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man out by a lake taking a break from jogging asking himself what is a high-functioning alcoholic

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

One common myth about alcoholism is that its signs are obvious. Many people think the lives of alcoholics are in complete disarray, but that’s not always the case. What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic is physically and/or psychologically dependent on alcohol but can pretty much function as normal. Think about it like depression. For some people, depression leaves them isolated in bed, unable to operate in their day-to-day lives. Those with high-functioning depression still suffer from the symptoms of depression but may not be debilitated by it in the same way. This doesn’t mean high-functioning depression (or alcoholism) isn’t serious. It can still have a devastating impact on mental and physical health, and relationships.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic drinks heavily and experiences withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have a drink, but they can still excel at work and maintain great relationships with family and friends. High functioning alcoholism can sometimes be difficult to spot. If someone you know exhibits any of the signs of alcoholism but can hold down a job or raise a family, how can you tell whether alcohol addiction is at play? There are red flags and warning signs high-functioning alcoholics tend to exhibit.

Reach out to the alcohol addiction treatment center in Worcester, MA for more information about those with alcohol use disorder.

1. Denial About Alcohol Abuse

A high-functioning alcoholic may think their alcohol consumption is under control because they’re successful in other areas of life. They often deny (to themselves and others) that they have a drinking problem at all. But whether or not it disrupts their functions and roles, alcoholism will eventually have negative consequences in their life. They (or you) might avoid admitting they have a problem by pointing to their virtues, like intelligence, a hardworking nature, and compassion for others. This may not match how they view a typical “alcoholic.” With a certain stereotype in mind, it’s difficult to own up to risky behavior. When confronted about their drinking problem, a functioning alcoholic can get defensive and angry. This is why it’s important to broach the issue in a calm yet firm manner and at the right time. If you know a loved one can be moody or irritable when they’re drunk or hungover, that isn’t the best time to raise the issue. Finding the right approach may mean the difference between treatment and continuing to drink despite the consequences.

2. Drinking Habits

High-functioning alcoholics can give the impression that they’re sociable and outgoing and only drink in specific situations, like parties or at bars with friends. But when they’re not at work or out with family, friends or co-workers, they may spend their alone time binge drinking. They may also stop inviting people to their house because they don’t want others to see that they abuse alcohol. A functioning alcoholic may be deeply ashamed and embarrassed about their substance abuse and so will find ways to hide it from others. One way is by drinking at places they know they won’t be seen or hiding alcohol in their house or car. Other than drinking alone, there are other behaviors that can indicate alcoholism:

  • Drinking in the morning
  • Drunk driving
  • Getting more drunk than intended
  • Blacking out
  • Engaging in other risky and reckless activities (such as unprotected sex)

3. Breaking Commitments

While it’s true that functioning alcoholics can excel in some areas of life, this doesn’t mean that they are considered “successes,” reliable, or responsible in other areas. Their heavy alcohol consumption may mean they miss important events with friends and family. A high-functioning alcoholic is likely to be drunk or hungover a lot of the time, so they may forget about their commitments, not be in a fit state to attend to them or prioritize drinking over them.

4. A Mental Health Condition

Alcoholism often occurs alongside a mental health issue. This is known as a “dual diagnosis” or having “co-occurring disorders.” A high-functioning alcoholic might drink to cope with the emotional pain and discomfort of depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or another mental health issue. Alcohol can allow them to function better than they would sober because it temporarily dulls negative thoughts and leads to more relaxed, loose speech and behavior.

When a functioning alcoholic with a mental illness can’t have a drink, they may feel overcome and debilitated by negative and dark thoughts, low mood, low self-esteem, and irritability. Alcohol allows them to be sociable and confident instead of withdrawn and insecure. It’s quite common for functional alcoholics to struggle with depression. Alcoholism is never a long-term solution to a mental health issue. It may mask the problem for the time being, but because it’s a depressant, alcohol can worsen depression. A high-functioning alcoholic may be able to navigate through life and keep up appearances for a while, but after some period of time, the underlying mental health issues can start to become out-of-control and unmanageable.

Along with treating alcohol use disorder, the dual diagnosis treatment center in MA addresses the underlying mental health reasons your loved one drinks.

5. Impact on Friendships, Relationships, and Family Life

Not all functioning alcoholics are alike. Someone you know may function well in one area of their life (such as work) but not in another (such as relationships). It can put a strain on relationships if someone decides to get drunk rather than spend time with friends, family, or partner. Drinking can make a high-functioning alcoholic unpleasant to be around, and many lose friendships and suffer relationship problems, yet still not decide to quit alcohol. For a high-functioning alcoholic, it may seem like things are under control. But their state of mind and actions can tell a different story. Heavy drinking carries a lot of risk factors. Health risks include:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Brain damage
  • Certain types of cancer
  • High blood pressure

Emotionally, it can make depression and other mental health symptoms worse. Alcoholism might not stop someone you know from going to work and school every day and doing well, but it can change them in other ways, perhaps making them aggressive, neglectful, and abusive. For a high-functioning alcoholic’s general well-being and long-term happiness, it’s crucial for them to seek professional help, whether that’s seeing a psychiatrist or therapist or going to an addiction treatment center. Breaking down the barriers of denial and familiar negative patterns isn’t easy, but when they approach life with a clear head, the successes they experienced before will double! With a genuine desire to get better and find the right kind of support, incredible transformations can take place.

Treatment for High-Functioning Alcoholics

Depending on the severity of alcohol use disorder in the high-functioning alcoholic, outpatient rehab programs in MA may provide the best solution. However, if there are addiction triggers or an unstable environment at home, there are other options for treatment. Washburn House specialized treatment programs include:

Drinking doesn’t affect only you, it affects everyone around you. Contact Washburn House for more information about alcohol addiction treatment options. Call 855.298.3104 to speak with experts about the journey to recovery today.

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