Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic
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What are the Signs of a High-functioning Alcoholic?

Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction. Long-term alcohol abuse and heavy drinking cause a host of adverse consequences and health issues. In these instances, it can be relatively easy to spot if a person has a drinking problem. But in some cases, an alcohol problem can be harder to detect. The early stages of the disease are not always so obvious. Some individuals with alcohol dependence can also be skilled at hiding their problem and appearing functional. The following article will explore the definition of a high-functioning alcoholic, and where such persons can go for help.

What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

When most people hear the term, “alcoholic,” they are likely to picture a person who is unable to function in day-to-day life. They may have issues holding down a job, or being able to afford a house or a rental. But in many instances, some people with alcohol use disorder are able to function while still struggling with an alcohol dependency issue. These individuals are referred to as high-functioning.

High functioning alcoholism should not be confused with a lack of adverse consequences. While high functioning alcoholics may be able to hold down a steady, good job and maintain their finances and avoid alcohol-related legal issues, they are still putting their health and well-being at risk. Friends and family members may be lulled into a false sense of security if their loved one is “high-functioning.” It’s crucial that alcoholics of all levels on the functioning spectrum get help for their disease.

Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to moderate, to severe. Just because someone has a mild case of the disease, does not mean there isn’t a problem. In all actuality, getting help for alcoholism while it is in the milder stages makes it easier for the patient to achieve lifelong sobriety and avoid many of the health problems associated with alcohol abuse.

Functioning alcoholics do not act like most people imagine an alcoholic to act. Functioning alcoholics are usually productive. Sometimes, they may even appear as high-achievers, or occupy positions of power in their careers. Outside successes can also cause loved ones to overlook the functioning alcoholic’s dependence on drinking. This is a huge mistake.

What functions are these types of alcoholics able to achieve?

One of the symptoms of severe alcoholism is an inability to function in day-to-day life. High functioning alcoholics often exhibit all of the other signs of addiction, except for this one. They can hold down a job and maintain their relationships. High functioning alcoholics are also able to avoid many of the legal problems associated with alcohol abuse.

Denial is a significant symptom in alcohol and drug addiction. Denial is also common amongst the abuser’s loved ones. Functioning alcoholics and their friends and family may think that because the abuser can pay their bills and avoid legal troubles means that they do not have an addiction. A person may be able to drink heavily and often for long periods, but alcoholism will eventually catch up to someone who denies their condition. Regardless of whether or not they can function, the alcoholic is still damaging their body.

What are the signs and symptoms of high-functioning alcoholism?

Heavy drinking for women is three drinks per day or seven or more per week. For men, it is four or more drinks per day or more than fourteen drinks per week. If someone frequently drinks more than the weekly or daily limit, they are at high risk of developing alcohol dependence.

Signs of high-functioning alcoholism include:

  • Need alcohol to feel relaxed, or confident.
  • Drink alone, in the mornings, or at work.
  • Get drunk when they don’t intend to.
  • Forget what they did or said while drinking.
  • Deny the amount they drink, hide their alcohol supply, or become hostile when someone confronts them about their drinking.
  • Loved ones are worried or start to make excuses for the amount of alcohol the person drinks.

Who is most likely to be a functioning alcoholic?

19 to 25% of all people in the US with an alcohol use disorder are considered high functioning alcoholics. People in positions of power with an alcohol problem are often more difficult to detect because they are often unsupervised at work. People who are given a lot of responsibility at work are assumed to be able to deal successfully with job stressors. High pay also enables these individuals to avoid many of the financial consequences of excessive drinking and alcohol abuse. High achievers may also view drinking as a reward for their hard work.

Is high-functioning alcoholism a problem?

Yes, although most people who are high-functioning do not meet the criteria for a full diagnosis of alcohol abuse disorder, excessive drinking can lead to many problems in the future. Excessive drinking can cause a host of long-term, serious health problems. People who are high functioning alcoholics that deny or hide their drinking habits can experience strained relationships and difficulties in their personal lives. Excessive, chronic drinking can also cause forgetfulness, and cause high achievers to miss important work deadlines or other career-related tasks and functions. Long-Term drinking over the safe, daily limit can cause liver impairment, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and serious nutritional deficiencies. Heavy drinking also puts people at risk of falls and other injuries. For the person’s safety and health, it’s crucial that high-functioning alcoholics let go of denial and seek out assistance and guidance from trained professionals.

How can someone get help for high-functioning alcoholism?

Depending on the severity of the person’s drinking, they may or may not need to spend time in a medical detox facility. Alcohol withdrawals can be severe and also life-threatening. A medical detox center can help high-functioning alcoholics safely and comfortably detox. Furthermore, inpatient rehab and one-on-one therapy sessions and support from loved ones are critical for making a full recovery. If you or a friend are suffering from high-functioning alcoholism and alcohol dependence, speak to a licensed therapist today and get the help you need to overcome addiction.