High Functioning Alcoholics

High functioning alcoholics can manage a successful life while hiding their addiction behind closed doors.

Who Are High Functioning Alcoholics?

High functioning alcoholics, or currently functioning alcoholics contradict the stereotypical images of alcoholics. When people think about someone with an alcohol use disorder, they may think of someone who is extremely drunk, unable to speak clearly, stumbling over themselves, and possibly being aggressive. These signs of drinking too much do not always look so visible and obvious. High functioning alcoholics are able to work, maintain a family life, seem to be in control of their lives, have hobbies, and appear sober.

High functioning alcoholism not only impacts the individual drinking; it also impacts their families. High functioning alcoholics struggle with the same inability to control drinking, and risk having health-related problems. A high functioning alcohol can maintain what appears to be a normal life while being dependent on alcohol. The National Institutes of Health Noted 20% of alcoholics were “well educated, held down stable jobs and had families.”

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Signs And Symptoms Of High Functioning Alcoholism

Because of a high functioning alcoholic’s ability to blend in with those who don’t drink, signs of their drinking habits may go undetected. Similar to alcoholics, high functioning alcoholics can spend large amounts of money on alcohol, endanger their relationships, have alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and endure life-threatening health problems. Despite their image and behavior, there are specific signs to look out for when determining if someone you know or love is a high functioning alcohol, including:

  • Giving up hobbies and commitments to drink
  • Talking about needing to drink to celebrate achievements or relax
  • Empty bottles of alcohol
  • Talking about drinking
  • Poor school or work performance
  • Unable to control drinking amounts
  • Drinking in isolation
  • Admitting concern about an alcohol-related problem
  • Making jokes about alcohol consumption
  • Denying drinking
  • DUIs and legal issues due to drinking
  • Loved ones showing concern or asking about drinking habits

Issues like denial are concerning, because the high functioning alcoholic does not appear dysfunctional or intoxicated at times. Furthermore, if they are in denial, getting the help needed for recovery would be more challenging and possibly nonexistent.

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Risk Factors Of High Functioning Alcoholism

Unfortunately, since their drinking is subtle, people may overlook key signs that signal someone has a drinking problem. Nonetheless, there are risk factors of high functioning alcoholism someone can be aware of that include, but are not limited to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritability if they stop drinking
  • Peer pressure with drinking
  • A history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia
  • High stress levels
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Binge drinking (4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women; 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for men)
  • Drinking to ease stress
  • Heavy drinking
  • Drinking to celebrate
  • Craving alcohol

Some of these risk factors can contribute to long term drinking disorders. For example, someone indulging in heavy drinking can result in a high tolerance to alcohol that can encourage withdrawal symptoms. Justifying drinking habits can also indicate a strong level of denial in developing a drinking habit. The individual cannot control their actions and finding justifications can enable them to continue drinking instead of getting help.

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High Functioning Alcoholics And Alcohol Tolerance

High functioning alcoholics are at risk of developing a tolerance to alcohol. Because they drink regularly and become used to the effects of alcohol, a tolerance occurs when they feel they are used to the side effects, but the buzz is not as strong as it once was. As a result, he or she decides to drink more to feel intoxicated; however, it may not be obvious they are struggling with alcoholism. This is better known as a functional tolerance. Furthermore, high functioning alcoholics can portray a variety of other types of tolerance styles, such as:

  • Acute tolerance (Feeling drunk after a single session, then tapering down intoxication)
  • Environment-dependent tolerance (Showing signs of intoxication faster if drinking in the same environment)
  • Learned tolerance (Acceleration of a tolerance while practicing a task)
  • Environment-independent tolerance (Developing a tolerance regardless of location or environment)

A tolerance encourages an alcohol use disorder as it pushes your limits and causes health issues including damage to vital organs. Someone may become comfortable with using alcohol as a coping mechanism as they expect it to relieve stress. Alcohol tolerances can create disturbances in daily life; someone can become more receptive to trying other drugs; someone could risk poor health if they combine alcohol with medications. When a high functioning alcoholic has a tolerance, these signs may still go unnoticed despite hidden alcoholism. In the end, a dependence can occur, which means he or she uses alcohol to cope and may need professional help to be healthy.

High functioning alcoholics can portray a tolerance style revealing how they handle alcohol abuse.

High Functioning Alcoholics and Withdrawal

Another side effect of an alcohol tolerance is alcohol withdrawals. Long-term alcohol use alters the chemicals in the brain and can cause intense withdrawals and cravings. Once the body and brain get used to the effect of alcohol, going cold turkey would result in difficult and uncomfortable side effects. Withdrawal symptoms can overlap for high functioning alcoholics and alcoholics. Such examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Mood Swings

Get The Help You Deserve

High functioning alcoholism can be hard to spot, but not hard to treat. There are many medications available that reduce alcohol-related cravings, withdrawal symptoms, depression, and anxiety post-drinking. Fortunately, treatment centers offer various hospitalization options such as partial hospitalization for intensive treatment, or other options for those who want to balance work and treatment. You don’t have to stop achieving your dreams while you recover. Contact a treatment provider for free today and begin your recovery journey.

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