Alcohol is so prevalent in our society that many people don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of problem drinking. Research shows one in eight Americans are alcoholics. This number is staggering considering the majority of people seem to enjoy a healthy home and family life.
While many of us imagine an alcoholic as someone who is not a part of society due to their drinking problem, this isn’t true for common alcoholic abuse. The high-functioning alcoholic is someone who seems to maintain their normal life while actually suffering from alcohol addiction.
What Exactly is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a medical condition known as “alcohol use disorder.” It is a brain disorder that affects people with mild to severe symptoms. The risk of developing alcohol use disorder relates to how much and how often alcohol is consumed.
Alcohol use disorder may disrupt your family or work life. But, normal life routines can hide problem drinking. Our society tends to accept aspects of drinking alone to ‘relax’ or binge drinking with friends.
Some things contribute to the risk factors for alcohol use disorder. How early you start consuming alcohol, your gender, your family history of alcohol use, and a history of trauma all increase your risk of developing the disease.
Binge drinking and heavy drinking also contribute to these risks. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks a day for men. And, more than three drinks a day for women.
What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
The term high-functioning is not a medical diagnosis. But, it is commonly used to describe a person with alcohol use disorder that is still part of society. A person who has a problem drinking but it doesn’t often cause them to miss work or other commitments is referred to as high-functioning.
From the outside, it looks like these people are managing their family, work, and social life from a healthy perspective.
High-functioning alcoholics appear physically and mentally well. But, they are often battling cravings to drink and failed attempts to reduce their consumption. People with drinking problems that are high-functioning in society will likely organize their daily plans to make sure their drinking is included.
This can look like putting alcohol in their morning coffee. Or, arranging lunch dates for afternoon drinks. Problem drinking often consumes large amounts of alcohol in the afternoon and evening.
High-functioning alcoholics usually justify their drinking. They convince themselves it is normal to always drink to relax or socialize.
Signs of Problem Drinking
Alcohol use disorder has five different subtypes. The functional subtype accounts for nearly 20% of people suffering from alcohol addiction. This group is usually middle-aged and well-educated. They often have good jobs and family relationships.
Many people who meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder fit the descriptions for other mental health diagnoses. Some common signs show high-functioning alcohol abuse disorder.
These signs can look like drinking in the morning or at work. Or, going to the bar regularly after work. Problem drinking includes ‘rewarding’ yourself after work by drinking.
Drinking more or longer than intended or binge drinking is a sign. As well as driving after drinking and drinking while responsible for children. Consuming alcohol alone is a common behavior and so is having it at every meal.
Many people with high-functioning alcoholism carry booze with them to make activities feel more fun. They joke about alcohol and think activities without it as being boring or not worth doing.
It’s a red flag if someone you love is concerned about your drinking. If your social life, hobbies, and interests center around booze, it’s time to examine why. If you hide or lie about how much or how often you drink, this is a serious red flag.
Tolerance to Alcohol
People living with high-functioning alcoholic symptoms develop a tolerance. High tolerance to alcohol affects the amount drank and how fast it is consumed. It means it takes more drinks to feel the effects.
People who drink frequently and develop a tolerance to alcohol often feel like they can live their life normally. They adapt to work duties, driving, and home life while under the influence. This is a learned tolerance where daily tasks get adjusted to feeling intoxicated.
Hard alcohol or large amounts of drinks don’t cause the same obvious negative effects for problem drinkers. So, they feel like they don’t actually have a problem. This is a denial of alcohol abuse.
Denial of High-Functioning Alcoholism
Because high-functioning alcoholics appear to live a life free of addiction, they are often struggling in secret. They may not even realize how badly their condition is affecting them. Most people with high-functioning alcohol use disorder are in denial about their addiction.
People with jobs and have family and social relationships often think their drinking isn’t something to worry about. High-functioning drinkers often have no issues with the law or serious health problems. Until things take a turn for the worse.
Denial can take different forms. People may lie to others about how much or how often they drink. Or, they may lie to themselves about how much they consumed by underestimating the amount by ‘free-pouring’ their drinks.
Denying how alcohol affects personal relationships, work commitments, and other types of personal promises is common in high-functioning alcoholics. Problem drinkers usually have a high tolerance to alcohol. So, they may not consider themselves impaired while driving or when taking medication.
Help is One Call Away for Problem Drinking
If this information hits home for you (or someone you love), help is available. There is no shame in seeking support to end high-functioning alcoholic behavior. The first step is acknowledging that life can be different!At Inland Detox our professional team treats alcohol abuse disorder with compassion and care. Contact us today to learn about our detox programs.