Recognizing a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Alcoholism is frequently a hidden illness for high functioning alcoholics who manage to fulfill the requirements of daily life, often for many years. High functioning alcoholics don’t fit the stereotypical image of a stumbling person with paper bag in hand and they usually aren’t found sitting on a bar stool day after day, the physical and emotional toll of alcoholism is just as great.

According to (NIH), National Institutes of Health, there is no “typical” alcoholic. However, high functioning alcoholics comprises 19 percent of alcoholics in the United States. NIH reports that high functioning alcoholics are most often middle aged with families and stable jobs.

If you are worried about a person you care about, or if you are concerned about your own drinking, high functioning alcoholics often display common warning signs:

  • Although high-functioning alcoholics drink excessively, they rarely experience hangovers. This is primarily because they are drinking constantly and their blood is never truly clear of alcohol.
  • A high-functioning alcoholic may become moody or irritable when alcohol isn’t available, or if forced to remain in a situation unable to drink. Early withdrawal symptoms may include sweating, fast heart rate, agitation, headache and tremors.
  • Social occasions may be difficult for high-functioning alcoholics who prefer to drink alone. A high-functioning alcoholic often can’t stop at one or two drinks, even when everybody else is sipping a wine or beer.
  • Similarly, high-functioning alcoholics often decline social invitations in an attempt to keep their drinking problem hidden. They may prefer not to invite friends and family to their homes.
  • High-functioning alcoholics are usually in deep denial about their drinking problem. They may refuse to talk about the problem when confronted by a friend or family member.
  • A high-functioning alcoholic may have self-imposed rules about drinking. For example, he may drink beer but no hard liquor. Such rules help convince the person he is in control of the situation, thus prolonging denial.
  • All too often, well-meaning friends and family help cover up the drinking problem, thus acting as enablers by helping the high-functioning alcoholic avoid consequences that might compel him to seek help.
  • High-functioning alcoholics often have many ways of justifying their excessive drinking. For example, they may blame a tough day at work.
  • Hiding booze is common for high-functioning alcoholics who don’t want family members to know how much they’re really drinking.

Helping a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Many high-functioning alcoholics refuse to admit they have a problem, frequently using their ability to function so effectively as an excuse not to seek treatment. In fact, high-functioning alcoholics often go to great lengths to hang on to jobs in order to continue a drinking habit undetected. However, friends and family members are usually very aware the problem exists.

Even though a high-functioning alcoholic may manage to get through daily life, she may not be truly present for friends and family. According to National Institutes of Health, about 25 percent of high-functioning alcoholics have had a major depressive illness at some time in their lives.

Friends and family may need to plan an intervention if a high-functioning alcoholic refuses to seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab on his own. An intervention is a carefully planned meeting in which friends, family members and other concerned individuals confront the person about their drinking. Interventions are usually done with the guidance of a trained professional.

Although interventions aren’t a guarantee of success, a well-planned intervention can be highly effective. Although staging an intervention is difficult, it may be exactly what a high-functioning alcoholic needs in order to break through denial and seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab before life goes seriously wrong.

If you are considering an intervention, seek help from an experienced intervention/drug treatment professional. A poorly planned intervention can do much more harm than good.

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