When most people hear the word "alcoholic," pictures of chaos and drama usually spring to mind. Images of impoverished people begging for money on the side of the road with no work and alienated families come to mind frequently. Furthermore, society frequently views alcoholics as people who suffer from poor health, become homeless, enter institutions, or die.
But 20% of alcoholics don’t fit this description. These individuals are referred to as functional alcoholics. From the outside, they look like normal, productive individuals. They’re generally middle class; they go to work every day; they maintain their marriage and appear to be good parents. A functional alcoholic’s high level of productivity often leads to denial. Functional alcoholics and their loved ones believe that since they don’t fit the typical prototype of an alcoholic, they must not be. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see cracks in the foundation.
Most high-functioning alcoholics are able to disguise the intensity of their alcohol addiction from friends and loved ones due to their outward appearance. Many of these people are able to deny that they have an alcohol problem. Indeed, the majority of these high-functioning alcoholics feel that their drinking helps them succeed by making them more gregarious or appealing. For high-functioning addicts, like most alcoholics and addicts, they are ignorant of the consequences of their actions on those closest to them.
How to tell if someone is a functional alcoholic:
There is a distinction to be made between someone with high-functioning alcoholism and someone who just loves consuming alcohol. The distinction is addiction. Alcoholism is a sickness, not just an addiction. Alcoholism in high-functioning alcoholics causes cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking. Alcoholics who are high-functioning drink because they "need to drink," not because they want to drink.
Alcoholics who are high-functioning seldom acknowledge having a problem. However, if someone in your life consumes three or more alcoholic beverages per day (two or more for women), they are over the daily limit. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines state that moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more alcoholic beverages in a single drinking episode for women and five or more alcoholic beverages in a single drinking episode for men (a typical drinking episode lasts around two hours).
- Drinks every day, alone or with others, often times more than recommended
- Gets angry when confronted about their drinking
- Frequently has a hangover or feels "sick"
- Short stints of sobriety accompanied by mood swings, anger and irritability
- Uses alcohol as a reward
- Excessive focus on the next time they will get to drink
- Engaging in risky behavior, such as driving while intoxicated or risky sexual behaviors
- Needs alcohol to be social or to relax
Why is it dangerous to be a high-functioning alcoholic?
High-functioning alcoholics are nevertheless alcoholics, no matter how successfully they hide their addiction or preserve their employment and relationships. As a result, kids are exposed to the dangers and consequences of alcoholism. Many recovered high-functioning alcoholics have testified that an alcoholic can only live a normal life for so long before the condition begins to damage their health and conduct.
High-functioning alcoholics, for example, are more likely to drive under the influence and conduct other alcohol-related crimes. Even if a high-functioning alcoholic never faces legal or professional penalties as a result of their drinking, their health will still suffer. Chronic alcohol abuse harms a person's brain, heart, liver, and other important organs over time. As a result, all kinds of alcoholism have the potential to be fatal. Cirrhosis, cancer, and heart disease are all hazards for high-functioning alcoholics who have drank for decades.
Find help for alcoholism
Pacific Solstice understands the need for effective treatment for all types of alcoholism. Functional alcoholics require just as much attention as the ordinary drunks we encounter on a regular basis. We think that each client is unique and requires personalized treatment strategies, which is why we take detailed histories and perform comprehensive evaluations. At Pacific Solstice, we provide a variety of alcoholism treatment options that we personalize to the needs of our patients. Our dual diagnosis enhanced outpatient program allows an individual to engage in treatment while keeping their career and maintaining family obligations. If you or someone you love is a high-functioning alcoholic, do not hesitate to contact us through our website or via phone call at (949) 200-7929. You may also complete this quick assessment and verify your insurance to help us get to know you better.
Spotting a functional alcoholic is difficult if you’re only looking on the surface. But just because someone can maintain the illusion of productivity doesn’t mean they aren’t still suffering. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that will inevitably catch up with even the most functional of alcoholics.