Many of us have been surprised to learn that a friend, family member, or coworker has an alcohol problem, simply because there were no overt signs of it. Some people are able to metabolize alcohol more efficiently than most, something called high-functioning alcoholism.
A person dealing with high-functioning alcoholism may first consider it a blessing, since they are able to conceal their alcohol use disorder (AUD) from others. How does someone dealing with high-functioning alcoholism hide it from others?
While easy at first, the disorder will progress to the point it’s difficult to hide. Here’s the signs to look out for..
What is high-functioning alcoholism?
Someone who has high-functioning alcoholism is someone who has, at least on the outside, been able to hide their problem with alcohol from others. These individuals do not exhibit the usual signs associated with alcoholism, somehow managing to continue functioning professionally, maintaining relationships and showing no outward physical health effects of AUD.
The individual may have a higher than average tolerance for the effects of alcohol, with their physiology allowing them to consume high quantities of alcohol without showing the signs of intoxication.
8 signs of someone struggling with high-functioning alcoholism
While it’s true that a person with high-functioning alcoholism may not show the obvious signs of AUD, there are some warning signs that may hint at their struggles. Here are eight signs of high-functioning alcoholism:
- They consume increasing amounts of alcohol as a coping tool to manage stress.
- They lie about how much alcohol they actually consume, even hiding it around the house and other places.
- They are in denial about their drinking problem and become angry when
- They may neglect their diet, preferring alcohol to a healthy meal.
- They are often told they seem to have a high tolerance for alcohol.
- They begin to isolate themselves, retreating to a location where they can drink alone.
- They may drink in the morning.
- They may be using alcohol to self-medicate a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression
How to approach someone with high-functioning alcoholism
Even if the individual is still in denial about their AUD, you can still start talking about potential treatment options. Hopefully, your concern for them will motivate your loved one to seek professional support.
The manner and timing with which you approach this important conversation with the individual is something you must consider carefully. Your goal is to engage them in a calm, thoughtful discussion about their wellbeing. Consider these helpful hints when starting this important conversation:
- Do not attempt to broach the topic when they are intoxicated.
- Do not discuss their need for treatment during a heated argument or while angry.
- Avoid accusatory or hurtful language.
- Prepare yourself in advance by writing down what you want to say and even try rehearsing it in a calm voice. This can help you prepare to respond calmly to any emotional and angry outbursts they might have.
- Be compassionate and express your concern for them and whatever the pain they are in.
- Resist being judgmental — let them know that you believe them when they say they are doing the best they can.
- Consider holding a formal intervention with an addiction specialist guiding the conversation.
If you or someone you care about is showing the signs of functional alcoholism, help is available. Alcohol use disorder is highly treatable, with a fresh start waiting right around the corner for them.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.