Substance Use

High Functioning Alcoholic Signs: Understanding Alcoholic Behavior

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There is a common misconception in our culture that someone who is an “alcoholic” or “addict” is someone who is non-functional, living on the streets, or receiving treatment at a rehab facility. The reality, however, is starkly different from this. In fact, there are many people across the world who struggle with alcoholism who you might not know are alcoholics. These people may hide their usage of drugs and alcohol, using and drinking only in secret. Many of these individuals might deem themselves “high functioning alcoholics.”

High-functioning alcoholics might act and live like they have their life together and can somehow function despite abusing alcohol. The reality, however, is, much more stark. Beneath this façade, they are deeply dysfunctional and struggling. Most functioning alcoholics don’t “look” like the addicts we’ve gotten used to seeing in books and movies. You might be surprised by the extent of their struggle with alcohol. This is because, on some levels, they do well in society. High-functioning alcoholics often have great jobs, lots of friends, and a busy life. However, their high-functioning appearance is usually a mask, hiding a life in which they somehow suffer from despair, depression, and isolation.

Do you know someone who’s struggling in their relationship with alcohol—but also seem to have it together in most other areas of life? If you’re worried they might be masking the reality of their struggle, a good first step is to learn how to spot the signs of a functioning alcoholic. 

When you understand how a substance use or substance abuse disorder presents itself, you have a clearer understanding of the battle they’re fighting. Learning about the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic can give you the tools you need to help them help themselves. Call Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 to learn more. 

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

High-functioning alcoholism–or alcohol use disorder– is dangerous. Essentially, alcohol use disorder is an addiction to alcohol. It is a mental health disorder in which the person’s alcohol use impairs their ability to think clearly, regulate emotions, or function socially or on the job. People with alcohol use disorder often exhibit disturbing behavior, and alcohol gets in the way of their development—whether biological or psychological. Alcohol use disorder is an incredibly dangerous, debilitating, and destructive disease—not just for the alcohol user, but for those who live with or are close to them, too.

High-Functioning Alcohol Use Disorder

It might be difficult to understand how it’s possible to have alcohol use disorder and also function well in society. After all, by definition, the disorder significantly impairs your ability to function in many ways. Some individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder see impairments in only certain areas of life. So, they present as normal and healthy otherwise. 

Although the full extent of their disorder isn’t obvious, it doesn’t mean alcohol isn’t a problem for them. In reality, many of these people know how to keep alcohol in their lives while juggling other important areas of life simultaneously. Those with alcohol use disorder often struggle in secret or experience severe biological consequences that aren’t readily apparent to the rest of the world. They are often going through emotional challenges impossible to for others to see.

Common Misconceptions About Functioning Alcoholics

Functioning alcoholics are common, which has led to many cultural misconceptions about what it means to have alcohol use disorder and also be a high-functioning member of society. 

The following common misconceptions about high-functioning alcoholics have perpetuated the idea that these individuals can safely manage their use, or that they don’t need as much help as poorly functioning addicts:

  • You can’t tell they’re an alcoholic. Very superficially, it might be hard to tell a high-functioning alcoholic is struggling with a substance use disorder. However, if you look beyond the exterior of a high-functioning alcoholic, you will undoubtedly find signs of a problematic relationship with alcohol.

  • You can just call them heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers differ from high-functioning alcoholics. While misuse or overuse of alcohol is never good for a person’s health, there is a difference between a person who drinks heavily but is not dependent on the substance, and someone who is legitimately addicted to alcohol. This holds even if the person is able to maintain many “normal” aspects of their life.

  • High-functioning alcoholics are actually in control of their addiction. By definition, someone who is addicted to alcohol is not in control of their usage—the substance is controlling their behavior. Even high-functioning alcoholics cannot get their alcohol use under control. They may feel very out of control in multiple areas of their life, even if they appear to “have it all together.”

  • They don’t need any help. Any person who is struggling with substance use deserves and needs help. Healing from an addiction alone is incredibly difficult if not impossible. High-functioning alcoholics can benefit from rehab or professional medical help like any substance abuser, and they may need serious medical supervision to help them stop their use.

Signs That Someone Might be a High-Functioning Alcoholic

You may know people in your life who drink heavily, but you’re not sure if the behavior is problematic or just a poor health decision they make from time to time. Some of the common behavioral signs or characteristics of high-functioning alcoholics include:

  • Education. They are educated, usually at a college level or beyond.

  • Structured. They have very structured drinking habits, like only drinking in certain places or situations, or only drinking certain types of alcohol.

  • In denial. They believe that their drinking is normal for them and that the level they drink is just their regular habit, which may vary from other people’s habits.

  • Good, stable employment. They have good jobs and they usually have decent incomes, which allow them to afford the alcohol they drink.

  • Mental health issues. They may have other mental health issues, such as anxiety, anger, depression, and low self-esteem. Often, alcohol is a way to self-medicate.

  • Anti-social. They like to drink alone. This ensures that no one is able to see the extent of their alcohol abuse.

  • Uphold an image. They are careful about who sees them drinking and who sees them when they’ve drank too much, so they can try to stay in control of their image in other people’s eyes.

  • Rarely single. They are married or partnered, and they often have children or a family.

