High Functional Alcoholic

High-Functioning Alcoholics: Symptoms, Treatment, and Other Recommendations

For most people, the term ‘alcoholic’ refers to a person who’s flat-out drunk on the daily, on the brink of losing his job and his home. For the most part, this is accurate. That’s until you meet a high-functioning alcoholic.

Also known as functional alcoholics or working alcoholics, these people look sober and act normally just like any other person. In most cases, they are well enough to succeed in their endeavors – no matter how strict the competition might be.

Their alcoholism issue is unbeknownst to many of their family and friends. More often than not, it is only discovered after a peculiar incident – say, a drunk driving accident or hospitalization following an alcohol-related condition.

High-Functioning Alcoholics: Symptoms, Treatment, and Other Recommendations

Symptoms of High-Functioning Alcoholism

No two working alcoholics have the same signs. However, most of them may exhibit the following manifestations: 

  • Makes use of alcohol to relax or be more confident 
  • Drinks alcohol alone in excessive amounts – during peculiar times such as early in the morning
  • Chooses to drink rather than to eat
  • Jokes about having alcohol problems 
  • Denies or is defensive when asked about alcohol problems 
  • Has many explanations regarding his alcohol use 
  • Has problems remembering what took place while he was drinking 
  • Has difficulties keeping up with a self-imposed alcohol limit
  • Has obsessive thoughts about when or where he could finally drink again
  • Behaves unusually when sober, compared to when he has a drink 
  • Has a string of ‘Driving under the influence’ arrests

How Does One Become a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Like other drinkers, working alcoholics may develop the habit due to any of the following factors:

  • Stress
  • Concerns/problems at home or at work
  • Relationship problems 
  • Genetic predisposition (other family members have drinking problems as well) 
  • Peer pressure 
  • Cultural or religious views 

Why High-Functioning Alcoholics Need Treatment Right Away

Although they may continue to do well at home or at work, working alcoholics are bound to suffer from the consequences of binge drinking anytime soon. As with any other disease, it’s best to treat the problem right away before it makes a turn for the worse. 

Here are some reasons why working alcoholics should get treatment right away:

Alcoholism can lead to a variety of health conditions.

Its effects may be euphoric at first, but the fact of the matter is alcohol has no positive effects on the body. It can harm almost all of your organs. It can affect your mood, behavior, and coordination. It can also lead to high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (difficulty of pumping blood throughout the body), irregular heartbeats, and stroke. 

The liver and pancreas may end up diseased as well. To make matters worse, alcoholism may increase your risk of certain cancers. Life expectancy in alcoholics can be reduced by as much as 28 years, as per the results of a Scandinavian study. With that being said, alcoholism must be treated before you develop any of these harmful complications. 

Alcoholism can destroy your relationships. 

Your physical and mental faculties are not the only thing affected by alcoholism. It can take a toll on your social life as well. For one, alcohol can affect your mood, emotions, and thought processes. It might make you more aggressive and violent. In the long run, alcoholism may affect your brain so much so that you are no longer able to go back to your pre-alcoholic state. With this in the bag, relationships with family and friends may be strained – or destroyed for good. 

Alcoholism might prod you to do high-risk activities. 

According to Thoa et al, heavy drinkers are more inclined to take more risks. It lowers one’s inhibitions, which can lead to several risk-taking behaviors, such as unsafe use and illegal drug use. Such can lead to the onset of sexually transmitted diseases, even HIV/AIDS. 

Risky behaviors also put alcoholics at risk of driving-related accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 million people drive under the influence every year. While some go by unscathed, some get involved in fatal accidents. As much as 29 Americans die due to alcohol-related accidents daily. To prevent this, alcoholism treatment should be given right away. 

How to Deal with a High-Functioning Alcoholic

While functional alcoholics do well in society, they won’t be able to do that forever. As such, it is your role as a concerned loved one to help him get better. Here are some tips that can help you deal with a family or a friend who’s a working alcoholic:

Put an end to codependency. 

Panaghi et al define codependency as ‘caring behaviors and relationships within family members (or friends) of alcohol abusers.’ According to studies, it is a normal reaction to the stresses of living with an alcoholic. There is an agreeableness in the part of the loved one, and such may lead to the acceptance of destructive alcoholism behaviors.

While it might be hard to put an end to codependency when it has been there for long, it is one of the best ways to help a high-functioning alcoholic. It is advisable to break the cycle before it turns out for the worse. 

Intervene early. 

High-functioning alcoholics, as has been mentioned, are in denial of their drinking problems. According to the book Facing Addiction in America, early intervention is recommended for at-risk individuals, such as working alcoholics. 

The Mayo Clinic defines an intervention as a ‘planned program staged by loved ones, in coordination with a licensed professional.’ During this gathering, a high-functioning alcoholic is confronted so that he or she may consent to treatment. This may be tough love, but more often than not, it works.

Join a support group.

Alcoholism is a two-prong problem that affects not only the abuser but his/her loved ones as well. If you are guilty of enabling an alcoholic, there’s no sense in beating yourself down. The best thing you could do is to seek support from groups such as Codependents Anonymous. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a 12-step program that starts with an admission of the problem and ends with a spiritual awakening. Remember, you are only human but you can power through these problems with faith, hope, and perseverance. 

High-functioning alcoholics blend well with society, and this makes them more vulnerable to the physical, mental, and social effects of alcohol. If you suffer from this condition – or if you know one who does – make sure to seek help right away. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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