Alcoholism looks different for everyone. Some people become so inebriated when they drink and so consumed by their drinking that they’re unable to function like the average person. They struggle to hold down a job, may neglect their personal hygiene, and seem extremely unstable. Other people, however, are better at hiding their alcoholism and, on the outside, appear normal, functional, or stable. This type of alcoholic is sometimes referred to as the high-functioning alcoholic.

High-functioning alcoholics, or functional alcoholics, are able to maintain an outward appearance of normalcy, but on the inside, they’re struggling with a progressive alcohol use disorder. Without treatment, functional alcoholism can spiral into the typical stereotype of an alcoholic, causing the person to become all-consumed by their drinking. As a result, it’s essential to be able to spot the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic and convince them to get help before it’s too late.

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic is an individual who is able to maintain a relatively normal and successful life despite having an alcohol use disorder. These individuals may excel in their professional and personal lives, appearing to function well in various aspects, while at the same time, they struggle with a serious and often progressive alcohol dependency.

High-functioning alcoholics may not exhibit the stereotypical signs of alcoholism, such as job loss, financial ruin, or strained relationships, which can make it challenging to identify their alcohol-related issues. They may be able to fulfill their responsibilities, maintain relationships, and even achieve success in their careers while continuing to engage in excessive alcohol consumption. As a result, friends and family often fail to recognize the seriousness of their loved one’s drinking problem.

However, it’s important to note that being high-functioning doesn’t mean that the person is immune to the negative effects of alcohol on their health and well-being. Over time, the consequences of alcohol abuse can catch up with them, leading to physical, mental, and emotional health issues.

11 Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

High-functioning alcoholics may be good at concealing their alcohol abuse, making it challenging for others to recognize the signs. However, there are still certain indicators that may suggest a person is struggling with high-functioning alcoholism. These include:

1. Maintaining Responsibilities Despite Escalating Alcohol Use

Despite alcohol use, high-functioning alcoholics often fulfill their work and family responsibilities. They may have successful careers, stable relationships, and meet their obligations. And, since they are so successful, it is easy for them to justify their drinking.

2. Denial and Rationalization

High-functioning alcoholics may deny or downplay their alcohol consumption when they are confronted about it. They may rationalize their behavior, attributing it to job or family-related stress, socializing, celebrating successes, or other factors.

3. Functional Tolerance

Over time, individuals with high-functioning alcoholism may develop a tolerance to alcohol, requiring larger amounts to achieve the desired effects. Despite drinking larger volumes of alcohol, functional alcoholics may continue going to work or school and taking care of their responsibilities. However, increasing tolerance can increase the risk of physical and mental health-related problems. It can also lead to accidental injury or alcohol poisoning.

4. Drinking Alone

While social drinking is common among the average drinker, high-functioning alcoholics may also drink alone, either to cope with stress or to maintain the habit without drawing the attention of others regarding their drinking patterns.

5. Drinking in Secret

Another sign of high-functioning alcoholism is hidden alcohol consumption. These individuals may hide alcohol or drink in secret to avoid scrutiny from others and to avoid being found out.

6. Having a Drinking Routine or “Ritual”

Establishing a regular drinking routine, such as having a specific time each day to drink, can be a sign of dependency. A functioning alcoholic may have a specific routine or ritual they follow each time they drink.

7. Difficulty Cutting Back on Drinking

When the high-functioning alcoholic first suspects they have a drinking problem, they may try cutting back. However, they often have difficulty cutting back or stopping drinking, even when they earnestly want to do so.

8. Blackouts or Brownouts

Frequent episodes of memory loss or blackouts after drinking may indicate a drinking problem. Due to their functional tolerance, many functional drinkers experience brownouts, a less severe form of a blackout, where they remember some events but experience some lapses in memory.

9. Social Isolation

Despite maintaining outward appearances of normalcy, high-functioning alcoholics may become more socially isolated over time. They may slowly begin canceling plans or calling into work so they can stay home and drink.

10. Physical Health Issues

Long-term alcohol abuse, even in people who appear to manage their drinking well, can lead to various health problems, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and neurological impairments.

11. Relationship Problems

Even if high-functioning alcoholics manage to maintain relationships, there may be underlying strain with family, friends, or co-workers due to the impact of their drinking habits.

Find Help for High-Functioning Alcoholism Today

High-functioning alcoholics can stop drinking and regain control of their lives with the help of a complete alcohol rehab program. 1st Step Behavioral Health is a licensed dual-diagnosis long-term addiction treatment facility that is accredited by the Joint Commission. We focus on the physiological rebalancing of the individual through medical, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual care. To learn more about our alcohol rehab programs or to get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment, please contact us today.

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