Take This Quiz to Determine If You’re a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Answer the following questions to see if you might be a high-functioning alcoholic. If you find yourself answering “yes” to at least two of the following questions, it may indicate an alcohol use disorder. You could benefit from seeking professional assistance.

  1. Has alcohol ever caused me to miss school or work?

  2. Do I drink to relax or destress?

  3. Do I drink before social events to feel more confident?

  4. Has my use of alcohol ever ended up causing an argument between me and a loved one?

  5. Do I have a routine regarding my use of alcohol?

  6. Do I ever try to hide my drinking? Will I lie about how much I’ve drank to make it seem like I’ve consumed less than I actually have?

  7. Have I ever tried to cut down on my drinking, but it’s been unsuccessful or only temporary?

  8. Do I feel guilty about the way I use alcohol?

  9. Do I ever black out from drinking alcohol?

  10. Is alcohol affecting my financial situation in any way?

  11. Do people consider me a heavy drinker? Do I have the reputation of being a drinker in social situations?

  12. Have I ever told someone I wasn’t drinking, when I was planning to later or already had?

  13. Has drinking ever resulted in me engaging in risky behaviors, like driving while drunk or going home with a stranger while impaired?

  14. Has my use of alcohol ever caused any legal issues for me?

  15. Have any loved ones removed themselves from my life because they are worried about or disapprove of my drinking?

  16. Have I ever asked someone close to me to lie about the amount I’ve been drinking?

  17. Have I ever told people I was ill when I missed events, but I was actually hungover?

If you’ve answered yes to two or more of the above questions, there’s a good chance that your usage of alcohol is problematic. Consider consulting a medical professional or recovery specialist. If you can be open with them about your drinking, they may help you get on the path to sobriety, and ensure that you do it in a safe and healthy way. This is especially valuable since withdrawing from alcohol can be dangerous or even deadly if you try to stop on your own. Call Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 to learn more.

Ways to Help a High Functioning Alcoholic in Your Life

If you’re not worried about your own alcohol use but you have a feeling that someone you love is a high-functioning alcoholic, you may want to step in to do what you can to help them. However, assisting anyone in getting help is tricky. The reality is, a person has to want to get sober in order to get and stay sober. And often, high-functioning alcoholics aren’t ready to admit they have a problem and stop drinking or seek treatment. After all, if their life is going somewhat okay, they most likely won’t want to give up the substance they use for relaxation, stress reduction, entertainment, etc.

However, if you want to help a high-functioning alcoholic in your life get on a path to a safer, healthier, happier existence, there are some ways you can offer your support. Here are some of the best ways to help a functioning alcoholic get better.

Don’t Enable Their Drinking

It’s easy to slip into a codependent relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic. A codependent relationship involves you enabling their drinking—or helping them to seem as normal and okay as possible so that you can try to maintain the status quo. If you’ve determined that you love a high-functioning alcoholic, avoid the following behaviors so that they’re forced to confront their problem and be accountable for their actions:

  • Don’t make excuses for how they act when intoxicated.

  • Don’t try to convince the alcoholic to stop drinking with emotional threats or passive-aggressive behavior.

  • Don’t try to control their drinking by purchasing alcohol and monitoring how much of it they consume.

  • Don’t neglect your own needs to ensure the alcoholic stays as safe, healthy, and comfortable as possible. The best thing you can do in this situation is take care of yourself.

  • Don’t pay for the alcoholic’s expenses. Don’t buy the alcohol, pay court fees or fines, etc. Make sure the addict feels the full financial effects of their drinking.

Get Support From Others

It can be tempting to keep someone’s drinking a secret if they are high-functioning. After all, you don’t want to disrupt the parts of their life that are actually working. But in order to stay healthy and get the addict help, you need to seek out the support of other people. Confide in a loved one or friend. Go to a support group for people who love alcoholics, like Al-Anon, or speak to a counselor or therapist. Getting support can ensure you stay healthy and safe while you do the best you can to encourage your struggling loved one towards recovery.

Consider an Intervention

With the help of a professional, you may be able to hold an intervention. At an intervention, loved ones confront an addict and demand they seek treatment. During the intervention, people explain to an addict how their drinking has affected everyone’s lives. They also lay out consequences of what will happen if the addict refuses to seek recovery (e.g. they may cut off contact with the addict, refuse to let the addict into their home or work, etc.) If an intervention is led by a professional interventionist who knows how to control a high-stakes, highly emotional confrontation like this one, it can be very successful at convincing someone to enter treatment.

Seeing the Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic? Zinnia Healing Can Help.

If you aren’t quite sure if you or your loved one has the signs of a functioning alcoholic, or you’re considering treatment for a functioning alcoholic, consider recovery with Zinnia Healing today. We treat a wide range of individuals struggling with addiction—whether they are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or other harmful behaviors or substances. Our experts at Zinnia Healing can help walk people through their journey to sobriety, teach them how to withstand physical discomfort from withdrawal (or treat it medically), offer support as they practice riding out cravings, and demonstrate how to rebuild a truly fulfilling life that doesn’t include alcohol.

If you have questions about the best way you can help someone you love (or even yourself), reach out to Zinnia Healing today at (855) 430-9439.