Home Alcohol and Drug Rehab Resources What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?
What is a High Functioning Alcoholic

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

by Eduardo Reyes
Published: Last Updated on

Defining High Functioning Alcoholism

Alcohol consumption is seen as being widely socially acceptable in today’s day and age, to the point where it can be extremely hard to recognize when one’s drinking habits have become a problem.

In many cases, people can become what is known as a “high functioning alcoholic,” in which they consistently abuse alcohol, but manage to continue leading a fairly normal life. However, this “normal” life is usually riddled with underlying mental and physical health problems, strained relationships, and extreme stress.

If you feel that you or a loved one may be struggling with high-functioning alcoholism, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Keep reading to learn more about how you can recognize the signs of high-functioning alcohol addiction, and Catalina Behavioral Health can help you find treatment today!

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Who is at Risk of High Functioning Alcoholism?

Anyone can be at risk of developing addictive habits with alcohol, as drinking often appears normal and is even encouraged in many situations. However, there are certain risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of becoming a high-functioning alcoholic.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and various national institutes, factors that contribute to a person’s risk of alcohol abuse and addiction include:

  • Starting Drinking at a Young Age. Those who begin drinking while still in the developmental stages of life will have a higher risk of alcohol addiction when they are older. This is because alcohol abuse can chemically alter the body, which can cause significant damage to the person’s still-developing brain and system.
  • Genetics. Those with a family history of substance abuse and addiction will be at a higher risk of developing these habits themselves. While this does not mean they are destined to repeat their ancestors’ patterns of behavior, being aware of their risk can help them avoid falling into addictive habits.
  • Mental Health Problems. Those who struggle with mental health conditions may be more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs as a way of self-medicating the negative thoughts and feelings caused by their disorders. Over time, this can lead to dependence and addiction.
  • Social and Economic Factors. Individuals who are a part of the middle-lower class or who live in impoverished areas may be more likely to develop addictive relationships with alcohol and other drugs as a means of coping and handling stress.

While each of these factors can contribute to a person’s risk of developing an alcohol addiction, these details of their personal lives do not have to mean that they are destined for substance or alcohol abuse.

Anyone can develop an addiction regardless of their social, physical, or economic background. That’s why it is so important to know how to recognize the signs of an alcohol use disorder as well as the progressive stages that lead to alcoholism and to always treat this substance with care.

How to Recognize a High Functioning Alcoholic

How to Recognize High Functioning Alcohol Addiction

When someone has a drinking problem, even if they are considered “high-functioning,” there will still be several signs that their loved ones can look out for to determine whether or not they need help for their alcohol use.

In accordance with the criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that there are several signs of substance abuse that can indicate an alcohol use disorder.

If you believe that you or a loved one may be functional alcoholic, here are some signs you can look out for:

  • High alcohol tolerance due to excessive drinking, and needing to drink more in order to achieve a desired effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after not drinking alcohol for a short period of time.
  • Constant need to incorporate drinking into social or professional events.
  • Becoming agitated or irritated when drinking is interrupted by external situations and factors.
  • Hobbies and daily tasks mostly or entirely revolve around alcohol and drinking.
  • Make regular “jokes” about drinking too much or needing to cut back.
  • Regularly needing to have a drink with meals.
  • Drinking alone on a regular basis.
  • Drinking to the point of blacking out, or not being able to recall some or all of the previous night.
  • Participating in risky activities, such as driving, working, or engaging in sexual activities while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Refusing to accept there is a problem despite concerns expressed by family members, friends and other loved ones.

If you recognize any of the signs and behaviors, whether in yourself or a loved one, then it may be time to consider seeking professional treatment. Alcohol abuse can have devastating and potentially life-threatening consequences, especially when left unaddressed.

What are the Dangers of Alcohol Abuse?

Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Heavy drinking can have many negative consequences both in the short and the long term. Many high-functioning alcoholics will experience these severe consequences. Often, such consequences are attributed to other factors, but once denial has lifted alcohol can be acknowledged as the cause.

Understanding alcohol abuse and its potential side effects can help them recognize their alcohol problem and get the help they need.

Short Term Side Effects of Heavy Drinking

Even one incident of drinking excessively can have severe effects on the user. Some of the most common side effects of binge drinking include:

  • Injuries resulting from dangerous activities, such as car accidents, falls, physical altercations, and other incidents.
  • Violent behavior, including homicidal and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, domestic violence, and physical altercations.
  • Alcohol poisoning due to high blood alcohol levels, which can have life-threatening consequences.
  • Risky sexual activities, which can lead to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV.

Long Term Side Effects of Excess Alcohol Consumption

For those who continue to drink heavily over long periods of time, this can cause them to develop various health risks and conditions. The most common of these include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive issues
  • Increased risk of cancer in the breasts, mouth, throat, liver, colon, and other areas.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Reduced cognitive function and brain damage.
  • Mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

These are just a few of the potential health risks that can come with alcohol abuse and addiction. Knowing how to recognize high-functioning alcoholism can help you or a loved one get the help you need.

Convincing a High Functioning Alcoholic to Seek Treatment

Convincing High Functioning Alcoholics to Seek Treatment

The only person who can convince a functioning alcoholic to seek treatment for alcohol is, ultimately, themselves. However, there are several things a concerned loved one can do to help guide them in the right direction.

It is important to always approach the subject from a supportive and concerned position and to try to avoid confrontation with the addicted individual. Of course, if their drinking habits are having a direct effect on you, setting firm boundaries is important for your own well-being.

Seeking help from an intervention specialist can be a good idea for helping a friend or family member recognize the severity of their problem drinking. Having the support of an addiction specialist can help you feel confident when approaching your loved one about their alcoholism, whether an alcoholic wife, husband, or anyone for that matter.

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Treating an Alcohol Use Disorder Effectively

There are several treatment options available to those who are struggling with alcohol use disorders. In most cases, the treatment process will start with a medical detox program. When someone decides to quit drinking after a long period of abuse, the withdrawal effects can be severe.

Detox programs can help recovering individuals manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings that will often occur when they stop drinking. Once this has been completed, they will likely move on to an inpatient treatment facility or outpatient program.

This will include working with both an addiction and mental health professional, as well as various other licensed clinical providers, to work through each aspect of their addictive behaviors and find healthier ways of managing the stress of their day-to-day lives.

Recovery support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery can also help them develop good relationships with other people recovering from alcohol abuse, and receive tools and skills to help maintain a sober lifestyle. 

No matter which of these services they decide to participate in, a functioning alcoholic can greatly benefit from seeking out professional support and treatment. If you or a loved one is a functioning alcoholic and are not sure which treatment options will be right for you, the clinical team at Catalina team can help you make a recovery plan today!

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If you or a loved one is struggling with high-functioning alcoholism, know that you are not alone and help is available. Cataline Behavioral Health helps those who are struggling with addiction by providing the treatment programs needed to live a better, sober life.

Our compassionate Admissions team is available 24/7 for you to call and discuss your treatment options, anytime. Make the right choice and reach out for a confidential consultation today!

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FAQs Beyond What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks for a man, and four or more for a woman. Having more than seven drinks is associated with an increased risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Can You Drink a Lot and Not Be an Alcoholic?

If alcohol has become a part of your daily life, or you are frequently drinking in excess, this can be considered drug abuse. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and ideally only for specific occasions.

If you are drinking a lot, to the point where you are questioning yourself, this itself can be a sign that you may need help.

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