Do you know a high-functioning alcoholic? In many cases, it’s that person who seems to have it all– successful career, happy family and lots of friends – but in order to keep it together, abuses alcohol or binge drinks, all the while denying the fact that he has a problem, and successfully hiding the problem from the people around him. High-functioning alcoholics can go years without being confronted about having a problem with alcohol, and, in many cases, a pattern begins to develop where the alcoholic himself denies the abuse, and his friends and loved ones simply become used to the drinking. This is the point when getting professional help becomes a necessity.
What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
Most people think of alcoholics as people who drink too much and too often, and whose lives are falling apart as a result, but not all problem drinking fits that exact mold. Some people seem to be just fine when they abuse alcohol; they are responsible and productive, and they may even be wealthy or powerful. In some cases, it is the success of the high-functioning alcoholic that leads the people around him to overlook his drinking, but it’s still a problem. As Dr. Mark Willengring of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism puts it, “People can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They’re successful students. They’re good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go to the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet.”
It’s no wonder that, when a high-functioning alcoholic finally suffers one or more consequences of his abusive behavior – a DUI, a failed marriage or even a fatal accident – the alcoholic’s friends and loved ones often respond with shock and dismay. High-functioning alcoholics are adept at hiding their behavior from others, which is the very nature of the problem, and they lead a double life of sorts: a public life where they are successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers, and a private life where they drink far more than what is considered acceptable social drinking.
Warning Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic
It can be tough to recognize that a person is a high-functioning alcoholic, especially if that person has a successful job, spends quality time with his family, is a good parent, has a healthy social life, and isn’t financially impacted by his abusive drinking. The alcoholic himself may justify his drinking by making excuses like, “I only drink expensive wine,” or “I haven’t suffered any serious consequences because of my drinking.”
There are obvious red flags though when it comes to problem drinking, and the five most common warning signs of high-functioning alcoholism are:
- They have three drinks to everyone else’s one drink, or they say they are only going to have a couple of drinks and end up drinking far more.
- They exhibit physical signs of overindulgence (insomnia, stomach problems, shakiness in the morning).
- They have binge periods when they get extremely drunk, and may even black out.
- They plan their day around drinking.
- They go through periods of abstinence where they make it a point not to drink, during which they are anxious or irritable, and then go back to their usual pattern of drinking heavily and often.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
It’s important to remember that suffering from alcoholism, or being an alcoholic isn’t the same thing as being a failure, and high-functioning alcoholics defy the stereotypical characterization of an alcoholic. In many cases, even the alcoholic himself doesn’t recognize that he has a problem until things finally come crashing down, which they eventually will, and may not realize that he is putting himself and others at risk when he abuses alcohol, no matter how well he disguises it. If you or someone you know is a high-functioning alcoholic, it may be time to get professional help. Contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today to discuss the treatment options available to high-functioning alcoholics.