Spotting and Helping a High-Functioning Alcoholic

People who drink compulsively or habitually will be affected in a variety of different ways. Some people who struggle with alcohol use disorder are unable to hold a steady job, care for their families, and get through the day without causing some kind of chaos. Other problem drinkers, sometimes referred to as high-functioning alcoholics, are able to maintain a life that resembles one of normalcy. A high-functioning alcoholic may be able to perform well in their career, maintain relationships with their loved ones, and avoid many of the major problems that many alcoholics face.

Although functional alcoholics may give off the outward appearance of being normal, even when they are intoxicated, these individuals are still prone to experiencing the negative emotional and physical side effects of alcohol abuse. However, since these individuals are less likely to lose control over their emotions, get into altercations with the law, or display severe changes in their lifestyle habits, they are also less likely to admit they have a problem and seek help for their alcoholism.

The Relationship Between Denial and High-Functioning Alcoholics

When comparing your typical alcoholic with a functional alcoholic, there is virtually no difference between how much or how often they drink. The difference is how their drinking affects their personal, work, and social life. High-functioning alcoholics are generally more successful at hiding their problems from their loved ones, so it is harder for friends and family to identify a drinking problem. As such, when they are confronted with their drinking, many functional alcoholics go into denial.

Denial is a common aspect of addiction and alcoholism, however, it is typically more common and more pronounced in functional alcoholics. For example, a functional alcoholic may compare themselves to other alcoholics by making statements or having beliefs like, “well, I’m not that bad because I’ve never had a DUI,” or “my drinking isn’t a problem because I still go to work and take care of my family.”

People who are in denial about their drinking problem may lie about their drinking, hide their drinking from loved ones, and fail to acknowledge the full weight of their alcohol consumption. As a result, it can prove extremely challenging to convince a high functioning alcoholic to go to rehab. It’s also important to consider the fact that if a person believes they don’t have a problem, they are more likely to continue their behaviors without thinking about how those behaviors can affect other people. For this reason, functional alcoholics may be more likely to develop long-term health issues from drinking or engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving.

Identifying the Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics will make it a top priority to hide their drinking habits and behaviors from their loved ones. They may have also developed a high tolerance to alcohol, meaning they can drink a large amount without showing outward signs of intoxication. Even though these drinkers may not appear drunk or incapacitated, there are several signs and symptoms of addiction you can look for to figure out if someone is a high-functioning alcoholic. These include:

  • Needing to drink to feel calm, relaxed, or be able to socialize in a group setting
  • Hiding alcohol from friends and family and denying toxic drinking patterns
  • Becoming angry when confronted with the topic of their drinking
  • Drinking in the morning, before work, at other inappropriate times, or drinking alone
  • A slow decline in productivity and performance at work or school
  • Asking friends and family to make excuses for their drinking
  • Having a poor memory
  • Drinking more often or more in one sitting than intended to on multiple occasions
  • Making jokes about alcoholism or having a drinking problem

High-functioning alcoholics are oftentimes people who are in positions of power, authority, or executive business. For example, it’s common to see high rates of alcoholism among professionals like lawyers, CEOs, police officers, and more.[1] Since these individuals are able to evade the financial and social consequences of their drinking, they can easily excuse their drinking as a way to relieve stress or relax after a day of hard work.

Even though these alcoholics may be able to function at school, work, or home, it is only a matter of time before their drinking progresses into something they can no longer control. In the end, any alcoholic – no matter how functional – is at risk for many of the long-term consequences of alcohol abuse.

Encouraging a High-Functioning Alcoholic to Go to Rehab

Confronting a loved one about their drinking is never easy. Once you suspect that a loved one needs help, despite how difficult it may be, it’s vital that you speak to them about their drinking. Since denial is so strong in high-functioning alcoholics, you may be better off consulting with an addiction specialist and staging an intervention.

An intervention specialist will help you prepare for the intervention and make plans for your loved one to go to treatment. You should always confront functional alcoholics when they are sober or aren’t belligerently drunk so they are able to comprehend everything you have to say.[2] Once you’ve made a plan, prepared what you want to say, and have picked a meeting time, it’s time for the actual intervention.

While confronting a loved one, it’s important to remain supportive, open-minded, and calm. Rather than basing the intervention on personal attacks regarding what the person has done wrong, emphasize the fact that you are concerned about their well-being. High-functioning alcoholics may become defensive, angry, and hostile when confronted, but the intervention specialist can help keep everyone calm and keep the intervention moving along.

The ultimate goal is to convince this person to seek treatment for alcoholism. However, intervention specialists can also provide resources for family and friends, as well.

Find Treatment for Alcoholism Near You

Getting sober is never easy, but with the help of a professional drug and alcohol rehab center, anyone can recover from alcoholism. Treatment centers near you offer inpatient and outpatient programs that can provide individualized treatment to you or a loved one. Contact us today to get started on the road to recovery.



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