The stereotypical image of the alcoholic is the person who is obviously drunk all the time, sometimes dangerously so. They can barely manage their own daily life and personal affairs, and can rarely hold any sort of meaningful employment for any length of time. Their failure to maintain basic hygiene often results in significant health issues. Their lives are often in the process of falling apart, if not already in shambles. Many alcoholics cannot build or maintain any healthy relationships as a result of their drinking.
This is not the case with the high functioning alcoholic. When someone is considered a high functioning alcoholic they can maintain a fairly “together” life and outside appearance, and may never hit the “rock bottom” state that prompts many to seek help and treatment. They are able to maintain a plateau level of drinking, even in the face of consequences resulting from that drinking that they must keep secret.
High functioning alcoholics are able to keep a relatively normal work-life balance, and often continue their drinking secretly, in private. They are undeniably addicted to alcohol, needing to drink to keep away cravings and withdrawal symptoms. They are often able to maintain a long-standing job because they are able to keep their impairment hidden from those around them.
They will probably never be arrested for a DUI since that would undoubtedly reveal their addiction to those close to them. Their drinking will often not be the cause behind any chronic arguments or irritableness with their loved ones, such as spouses.
In contrast to other alcoholics, high functioning alcoholics are usually able to maintain relatively good health for many years until the long-term effects of the disease begin to surface. But this ability to maintain a level-headed or professional outer image does not make it any less of a substance addiction, nor them any less of an alcoholic.
How to Tell if Someone is a High Functioning Alcoholic
One of the hallmarks of any type of substance abuse disorder is the user’s fear of not being able to take the substance of choice again. There are several different ways to potentially identify a high functioning alcoholic.
The primary sign is by the heavy drinking standard. For women, heavy drinking is considered to be drinking more than 3 drinks a day or 7 in a full week, whereas for men it is considered to be 4 per day or 14 in a week. People who drink more than that routinely are at a greatly increased risk.
Another of those signs is misplaced or self-deprecating humor. A high functioning alcoholic may, often in a way perceived by those nearby to be a joke, say that they have a problem or otherwise joke about being an alcoholic. They may also need alcohol to feel relaxed, confident, or less anxious.
A high functioning alcoholic may also lose friendships due to their drinking but will deny it is due to such. They will also often deny that they drink at all, and will even get angry when asked or confronted about their drinking. Many will even hide the alcohol or the empty containers to avoid having to admit or personally confront the amount of alcohol they drink.
If someone drinks at a relatively steady pace, or at regular intervals throughout the day, there is a good chance that they are a high functioning alcoholic. This is frequently a sign that they are trying to prevent any withdrawal sickness or symptoms, and reduce their cravings for alcohol. This interval drinking can also be drinking each night after work, or even binge drinking on the weekends after not drinking during the workweek.
Those closest to the drinker are going to be the most likely to notice any negative effects from their drinking habits. Those on the outside looking in are most likely going to experience a challenge in identifying anything seemingly out of the ordinary since many high functioning alcoholics are quite adept at hiding their disease from other people.
Side-Effects of Being a High Functioning Alcoholic
High functioning alcoholics don’t often put their jobs or relationships in jeopardy, but they do endanger their health to a significant degree. Even though they often drink less heavily than low functioning alcoholics, prolonged drinking will take an eventual toll on the drinker’s health.
There are a number of different cancers that have shown a higher incidence in high functioning alcoholics, as well as the liver disease that eventually presents in most alcoholics. There are even conditions unique to alcoholism, like vitamin deficiencies that lead to a condition referred to as “wet brain”. “Wet brain” is a condition where the brain suffers memory loss and even brain damage over years of abuse.
Treatment Options for a High Functioning Alcoholic
If you are becoming concerned with how much you, a loved one, or a close friend have been drinking, that could be a sign that some form of help may be needed. Nobody, even high functioning alcoholics should have to battle a painful addiction alone, and having help and professional treatment can boost the chances of a successful recovery significantly.
There are some organizations that have offer intensive inpatient treatment facilities that can help a high functioning alcoholic focus on abstention from drinking. They can help teach healthier coping mechanisms, such as recognizing the patient’s triggers and replacing drinking with a healthier activity. By accepting professional medical help for the treatment of alcoholism, the patient will have a much greater chance of maintaining their sobriety over the long-term.
Other treatments for high functioning alcoholism and alcohol use disorder include various medications in addition to assorted behavioral therapy methods. Having your primary care physician on the treatment team can also help determine if there are more effective ways that the patient can cope with daily stress, uncommon stress events, and any further or continued cravings.
If you struggle with an an addiction to alcohol, the time to get help is now. Reach out to a friendly enrollment advisor today to get on the path to a better, more fulfilling future right now.