High-Functioning Alcoholics: Traits, Warning Signs & How To Help
Alcoholism is in itself a debilitating condition that can take a heavy toll on a person’s psyche and overall health. Alcoholism can also leave a devasting impact on a person’s professional and personal life and relationships.
But did you know that many alcoholics manage to function normally and even well in their daily life? Alcoholics, they may be, but their ability to function and manage life and relationships regardless of their condition makes them high-functioning alcoholics.
This blog will guide you in learning; Signs and traits of high functioning alcoholics, what risk factors should be considered, and how to deal with a high functioning alcoholic.
Who Are High Functioning Alcoholics?
A high-functioning alcoholic or a functional alcoholic are terms that can be used to describe someone who is dependent on alcohol but is still able to function quite normally in social settings. While these are not medical terms, they can be used informally.
For a high functioning alcoholic, they find managing work and life normally. For them, drinking doesn’t necessarily interfere with their daily life – work or otherwise. They also often manage to have functional and normal relationships with others.
While functional alcoholics might look mentally and physically healthy, they are more likely to be struggling with some symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) such as an uncontrollable urge to drink, trying to quit unsuccessfully, or obsessing over drinking.
Traits Of A High Functioning Alcoholic
High-functioning alcoholics are more often than not in denial over having a problem. They might argue that because they can perform normally with their daily activities, they don’t have a problem that needs to be seen.
Most functional alcoholics have family and friends that might cover for the outcomes of their alcoholism. Sometimes a loved one’s action to prevent further damage to a functional alcoholic’s life might seem like an encouragement. Unconscious encouragement but an encouragement nonetheless.
A functional alcoholic might also argue that they have a high tolerance for consuming alcohol. High-functioning alcoholics do not display outward symptoms of being drunk. The reason being; because of their dependency on alcohol, they develop a tolerance to a point where they might need more alcohol to feel the effects of being drunk.
This tolerance build-up means that a functional alcoholic is at risk of developing:
- Alcohol dependency
- Alcohol-related illnesses, or
- Physical or mental impairment
Functional alcoholics, like every other alcoholic, can also feel the effects of withdrawal if they try to quit. Withdrawal symptoms for a high functioning alcoholic can be severe and intense and can also affect their daily life.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be:
- Feeling anxious
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Feeling fatigued and tired
- Constant headaches
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tremors and shakiness
Among others. Withdrawal symptoms are not always pleasant and can be pretty severe which, in turn, can lead a functioning alcoholic to start drinking again to keep the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal away.
While many people reach out for help, some people are not able to do so. If you’re living with a functioning alcoholic and if you think they need help, please reach out to professionals for help. There are rehab centers that help alcoholics – functioning or not – with recovery.
Warning Signs Of A High Functioning Alcoholic
As I mentioned before, not all high functioning alcoholics will willingly admit to having a problem. Living with a high functioning alcoholic can be a minefield, therefore you need to be aware of some warning signs if you believe your spouse, partner, friend, or family member is a functioning alcoholic:
- Drinks to boost confidence
- Drinks in the morning
- Drinks more than normal
- Drinks even when alone
- Have been driving under the influence
- Denies having a problem
- Becomes angry and irritable when confronted with a drinking problem
Please note that functional alcoholics are hardworking, educated individuals who are successful at work and home. It is the successes they work hard toward that might make it hard to confront them about a drinking problem.
Risk Factors To Keep In Mind
Some factors can increase the risk of becoming an alcoholic. They can be:
- Drinking more than 5 drinks a day
- High-stress levels
- Peer pressure
- Having an alcoholic or someone with a history of AUD in the family
- Having a psychological or psychotic disorder
- Having low self-confidence
How To Deal With A High Functioning Alcoholic?
Living with a high functioning alcoholic can be challenging but there are some steps you can take as a loving partner, friend, sibling, or parent to help them. The first thing you need to do is avoid enabling their alcoholism by covering for them. Whether it is making excuses for their behaviors or covering for their expenses.
Unconsciously or otherwise, enabling their actions and not making them realize the consequences of their actions, you only encourage them to continue drinking. A high-functioning alcoholic might be successful and appear mentally stable but continuous drinking can be unhealthy and fatal for them in the future.
Other steps on how to deal with a high functioning alcoholic can include:
If living with a functional alcoholic is taking a toll on your health and psyche, you can help them (and yourself) by hosting an intervention. An intervention is a planned meeting where you, the concerned person along with others, talk to the alcoholic.
An intervention can include:
- Explaining to the alcoholic how their actions are hurting others near and dear to them
- Explaining to the alcoholic different recovery plans
- Explaining to the alcoholic the benefits of seeking rehab and therapy
- Helping the alcoholic and showing them your support in getting treatment
An intervention can be hosted by anyone who is concerned for the health and wellness of the alcoholic be it a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or friend. To help provide professional support, a counselor or a therapist can also be present.
2. Therapy Or Rehabilitation
If your loved one who is a functioning alcoholic is experiencing trouble with withdrawal and quitting their problem, it is recommended that you seek professional help in the form of outpatient treatment from rehab centers, detoxification, or even counseling. Your mental health service provider can help you reach out to trained counselors and therapists experienced in treating AUD.
3. Seeking Support For Yourself
If you’re living with a high-functioning alcoholic, it is important to get support for yourself too. If you’d like to help your loved one, you can seek support from various self-help websites, support groups, or even from programs such as Al-Anon. These support groups can help you gain insight into a functioning alcoholics’ mind and provide you with information to help your loved one.
Please note that alcoholism can increase the risk of domestic and emotional abuse. If you’re someone experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to your nearest domestic abuse helpline for support.
High functioning alcoholics and relationships with them might appear normal and healthy on the surface but on the inside they might be a mess. Living with a high functioning alcoholic and dealing with an alcoholic is not easy and can be downright taxing on your mental wellness.
I hope the above information helped you understand more about how to deal with a high-functioning alcoholic. For further support, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on social media.
Remember, you are not alone out there!
One step at a time…