm, he is so insensible that he doesn't even notice the danger the girls are in — they instead have to rescue both themselves and him. By the end of the Volume, he decides to quit for good.
    • Willow Schnee, who was driven to heavy alcoholism by her marriage to a cold, abusive Corrupt Corporate Executive, is capable of downing half a bottle of vodka in one go and still holding a perfectly coherent conversation. She also retains the mental faculties to secretly install cameras throughout Schnee Manor to spy on her husband in case he does something truly heinous.
  • Jhoira from Tolarian Community College sure loves her Time Water...
    The Professor: "I'm sorry, did you say 'Time Water'?"
    Jhoira: "Yeah, you just drink a bunch of it and you find yourself in the future. I drink Time Water like crazy!"
    The Professor: *Sniffs at an offered bottle and recoils* "This is Vodka."
  • Mahu: In "Frozen Flame", prince Arius finds a drug den full of stoned orc barbarians with his army. Attempts at communication all fail and soon a battle takes place between the forces of the prince and those orcs which, high as they might be, manage to group themselves into regiments to face their new foe.
  • Dream Machine: Ryan for the previous fifteen years of his career— until he wasn’t functional anymore.

     Western Animation 
  • Sterling Archer, like Max Payne above, is constantly drunk (or seeking drink due to his high tolerance) yet can still shoot and/or whore his way out of any combat situation. At least three-quarters of said combat situations are egged along (or outright started) by Archer's whoring, lack of social empathy and addiction to his own adrenaline; yet the alcohol itself is (rarely) the direct cause of his woes.
    • In Season 5, Pam becomes addicted to cocaine, sometimes eating pounds of it in a day. The only problem this causes is to ISIS' finances since they want to sell the stuff; Pam's health isn't affected (in fact, she loses quite a bit of weight) and her behavior is mostly the same barring the comedic rampage she goes into once she gets cut off.
  • Futurama: Bender is essentially a commentary on functional alcoholism, as he literally needs alcohol in order to function, or else his fuel cells run dry, even though it makes him surly and he could actually survive on mineral oil.
    • Futurama robots could be an inverse; without alcohol, they get uncoordinated, have difficulty speaking, and are prone to erratic behavior. In other words, sobriety is to robots as drunkenness is to humans. Also, alcohol doesn't make Bender surly, he's always like that; now, having to drink mineral oil instead of liquor, that makes Bender surly.
  • Homer from The Simpsons is one, but Depending on the Writer, this can vary greatly.
  • Brian on Family Guy—if he's not shown holding a drink or in a bar during an episode, chances are that there will be some reference to him smoking weed.
  • Dr Venture on The Venture Bros. is described by the creators of the show as "an addict, not a junkie.". He needs the pills to function (and take care of his various neuroses) but never is portrayed as pathetic because of that, more as a side-effect of why he's REALLY pathetic.
  • Rick and Morty:
    • Rick is constantly drunk, yet remains the most intelligent (albeit idiotic) person in the series no matter how drunk he is. He's also dexterously athletic with lots of stuttering and burping. While the symptoms of extreme alcoholism are apparent, Birdperson is quick to explain that the abusive nature of alcohol is the only thing preventing Rick from committing suicide due to the horrors he has witnessed/committed. Subverted with his daughter Beth, who inherited his alcoholism and is shown to be quite the miserable wreck when drunk.
    • Parodied with Shrimply Pibbles, effectively an alien version of Martin Luther King Jr. who needs Jerry's penis as a heart transplant (just roll with it). Jerry finds out that in spite of the man's accomplishments he's a heroin addict and tries to make this public to discredit the man and get out of donating his penis... only for the audience to point out that the atmosphere of Shrimply's planet is 10% heroin and the man isn't addicted: his species needs to breathe heroin to survive. Naturally the audience quickly surmises Jerry's intentions and proceed to boo him off stage.

     Real Life 
  • Drinking enough to get an elephant drunk had been a popular and widely tolerated pastime in the Eastern Bloc throughout the Communist Age (as in the top of yearly alcohol consumption per person, the former Communist countries hold still 11 of the first 12 places as of 2010) and shunned only when the drunkard became too dysfunctional to work and socially interact properly.
  • Theodore Dalrymple's Romancing the Opiates, among other interesting facts, describes studies in which people with opiate (i.e. opium, morphine, Heroin, Oxycontin) addictions were able to maintain jobs for years, quite sufficient to maintain their habits. Compared to other abused substances, the short-term effects of opiates is not all that debilitating (compared to say, alcohol or cocaine).
  • Christopher Titus' father was a functional alcoholic - in his own words:
    My father never missed a drink in his life. Or a joint. Or a party. Or a chance to get laid. He also never missed a day of work. Or a house payment. Or a car payment. I never went hungry, though he did a couple times so I wouldn't.
  • Studies have shown that giving pure medical heroin on prescription left a group of heroin addicts more functional than a control group that was treated with methadone. In countries that allow these kinds of programs, they figure it's better to have addicts get their fix in a medically supervised setting with known purities of the drug rather than them getting them off the street. The theory also applies to methadone maintenance where heroin maintenance is politically infeasible. Methadone doesn't get users high, but as with heroin maintenance therapy allows addicts to develop a stable lifestyle instead of committing crimes to get their fix or risk overdoses from the varying purity of street heroin.
  • Ernest Hemingway was known as a functional alcoholic who drank heavily but still managed to write classic literature.
  • William S. Burroughs became a heroin addict during WW2 and remained one to his death at 83. He was a well regarded Beat Generation and postmodern artist.
  • "I wrote my songs despite the fact that I was a drunk, not because of it." — Warren Zevon, commenting on the early days of his success.
  • Hunter S. Thompson put his drug use on center stage in much of his work, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He was also a legendary drinker. To the point where his biography notes that at one point he went in for an operation and nearly died after the surgery from alcohol withdrawal.
  • Billie Holiday among many other jazz musicians were frequent heroin users.
  • Oskar Schindler was a very heavy drinker who was noted to have a nearly superhuman tolerance for alcohol. One of his favorite tactics to getting favors from the Nazi government was going out drinking with Nazi officers. They would get sloppy drunk, while he stayed level-headed.
  • Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős is well-known for being jacked up on speed and caffeine most of the time. He died at the ripe old age of 83, being one of the most celebrated scientists of the century. His many friends had long tried to get him to drop the habit, but once he went sober for a month on a dare, the man complained that while high his head is teeming with ideas after just stealing a glance of a piece of paper, but the only thing he sees while sober is a blank piece of paper.
  • Up and coming Soundcloud rapper Lil Peep was self-described as a "productive junkie", but also advised his audience to stay away from drugs. However, he ended up overdosing on fentanyl and dying at the age of 21.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Functional Alcoholic



While not functional in a "giving to society" sense, Caroline takes cocaine, crack, crystal meth, black-tar heroine and "an entire bottle of Flintstones vitamins" and she seems to be a lot more adjusted than those addictions (alone and together) imply. Especially funny when being sober for three hours is a long time for her.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / FunctionalAddict

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