In this article, we will explore the concept of a “high-functioning alcoholic” and take a look at the signs that may indicate someone has an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
It’s essential to understand that an alcohol use disorder is a treatable medical condition that can manifest in varied ways. Alcohol use disorder affects a person’s ability to control their drinking, but many people suffering from it can hide it from even those closest to them.
What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
The term “high-functioning alcoholic” is colloquially used to describe individuals who can manage their daily tasks, such as job responsibilities, personal hygiene, childcare, bill payments, and social interactions, without displaying the typical impairments associated with AUD.
However, it’s crucial to remember that even those who seemingly face fewer external consequences due to their drinking may still require professional help for their compulsive alcohol use.
Unlike someone with severe AUD, a high-functioning alcoholic may not demonstrate the inability to control their drinking even after experiencing adverse effects at work or in their personal life. Nevertheless, they may still meet other criteria that could lead to a diagnosis of AUD.
Alcohol use disorder exists on a continuum of severity, with symptoms varying from person to person. Some individuals may exhibit rapid and severe AUD symptoms, while others may experience milder manifestations. Only a medical professional can diagnose and determine the severity of an individual’s AUD accurately.
Research suggests that approximately 20% of those meeting the criteria for alcohol use disorder appear to function well in various aspects of life, having completed education, maintaining steady employment, and earning well. However, other experts estimate that as many as 50 to 75% of those with AUD can function at a high level in different areas of life.
Recognising High-Functioning Alcoholism
Identifying high-functioning alcoholism or alcohol use disorders, in general, can be challenging. Some behaviours may indicate a problem with alcohol use. The traits typically associated with AUD may overlap with the behaviours of a so-called “functioning alcoholic.”
Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism:
- Avoiding feedback about drinking patterns.
- Experiencing blackouts from alcohol consumption.
- Concealing alcohol consumption, such as drinking before or after events, sneaking alcohol, or hiding it at home.
- Continuing to drink despite causing or worsening physical or mental health problems.
- Denying a drinking problem due to a lack of severe consequences, such as work or school absenteeism.
- Maintaining a well-groomed appearance, defying the traditional image of an alcoholic.
- Drinking a large amount of alcohol without appearing intoxicated.
- Drinking during work lunchtime.
- Engaging in dangerous situations, such as drinking before driving.
- Using alcohol as a reward or coping mechanism for stress.
- Drinking excessively but rationalising it due to periods of abstinence.
- Experiencing intense cravings to drink in specific situations.
- Feeling guilt or shame about behaviours while under the influence.
- Feeling an overwhelming urge to finish drinks, even others’.
- Excelling in responsibilities at home, school, or work despite excessive drinking.
- Hiding alcohol consumption from others.
- Justifying drinking by focusing on the quality or setting of alcohol consumption.
- Lying about the amount and strength of drinks consumed.
- Making comparisons with others to downplay the severity of their drinking problem.
- Ignoring excessive drinking’s psychological distress while performing daily tasks.
- Obsessing over when they can have their next drink.
- Attempting to control their drinking.
- Maintaining a good reputation at work or school despite excessive alcohol use.
- If you or someone you love displays behaviours of high-functioning alcoholism, seeking advice from a doctor or medical professional can help determine whether drinking habits are problematic.
Why Identifying a High-Functioning Alcoholism Is Important
Being called a “high-functioning alcoholic” may imply that an individual can manage their daily life despite excessive drinking. However, it’s essential to recognise that this does not mean they do not have an alcohol use disorder.
Understanding the signs of high-functioning alcoholism can lead to early intervention and treatment, improving one’s quality of life and overall well-being.
If you suspect any alcohol-related issues, seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery.
Alcohol Dependency Treatment at White River Manor
If you’re looking for support for yourself or a loved one, White River Manor can help.
We have a dedicated team of therapists, addiction specialists, physiotherapists, and dieticians to offer you high-quality treatment covering aspects of your recovery.