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What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Written on March 15, 2024
What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

A common term that can be heard surrounding those struggling with alcohol is “high functioning alcoholic”. However, what does this mean? Is it less detrimental than alcoholism in the regular sense?

The term can be misleading, as alcoholism in any form is detrimental to an individual and their lifestyle. Knowing what this term means, and how being high functioning can be detrimental can help someone begin on a path of recovery.

Defining A High Functioning Alcoholic

Addiction to alcohol is a struggle that many people face daily. The term a high functioning alcoholic refers to those who still manage to maintain a sense of normalcy in their life, despite this struggle. They can still maintain their studies, family responsibilities, or careers. They may even excel in their career field.

However, behind this semblance of normalcy, all of the risks of someone struggling with alcohol are still present. From impacts to health and wellness to strain within the family unit and potential legal consequences, being high functioning does not mean the individual is immune to the impacts of alcoholism.

High-Functioning Alcoholics and Appearances

Many signs could be indicative of someone struggling with alcohol yet still being high functioning. Some of these signs include maintaining that sense of normalcy, yet consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and lack of control when they drink. Often, individuals who are high functioning may downplay their alcohol consumption, labeling it as a reward for success, or a coping mechanism for stress.

While their alcohol consumption may not be highly detrimental to their outward appearance or facade that has been created, the internal struggle is severe. They may experience blackouts, frequent hangovers, or withdrawal symptoms when unable to drink. 

High-Functioning Alcoholism and Daily Life

Being a high-functioning alcoholic does not make one immune from the impacts of alcoholism on daily life. The struggle with this substance can still cause impacts to work and family life that may be detrimental to the individual’s future. Understanding this is crucial when identifying help could be needed.

How Do High Functioning Alcoholics Show Up At Work?

Often, those who are high functioning and struggling with alcohol can maintain this area of their life. Jobs and careers are often one of the final areas of their life to be impacted by their alcohol consumption. The rationalization that good enough performance justifies their drinking can be extremely detrimental.

The more success in their career life that they have, the more the individual can try and justify their higher levels of alcohol consumption within themself. The more the person drinks, the higher the likelihood of becoming dependent and eventually neglect of workplace responsibilities can occur. 

High Functioning Alcoholism and Effects on Family Life

The effects of alcoholism on family life can be extreme and severe. Often, individuals who can maintain a semblance of normalcy through their struggle with alcohol have friction and deterioration within the family unit.

This could be due to their lack of control when drinking, and lashing out when intoxicated. Families are more apt to recognize and issues surrounding alcohol, as they are around the person daily, during their drinking, and can see how it impacts their personality and health.

Stopping and Restarting Drinking

A high functioning alcoholic may try to justify their drinking because they can stop and start the cycle easier than others who struggle with the substance. However, this can be a dangerous pattern. The impacts alcohol can have on the body are severe.

Vital organs can be impacted, and without proper care these impacts can lead to health complications. Cirrhosis is one of the major impacts that can occur, whether high functioning or not. Those who have managed to stop drinking should take the necessary steps to maintain sobriety to prevent damage to their health and wellness. 

Denial and the Cycle of Alcoholism

The challenge of identifying a high functioning alcoholic can in part be due to the way the indicators can appear gradually. Denial is a major component to alcoholism, and often individuals are unable to identify there is a problem.

The individual may, themselves, believe there is not a serious problem, while those who are around them daily try to enlighten them so they can get help. Often, this encouragement to seek help is to prevent further impacts to their life. 

Warning Signs of High Functioning Alcoholism

Warning signs of a high functioning alcoholism can include drinking at inappropriate times, frequent hangovers and a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption. They can also include the inability to control drinking once it has started, personality and mood changes, lack of financial responsibility, and isolation to drink.

Coping with stressors in life through drinking, yet still being able to go to work, take care of the family, and excel in different areas of their life can also potentially indicate that there is a struggle. 

Treatment and Support Groups

Getting help for alcoholism is crucial. Because it is common for a high functioning alcoholic to maintain their lifestyle, the cycle can be continuous and lead to devastating impacts. It is easy for them to justify their drinking because it hasn’t yet completely impacted major areas of life.

Learning healthy coping skills is vital. Through therapies like CBT and DBT, an individual can learn and implement these skills in order to prevent major, irreversible impacts to their lifestyle.

Hope for High Functioning Alcoholics

Alcoholism is a struggle that affects the lives of thousands daily. The struggle with this substance often leads to severe impacts on daily life for individuals and their loved ones. Learning new and healthier coping skills can help to lessen these impacts, and create a space for healing. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol, getting better is possible. At FlatIrons Recovery we offer care that is tailored to an individual’s needs to jump start their recovery process.

If you or a loved one are struggling, call us today and begin your healing journey.