Maybe you suspect that your loved one possibly has a problem with alcohol. Even so, things don’t really seem to add up. This person may hold down a demanding job, may be physically fit and active, and by all accounts seem to be successful in life. Still…something is off.
It’s true that not all alcoholics fit neatly into the perceived stereotype. People who manage to maintain a veneer of normalcy while privately struggling with an alcohol use disorder are termed “high functioning alcoholics,” or functional alcoholics. This means that the person can hide the overt signs of the alcohol problem, at least for a while.
Even though the outward signs of alcoholism have not yet emerged, there are other signs that can signal functioning alcoholism is present. Learn to recognize these red flags so you can guide your loved one to obtain the necessary treatment.
What is a Functioning Alcoholic?
A functional alcoholic is someone who engages in alcohol use without the usual signs of distress associated with alcoholism. These individuals are likely to be married, gainfully employed, and educated. Because they continue to maintain a normal daily schedule, it may come as a surprise to learn they privately battle an alcohol use disorder.
A high-functioning alcoholic is very committed to keeping their alcoholism hidden from family members, friends, and colleagues. If someone should approach them with concern about the problem, they will likely deny it. Denial is a tool used to protect themselves from damage to their reputation or career, or from appearing to be weak and not in control. The functional alcoholic is adept at making excuses or using gaslighting to defend their drinking habits, making statements such as “Everybody drinks,” “My drinking isn’t hurting anyone,” or “It’s your problem, not mine.”
It is possible that the high functioning alcoholic may have a high tolerance for the effects of alcohol. Physiologically, they are able to consume excess quantities of alcohol and not exhibit the usual symptoms of intoxication. This may lead to increased alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, alcohol is taking a toll on their health, even if the signs are not yet visible to others.
15 Signs of Alcoholism in a Functioning Alcoholic
While the high functioning alcoholic may deny his or her problem, there are warning signs that may show otherwise. See if you spot these signs of alcoholism in your loved one:
- They increasingly use alcohol as a tool to manage stress or as a reward after a hard day at work
- They lie about how much alcohol they actually consume, even hiding alcohol around the house, office, or car.
- They use alcohol to boost their confidence on the job
- They experience memory lapses or blackouts
- They are in denial about their drinking problem, deflects with jokes or becomes angry if confronted
- They may neglect their diet, preferring alcohol to a healthy meal
- They are often told they have a high tolerance for alcohol
- They may isolate themselves where they can drink alone
- They may forget important dates or events
- They organize their life around opportunities to drink
- They may drink in the morning
- They rely on enabling tactics from others to perpetuate the image of having it all together
- They may place limitations on their drinking, such as imbibing only after work or only on the weekends
- They may be using alcohol to manage a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression
- They may engage in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence
It is only a matter of time before the high functioning alcoholic begins to experience the damage caused by the disease. Their work performance may begin to suffer, they may be arrested on a DUI charge, or their health may deteriorate. Hopefully, these warning signs will help you detect the alcohol problem and to guide your loved one toward treatment before this occurs.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.