Often, a typical portrayal of an alcoholic is someone who always has a drink in hand, has one too many, and their life is crumbling as a result of their maladaptive patterns. While this brings the so-called “functioning alcoholic” comfort, those with drinking problems don’t always follow the typical path.
Even though many do fall apart as a result of their drinking, some people can appear “functioning” or even “high-functioning” with alcohol dependency.
What Are The Signs of A High Functioning Alcoholic?
Individuals who have positive relationships with family, friends, and at work can still have a tumultuous relationship with alcohol hindering their ability to live authentically and healthily. To recognize whether you are, or a loved one is, an active, yet functional alcoholic, you must understand the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic.
You or your loved one may be struggling with alcohol use disorder if:
- Needs alcohol to socialize
- Drinks in isolation
- Hides drinking patterns from others
- Unable to control/stop drinking alcohol
- Drinks to cope with stress and negative feelings
- Quick to anger or defensiveness if others question their drinking habits
- Drinking results in blackouts or memory loss
- Drinking leads to legal problems (DUI, disorderly conduct, public indecency)
- Experiences withdrawal symptoms—irritability, nausea, shakiness, sleeping issues
While, again, many people view “alcoholism,” or alcohol use disorder, like a rock bottom binge drinker, this condition ranges from mild, moderate, to severe. To clarify, “mild” drinking is still clinically considered problem drinking.
Am I a Functioning Alcoholic in Denial?
Someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder doesn’t always act the way you may expect. Looking at a person who is a functioning alcoholic, one could easily perceive them as a responsible, productive member of society. In fact, the person could be a high achiever as well as a high-functioning alcoholic. In all actuality, the person’s status of success often leads others to overlook their drinking habits.
Along with their coworkers and friends, the functioning alcoholics may also be in denial. They may think “I’ve got a great, high-paying job, and have wonderful relationships with my friends and family”. They may also excuse their behavior, saying “I only drink on weekends” or “I always wait until after work to drink.” They can also hide behind the belief that because “I haven’t lost anything because of my drinking” that they’re in the clear from forming a dependency on alcohol. However, just because someone has yet to suffer from setbacks of their drinking doesn’t mean there aren’t problems piling up in the rearview.
The problem, of course, is sustainability. No one can balance their daily responsibilities while also managing a pattern of heavy drinking— at some point, the other shoe eventually drops. Essentially, a person’s drinking will catch up to them.
What Are the Dangers of High Functioning Alcoholism?
If you drink excessively, you are more likely to far more likely to place your mental and physical health in jeopardy. Knowing that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the uncontrollable and obsessive act of consuming alcohol, which extends beyond drinking in moderation, those left untreated put themselves in harm’s way. Should an alcohol use disorder be left untreated, the disease can result in short-term and long-term effects on a person’s health.
Short-term effects of high-functioning alcoholism:
- Dangers in pregnant women, (fetal alcoholism, stillbirth, miscarriage)
- Injuries from disorientation
- Risky behaviors (unsafe sex, fighting, car accidents, )
- Legal problems (DUI, arrests)
- Memory loss
- Passing out
- Alcohol poisoning
While AUDs can present incredibly serious adverse effects against both mental and physical wellbeing, alcohol use creates additional consequences that impact job stability, financial security, and relationships. Regardless of whether someone is drinking excessively, constantly drunk, or somewhere in between, they often put themselves and others in risky situations.
Risky behaviors resulting from high-functioning alcohol abuse:
- Car accidents
- Unsafe sex
Being a progressive disease, alcohol use disorder often degenerates a person’s health the longer it continues without medical care in recovery. As a result, people can experience minor losses that progress, gradually increasing in severity. Should an AUD go unchecked, the short-term effects can lead to long-lasting or permanent psychological and/or physiological damages.
Long-term effects of high-functioning alcohol abuse:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Permanent brain damage
- Multiple cancers
How Can I Help a Functioning Alcoholic?
A result of high-functioning alcoholism is that the sufferer acts normal or normal enough during social interactions with co-workers, family, and friends. Unfortunately, the person will typically view their drinking as acceptable, or at the very most misguided, but not a problem. In many ways, those who suffer from high-functioning alcoholism need to justify their problem and minimize it whenever possible. However, this is why early intervention is a must when preventing the potential ramifications to their health.
The best way to assist a person with high-functioning alcoholism is to discuss your concerns without judgmental language or accusations. For this reason, putting your feelings out in the open can lead them toward introspection. Asking your loved ones to speak with their doctor about their drinking can begin a conversation about their alcoholism without forcing their guard up. In that way, you can show your concern for your loved one without seeming overly critical. In this way, they’re likely to be more responsive to medical tests that are based on impartial and factual evidence. When these interventions with the high functioning alcoholic go well, you can discuss treatment options, such as alcohol detox, so that they made recover from their alcohol use disorder under the safe and compassionate care of medical professionals.