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A businessman sitting in a bar drinking a glass of beer after work.

Learn about high functioning alcoholism and discover how to get help today.

Alcoholism is a life-altering disease. You may believe alcoholics are people who come home in a drunken stupor, are angry or violent, reek from a night of heavy drinking, and have marital, family, financial or employment issues.

Your loved one may not seemingly meet the criteria of an alcoholic.

You may have always known your loved one to drink quite a bit at times. Their alcohol use has rarely ever affected their job, responsibilities or mood. You may have never worried or even thought twice about what their alcohol consumption is doing to their mental and physical well-being.

Despite all this, you sense something’s up.

Your assumptions are the norm of most loved ones of highly functional alcoholics. Some individuals can hold successful careers, uphold family responsibilities, and have a healthy home and social life while still having severe alcohol addiction. This type of drinker is known as a high functioning alcoholic.

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Individuals who are able to:

  • Maintain and/or thrive in their career
  • Complete school
  • Attend to important personal and family responsibilities and obligations
  • Hold otherwise healthy friendships and relationships

– but still drink heavily and have continuous cravings for alcohol.

Despite their ability to excel in many facets of life, high functioning alcoholics have a dependence on alcohol because their tolerance level is so high. Their body often feels desperate for more any time of the day.

5 Signs Your Loved One is a Highly Functional Alcoholic

1. Justification

Whether it be the stressors of work, family interactions, or other relationships, high functioning alcoholics use these experiences to justify their continued substance use. They also excuse their heavy drinking habits as a reward for completing their responsibilities for the day.

While most would find the idea of a few beers after work as inconsequential, a high functioning alcoholic believes this type of reasoning continues to fuel their underlying addiction.

2. Denial

To a high functioning alcoholic, the idea of having a severe alcohol problem is nonsensical. Because they are successful in society, their denial often runs incredibly deep.

They blatantly ignore the dangers of their substance use as a way to avoid the realities of alcohol addiction head on.

3. Dishonesty

It’s not uncommon for a high functioning alcoholic to routinely lie about the amount of alcohol they ingest on a daily basis. Their acts of deception can lead them to stash bottles of alcohol around their home, consume when no one’s around and mislead family or friends to how much they typically drink.

4. Self-Restraint

Once a high functioning alcoholic begins drinking, they may find it hard to limit themselves. They lack
the ability to monitor or control their overall intake.

Even when they say they’re done drinking or tell themselves they’re going to stop, their alcohol consumption can still quickly get away from them. They can even experience frequent blackouts from excessive alcohol use.

5. Obsessive

A highly functional alcoholic always has alcohol on their mind. They continuously think about when and where they’ll get their next drink. They may even go out of their way to set up social gatherings that revolve around consuming alcohol in order to decrease feelings of guilt.

In addition to their obsessive behavior, a high functioning alcoholic tends to act significantly different when they drink as opposed to when they are sober. This doesn’t mean they come off as angry, violent, or abusive; it simply means their mood and demeanor can fluctuate with their alcohol consumption.

Why High Functioning Alcoholics Need Help

A highly functional alcoholic usually drinks the same amount as any other alcoholic; the noticeable symptoms of intoxication and addiction are just not detectable. They have compartmentalized their disorder to the extent that it doesn’t impact their daily responsibilities.

Their tolerance level, however, is so high that they consume at alarming and unsafe levels to achieve the desired effects, also known as a ‘buzz.’ The mental and physical toll from alcohol is real, resulting in serious, life-threatening health issues, such as:

  • Heart damage
  • Liver damage
  • Lung inflections
  • Thinning bones
  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Shrinking brain
  • Much more, including death

How You Can Help the High-Functioning Alcoholic in Your Life

Because a highly functional alcoholic is in denial, it often takes a major life incident to occur – like a car accident, DUI or a health scare – for them to wake up.

If you suspect a loved one to be a high functional alcoholic, don’t wait for the worst to happen – help them now.

  • Consider approaching them to discuss substance use
  • Be sure to come from a place of compassion and nonjudgement
  • Find a time to talk when communication will be well-received
  • Begin the conversation slow and start by expressing your love and support
  • Listen to them
  • Suggest a next step, such as addiction treatment (if they’re receptive) or a future intervention (if they’re not receptive)

Individuals who contend with alcohol addiction usually refuse help or treatment because they fear judgment. Your approach can help remove denial, anxiety and stigma around addiction and therapy.

Compassionate Alcoholism Treatment at Covenant Hills

If you suspect your loved one is addicted to alcohol, follow your intuition. Over time, your loved one’s alcohol addiction will catch up to them. Early intervention is the best defense against detrimental, long-term effects of alcohol addiction.

At Covenant Hills, we believe that your loved one can get sober and forge a thriving life, alcohol-free.

Through our faith-based treatment program, the whole person’s health will be treated with an approach
that focuses on restoring the mind, body and soul. Additionally, with our Recovery Assurance Guarantee, we promise that our clients will never experience relapse upon successful completion of treatment. If your loved one does relapse within one year of completing treatment, they can return for a
week of stabilization and evaluation at no cost.

Learn about our faith-based alcohol addiction treatment programs, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.