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Signs That Someone is a High-Functioning Alcoholic and How To Get Them Help

After drinking alcohol, people are affected in different ways. Some people can go out with their friends, enjoy a glass of wine during happy hour, and go home to their families and live a normal life. Others abuse alcohol so frequently and in such large volumes that they are clearly intoxicated on most days, struggle to maintain employment, and have toxic relationships in their lives. These individuals are usually what people think of when they think about the typical alcoholic. However, there is another type of drinker who can drink just as much and as just as often, while still functioning at work, school, and home. This drinker may be referred to as a high-functioning alcoholic.

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Functioning alcoholics are those people who seem normal on the outside but are struggling with crippling alcohol abuse on the inside. These individuals are often middle-aged, highly educated, well-off financially, and able to maintain a successful career and home.

Since they are not battling financial instability, isolation, or legal issues, they generally don’t fit into the stereotype of an alcoholic. Functional alcoholics may also be less likely to seek treatment because they don’t experience the same struggles and consequences that average alcoholics do.

Signs and Symptoms of a Functioning Alcoholic

Since a high-functioning alcoholic is unlikely to seek alcohol rehab on their own, it is important for families and friends to understand how to spot the signs of alcoholism – even the most subtle ones. The first, and most obvious sign, is frequent heavy drinking.

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men.[1] If someone drinks more than this, he or she may be at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, functional alcoholics are often good at hiding their drinking or they have a high tolerance. They may be able to drink a lot in one sitting without appearing intoxicated. This can lead the people around him or her to think this person doesn’t have a problem when in all reality, the amount they are drinking is problematic in itself.

Heavy Drinking

Drinking too much or too often isn’t the only sign of alcoholism. Other signs include:

high-functioning alcoholic

  • Making jokes about having a drinking problem
  • Declining performance at work or school
  • Appearing jittery or angry when events run longer than they are supposed to because it means the person isn’t able to drink
  • Needing to drink before going to work, school, or home
  • Wanting to stop drinking but being unable to do so
  • Trying to stop drinking on multiple occasions but being unsuccessful
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Feeling the need to drink more after returning home from the bar or from dinner
  • Needing a drink every day to get through work or school
  • Hiding alcohol or empty bottles in one’s car or around the house
  • Getting angry or defensive when confronted about alcohol use
  • Drinking early in the day or before certain events
  • Making up excuses to deny a drinking problem and justify alcohol abuse
  • Experiencing worsening anxiety and depression due to drinking

A functioning alcoholic may appear healthy, happy, and successful, but they are usually battling a number of demons on the inside that need professional treatment.

Understanding The Power of Denial

Denial is a common feature of nearly all alcoholics – functioning or not. However, the sense of denial may be stronger in a high-functioning alcoholic than a regular alcoholic due to their ability to maintain a seemingly normal life with a job and healthy relationships. And, since these individuals may not have gotten in trouble with the law or faced adverse effects on their health, they may find it easier to deny problematic drinking behaviors.

Unfortunately, denial can be deadly. It can stop a person from seeking help, enabling them to continue drinking until their drinking kills them or causes irreparable health damage. A functional alcoholic may lie about their drinking, hide their drinking, or deny to acknowledge how severely alcohol has impacted their lives.

Due to such a strong sense of denial, family members of functioning alcoholics are often left feeling hopeless – as if there is no way to convince their loved one to go to rehab. Situations like these are best left to the experts. A drug and alcohol counselor can help families stage an intervention that makes the alcoholic realize the gravity of his or her situation.

Alcohol Interventions for High-Functioning Alcoholics

When someone is unwilling to admit they have a problem and are in need of help, the next logical step is to consult with a professional drug and alcohol interventionist. An interventionist can help families stage an intervention that shines a bright light on just how dangerous a person’s drinking patterns have become.

Alcoholism isn’t all about drinking, either. People often abuse alcohol to cope with difficult emotions or an underlying health condition. It is essential to healing that people struggling with alcoholism get to the root of their problem. A drug and alcohol counselor can evaluate the functioning alcoholic and determine what his or her treatment needs are. This allows the person to obtain highly individualized care that meets his or her specific needs.

Alcohol interventions should never be attempted without the help of an addiction professional. Attempting to intervene without professional help may lead to failure as the subject may become defensive, angry, or upset due to a fierce sense of denial. Instead, our Massachusetts addiction specialists are here to help.

Start Alcohol Rehab in Woburn, Massachusetts Today

People don’t have to hit “rock-bottom” to be deserving of intensive addiction treatment. All that is required to go to rehab is a problem with alcohol and the willingness to get better. At Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, our drug and alcohol counselors proudly help all types of alcoholics recover – including those that were functioning to begin with.

Treatment for a functional alcoholic will involve relapse prevention strategies, family dynamics, therapy, and life-skills training. These therapeutic services combined with peer support can help any alcoholic recover.

To learn more about our Massachusetts alcohol treatment programs or to find help for yourself or a loved one, pick up the phone and contact us today.



Ready to Make a Change?

We know that overcoming addiction is not easy and requires courage to ask for help. At Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, our team of professionals has decades of combined experience in helping men, women, and families overcome substance abuse.

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