Everyone knows the stereotypical image of an alcoholic: They seek out alcohol in any situation, can never walk in a straight line and have a hard time keeping a job. A functioning alcoholic may exhibit signs that are harder to spot. If you believe your loved one is struggling with an alcohol problem, take a closer look at the signs and risks associated with high-functioning alcoholism.
What Does a High-Functioning Alcoholic Look Like?
In most cases, you won’t know a person has a secret alcohol addiction unless something drastic happens, such as a DUI, that forces them to realize they may have a problem. They’ll maintain the appearance of having a normal life by holding a steady job. They may even be an active member in their community or have a family they care for.
However, they also may be grabbing a drink every day after work or using alcohol to unwind at home at the end of each day. This leads to developing a higher tolerance for the substance, which could lead to drinking larger quantities of alcohol at a time and more often. A functioning alcoholic exhibits these behaviors while actively denying they have a problem.
There’s a difference between drinking as a way of socializing and drinking as a necessity. Once a person needs alcohol to function normally, they’ve become dependent. Many people won’t recognize they have a problem because having a high tolerance will make it harder to notice their addiction.
Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic
What makes someone a functioning alcoholic? It can be hard to tell if someone you see every day, such as a family member, colleague or friend, is a functioning alcoholic if their behavior is familiar to you. Explore the signs that may hint at high-functioning alcoholism.
1. They Have a High Consumption Intake
Take note of how many drinks a person is consuming at one time. High alcohol consumption is one key factor that can determine whether someone has a problem. According to the National U.S. Library of Medicine, women who consume 7 or more drinks per week and men who consume at least 10 drinks per week are considered alcoholics.
Addiction looks different in a functioning alcoholic because of their ability to maintain the illusion of sobriety by still acting responsible, even though they’re consuming large quantities of alcohol.
2. They Have Self-Imposed Restrictions
Functioning alcoholics control their drinking habits by setting limitations on when and how they consume alcohol. For example, some may allow themselves alcohol at a bar but not at home. Some people may choose to only drink beer and stay away from harder liquors. They may only drink when they’re around certain people or at specific times.
Setting these restrictions is one way alcoholics control their behavior while meeting their responsibilities. It leads them to believe they’re able to control their drinking and can’t possibly have a problem.
3. They Live Double Lives
A high-functioning alcoholic may realize they have a problem with alcohol, which is why they’ll try to keep parts of their lives separate. For instance, they’ll abstain from drinking while at work-related functions or family gatherings but drink a bottle of alcohol in one night at home. They may also try to pass as a healthy person by hitting the gym, eating nutritious meals and being involved in their community.
A functioning alcoholic believes they don’t have a drinking problem because they maintain a normal life outside their addiction. They can be an upstanding citizen and a star employee, but that won’t erase the fact that needing alcohol to function points to an underlying issue.
4. They Hide High-Risk Behavior
Functioning alcoholics are better at hiding their major problems and at-risk behavior. This includes covering up poor performance at work or hiding tickets for DUIs. If a loved one disappears for long periods of time and won’t respond to your calls, this could indicate a sign of binge drinking.
Experiencing blackouts or blocks of time that can’t be accounted for are also warning signs. High-functioning alcoholics are more likely than traditional alcoholics to keep this information to themselves and hide their mistakes.
5. They Bargain With Themselves
Many functioning alcoholics put caps on how much alcohol they’re allowed to consume at one time. For example, they’ll decide to only have a few beers. By sticking to this amount, they push away the possibility of having a problem. Needing to reassure themselves, not just family, is a sign of addiction.
Family or friends may not recognize this sign because high-functioning alcoholics are better at successfully hiding their problem. However, obsessively thinking about drinking is a behavior all alcoholics struggle with.
Do Functioning Alcoholics Need Help?
A person who drinks excessively, whether they monitor it or not, is harming their physical body, which impacts their quality of life. Just because they believe they’re in control of their drinking doesn’t mean they aren’t causing damage, and they may need help realizing that before it goes too far.
They may also be drinking to cope with a mental illness. According to researchers with the National Institutes of Health, about 25% of functioning alcoholics suffer from depression. Mental illness can’t be treated alone, which is another sign your loved one needs help.
Why It May Be Harder to Get Help for a Functioning Alcoholic
It’s difficult to convince high-functioning alcoholics to seek help because they don’t believe they have a problem. They believe they control the drinking since they still do well at work, school and home and may rationalize the alcohol consumption by viewing it as stress relief.
A functioning alcoholic will also stay away from friends and family, which can hurt relationships. Alcohol then becomes a coping mechanism to reduce stress and make up for their lack of social connections. Because alcohol isn’t seen as harmful, they’ll deny the problem exists or that they need help.
Seeking Help for a High-Functioning Alcoholic
If you believe your loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, take action to get them help. Whether you believe an intervention or a traditional treatment program is necessary, Sunlight Recovery is here to provide support. Contact our team of counselors today at (888) 402-3647 for 24/7 help to meet your loved one’s needs.