High Functioning Alcoholics

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Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Often, the classic description of alcoholics on television or in movies are people who drink heavily and have lives that are falling apart. They look disheveled, filthy, and unshaven and probably smell like alcohol all of the time. This depiction may not be entirely accurate.

Reality may be different. Alcoholics may look like average people who are not dealing with substance use disorder. They may hold good jobs, dress well, and have seemingly happy relationships. But under the surface, they may have problems with alcohol abuse that may create severe psychological and emotional damage for themselves and their loved ones.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Functional alcoholics or high-functioning alcoholics may still look healthy and happy on the outside. They may not act in the manner you expect them to behave even though they are abusing alcohol.

These people may be successful and productive in their careers, family lives, and social lives. They may occupy high positions or excel in their fields. As a result, their alcoholism may be overlooked by their loved ones and their circle of friends.

Many functional alcoholics are in denial of their problem with alcohol abuse and addiction. Some say that alcohol helps them be more sociable. They may make excuses, saying that they only drink expensive wines.

People with this condition are often not aware that their behavior impacts the people who are close to them. They did not achieve their success because of their alcohol use, but in spite of it. If they continue living alcohol-fueled lifestyles, their prolonged and frequent alcohol abuse may create numerous consequences that could be fatal.

According to Robert Huebner of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), high-functioning alcoholics are not thriving, despite their apparent successes. He noted that no one can drink large amounts of alcohol for extended periods of time and not experience any consequences: “If someone drinks heavily, it is going to catch up with them.”

Sooner or later, alcohol will tear people down physically, socially, and emotionally.

Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

One problem with high-functioning alcoholics is that they may not admit that they have problems or are suffering. But they may behave in certain ways to help you to recognize the problem.

Look for these signs to help save yourself or your loved one from alcohol abuse and addiction:

  1. They often limit drinking to a particular beverage, time, or situation. Their self-imposed restrictions may delude the alcoholics and convince them that they are controlling their drinking. But they may break these restrictions and their facade.
  2. They use family or friends to conceal their actions. A high-functioning alcoholic may ask his wife to make excuses if he is absent at work because of a hangover. He may borrow money from a co-worker because he spent money on alcohol and could not pay his bills. Functional alcoholics often thrive because of the supportive/codependent behavior of their loved ones.
  3. They may isolate themselves and spend a great deal of time in private. They may look and act sociable during family, professional, or social functions. But when they are not busy, they may prefer to  drink by themselves.
  4. They compromise their personal obligations due to their drinking habits. They may receive recognition in their careers for continued work excellence. But they may focus their energy on their jobs and their drinking, neglecting other aspects of their lives. They may also forget important family affairs because they are drunk or have hangovers.

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How Do You Confront a High-Functioning Alcoholic/Functional Alcoholic?

High-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) may be difficult to confront. Aside from being in denial of their current situation, they may not believe that they need your help. You need to be patient, firm, and honest if you really want to help this type of alcoholic.

  1. When confronting a functional alcoholic, make sure that he is sober. Talking with someone who is under the influence is not effective. Consider talking with an HFA when he is suffering from a hangover.
  2. Do not be offensive. Always make your loved one see how her actions affect you and others. Do not use guilt or other negative feelings to make her feel defensive or as if you are judging her.
  3. Approach your HFA with compassion and love, but do not allow those feelings to blind your judgment.
  4. Like other people with addictions, high-functioning alcoholics may have many excuses. Resist excuses and search for the truth.

Treating a High-Functioning Alcoholic

People who are HFA or functional alcoholics will not acknowledge that they have a problem and may attempt to conceal their problems from their loved ones. Because of this, it is crucial that you look for signs of a problem.

You may need to organize an intervention help the HFA in your life understand the dangers of his or her drinking habit. If you choose to do this, you need to be prepared. People suffering from alcohol use disorders may not want to participate in interventions since they are afraid of being judged.

Consider contact a doctor or an addiction specialist to help you before and during the intervention. The professionals can teach you the best ways to approach your loved one and assist you if your loved one is in denial.

If you are living with a high-functioning alcoholic, your own health may be compromised. If you have an alcoholic wife or husband, Mountain Springs Recovery offers support to encourage your loved one to enter rehab.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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