A professional guide for identifying the signs of a functioning alcoholic.
What is a Functioning Alcoholic?
The term “functioning alcoholic” is typically used to describe someone who struggles with alcoholism, but appears to be unencumbered by their compulsive consumption. Functioning alcoholics are able to successfully manage their responsibilities while engaging in alcohol abuse. Researchers have found that nearly 20 percent all alcoholics are high-functioning. Since functioning alcoholics comprise such a large portion of the alcoholic population, it’s important to be able to identify the signs of a functioning alcoholic. Warning signs of alcoholism.
Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic
Appearances can be deceiving. It can seem like a functioning alcoholic occupies an entirely different category from a traditional alcoholic. At first glance, a functioning alcoholic is a stable person who enjoys drinking. But while a functioning alcoholic may appear to be less under the influence of alcohol than the traditional alcoholic, the truth is that both alcoholic subsets share plenty in common. Like their traditional counterpart, a functioning alcoholic likely exhibits many of these behaviors:
Alcohol-focused: dining, socializing, celebrating or grieving plans include alcohol consumption
Change of demeanor: becoming unhappy or easily annoyed during extended periods of time without alcohol, and returning to “normal” after drinking resumes
Blackouts: not remembering conversations or details surrounding activities in which the person participated
Drinking to function: drinking in the morning, at lunch and/or prior to potentially stressful situations
Coping mechanism: resorting to drinking as a way to deal with life’s difficulties
It’s easy to overlook these behaviors when someone is managing to take care of their responsibilities. However, these signs of a functioning alcoholic signify a problem that needs to be addressed. If proper action is not taken, an alcoholic’s health can severely decline.
Stages of Alcoholism
So what does this progressive decline look like? While alcoholism can develop in multiple ways, here is a general picture of the different stages of alcoholism.
Binge drinking, attempting to ‘increase tolerance’: The person is drinking to get drunk, but still have their job, relationship, friends, and family.
Warning signs for alcoholism
Drinking to Cope: The person is not only drinking to get drunk, but drinking to feel better. The belief is that stresses can be relieved with drinking, however the person’s appearance may have only been minimally altered due to alcohol consumption.
Legal Problems/Depression/Isolation: People begin questioning the person’s drinking. Alcohol slowly becomes their only friend. Consequences may gradually appear, including:
Legal problems: Alcohol-related tickets for public intoxication as well as DUI’,s. The individual may begin to wonder how he/she got home without getting into an accident, or if he/she possibly did have an accident and do not remember due to a blackout.
Depression: As a chemical, alcohol begins to cause depression and feelings of hopelessness.
Isolation: Loved ones become uncomfortable around the person. The functioning alcoholic may begin to feel shame and guilt, along with not wanting others to know, and choose to drink alone, whether at home or in public.
Change in Appearance: There are noticeable health issues present. The person’s body begins to look and feel different, they begin to no longer recognize themselves. They may think they are functioning, but their work performance suffers, their body is not healthy or functioning as it should, and they are no longer there for family and friends when needed.
If this sounds familiar and may apply to someone you know, it might be time to determine if there is a degree of functioning alcoholism occurring. In turn it is time to make the decision to change this pattern and start getting more out of life, because there is so much more to life than just alcohol.
Functioning Alcoholic: Warning Signs and Symptoms
In order to intervene before an alcoholic’s health declines, one must be aware of the warning signs of a functioning alcoholic. The longer a functioning alcoholic denies treatment, the more they will display these signs and symptoms:
Surrounding themselves with those who like to drink
Obsessing over drinking or counting the hours until the next drink and calculating how much alcohol can be consumed without appearing drunk
Being unable to stop at one drink since the allure of drinking is too strong to resist
Finishing others’ drinks
Hiding and sneaking drinks
Continuing to drink, despite physical or emotional consequences
Separating drinking life from regular life through compartmentalization
Myths About High-Functioning Alcoholics
There are plenty of myths which obscure a clear and accurate understanding of functioning alcoholics. Here are some of the biggest lies that people believe:
Myth: Functioning alcoholics don’t have a problem. This myth is common because the patient can’t see that their problem exists since all personal or professional obligations are met. However, attempting to manage responsibilities while heavily drinking is not sustainable and will catch up with the person.
Myth:Functioning alcoholics cannot be successful. On the contrary, functioning alcoholics can have a family, a job, a large circle of friends, and can be very popular.
List the warning signs of alcoholism
Myth:Functioning alcoholics have control. Functioning alcoholics are usually well-educated, dedicated workers and highly intelligent. This can convince them that their drinking is under control while in reality, they’ve only been successful in keeping their drinking problem private.
Myth:Functioning alcoholics do not show signs of alcoholism. Functioning alcoholics typically drink in order to become relaxed or confident and often prioritize drinking alone and often. Some functioning alcoholics experience problems with concentration or lapses in memory.
Myth:Functioning alcoholics don’t require help. Some functioning alcoholics manage to live with their dependency without experiencing major losses. Because of this, they foster a deep denial of their problem, but still go to great lengths to feed and suppress evidence of their addiction. This makes functioning alcoholics often the last type of alcoholic to seek treatment.
Understanding and Helping a Functioning Alcoholic
Helping anyone with a substance use disorder is challenging, but helping a functioning alcoholic holds a unique set of difficulties. Like anyone suffering from a disease, most functioning alcoholics realize that any form of alcoholism is problematic and may wish to change, but are fearful of doing so. For many, alcoholism has been a way of life for decades, which means that to change this component of their lives is to step into the unknown: a scary proposition for anyone.
In order to help a functioning alcoholic, it is essential to educate them about the realities of extended alcohol use, including the fact that no one is immune to its physical and psychological effects. High-functioning alcoholics often convince themselves that they are not suffering from compulsive behavior. The best way to help an alcoholic — functioning or otherwise — is to present evidence that if alcohol is not already ruining their life, it is inhibiting their ability to achieve greater success at the very least.
If we break down the term “functioning alcoholic” into its two parts, we have a dichotomy: functioning and alcoholic . On one end, functioning alcoholics are openly accepted by society due to their functional behavior. On the other end, they face the constant threat of stigmatization if their addiction is acknowledged. Thus, letting go of the “functional” state comes at a high cost, though the cost is never as high as the physical and psychological tax of excessive alcohol use.
Do you believe that you are, or might know, a functioning alcoholic? If so, now is the time to seek answers and treatment. At Futures of Palm Beach, we provide resources and support so that functioning alcoholics can receive the care they need. Contact us today.