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 psychologically dependent on alcohol but can pretty much function as normal. Think about it like another mental health issue, such as 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.

If you are concerned with the drinking habits of a friend or loved one, there is help available. At Washburn House, we offer evidence-based treatment for alcoholism and other substance use disorders. Our programs are designed to help people achieve long-term sobriety. Contact us today at 855.298.3104 to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment center.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic drinks heavily and experiences withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have a drink. However, they can still excel at work and maintain some relationships with family and friends. High-functioning alcoholism can sometimes be challenging to spot. Perhaps someone you know exhibits any of the signs of alcoholism but can hold down a job or raise a family. In such cases, how can you tell whether alcohol addiction is at play?

Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

There are red flags and warning signs that 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.

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 that they have a drinking problem at all. But whether or not it disrupts their functions and roles, alcoholism will eventually have negative consequences on their life. They 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 someone with alcohol addiction. With a certain stereotype in mind, it’s often challenging 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 calmly yet firmly 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 your loved one getting treatment and continuing to drink despite the consequences.

Drinking Habits

High-functioning alcoholics can give the impression that they’re sociable and outgoing. They may say they 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. 

In addition, a functioning alcoholic may be deeply ashamed and embarrassed about their substance abuse and so will find ways to hide it from others. Therefore, they may drink in locations where they know they won’t be seen or hide alcohol in their house or car. Other than drinking alone, other behaviors can indicate alcoholism:

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

Breaking Commitments

While it’s true that functioning alcoholics can excel in some areas of life, this doesn’t mean that they are considered successful, 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. As a result, they may forget about their commitments, not be in a fit state to attend to them, or prioritize drinking over them.

An Underlying Mental Health Condition

Alcoholism often occurs alongside a mental health issue. This is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. A high-functioning alcoholic might drink to cope with the emotional pain and discomfort of conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • PTSD 

Alcohol can allow them to feel like they function better than they would sober. 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. Unfortunately, alcoholism is never a long-term solution to a mental health issue. It may mask the problem for the time being, but eventually, the mental health concern will mix with an addiction. Along with treating alcohol use disorder, our dual diagnosis treatment center in MA addresses the underlying mental health reasons your loved one drinks.

Impact on Friendships, Relationships, and Family Life

Alcohol use can strain relationships if someone decides to get drunk rather than spend time with friends, family, or their partner. Drinking can make a high-functioning alcoholic unpleasant to be around, and many lose friendships and suffer relationship problems. However, they still do not decide to stop drinking. 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. 

Alcoholism 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. The help may involve 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. However, when they approach life with a clear head, the successes they experienced before will increase. With a genuine desire to get better and find the right kind of support, incredible transformations can take place.

Health Risks of Long-Term Alcohol Use

Heavy drinking carries a lot of risk factors. These risks increase with the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of time someone drinks for. Some health risks that can come from long-term alcohol use include:

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

In addition, over time, heavy alcohol use can lead to a higher risk of stroke and other forms of heart disease. Emotionally, it can make depression and other mental health symptoms worse. It can also cause memory loss and make it difficult to concentrate.

A high-functioning alcoholic is more likely to ignore the risks of drinking since they feel they can still function well. But, as time goes on, the risks will increase, and they will be more likely to experience negative consequences. These may include job loss, financial problems, and relationship issues.

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:

  • Inpatient rehab program in Worcester
  • Men’s and women’s alcohol rehab in MA
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Extended care program in MA

Seek Treatment at Washburn House Today

Drinking doesn’t affect only you. It affects everyone around you.  If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, get help today. Our admissions counselors are available 24/7 to discuss your options for treatment. We tailor our treatment plans to your needs, so you can get the help you need to recover. We offer a range of therapeutic options, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Contingency management
  • Individual and group therapy

Contact Washburn House for more information about alcohol addiction treatment options or call 855.298.3104 to speak with experts about the journey to recovery today.

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