High-Functioning Alcoholics: Traits, Warning Signs & How To Help

Last Update on August 25, 2021 : Published on June 2, 2021
High-Functioning Alcoholics

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?

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

Traits Of A High Functioning Alcoholic

1. Denial

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.

2. Tolerance

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

3. Withdrawal

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:

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

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

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
Continuous consumption of alcoholic beverages might have physical and psychological consequences on an individual’s psyche and health. Consumption of alcohol can cause liver failure, heart diseases, neurological impairments, cancer, and can also worsen depression. It is also advisable that you do NOT drink and drive.

How To Deal With A High Functioning Alcoholic?

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:

1. Intervention

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.

There are also plenty of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery that can provide additional support and help in the recovery process.

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.

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Final Words

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 info@calmsage.com or follow us on social media.

Remember, you are not alone out there!

One step at a time…

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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