What do you think of when you hear the word “alcoholic”?
There is a very good chance that your mind jumps to the idea of someone who is “a drunk.” Maybe this person slurs their words or gets too loud or makes bad choices but keeps hitting the sauce anyway. Maybe they’ve lost their job, and their relationships and finances are a mess. Maybe they have been picked up for drunk driving—or worse, caused a car accident after getting behind the wheel when they were in no condition to do so. Maybe you are picturing someone who has let their hygiene and personal appearance slip and whose only remaining friend is their favorite beverage.
There is no doubt that some alcoholics exhibit some or all of these characteristics. After all, a person in the grips of a substance use disorder often simply cannot pay attention to anything beyond the substance to which they are addicted.
But there is another type of alcoholic—one that does not fall neatly into any of the standard stereotypes. In fact, this kind of alcoholic might not seem like an alcoholic at all. Known as “high-functioning” alcoholics, these individuals can be very good at fooling others—and at fooling themselves.
High-Functioning Alcoholics: Holding It Together & Denying the Problem
For high-functioning alcoholics, it may be very difficult to admit to having a problem with alcohol. After all, they are just as aware of the stereotypes we have outlined above as anyone else is. They know that they don’t exhibit any of the usual markers of alcoholism and so they convince themselves that they do not have an issue.
Meanwhile, the fact that they seem to be doing perfectly well fools those around them, too. No one notices any issues at work. Relationships with friends and family seem to be just fine. And no one has ever thought it necessary to take their keys away from them and bundle them into a cab.
And so the person’s substance use disorder stays undetected by others and unacknowledged by the person with the problem.
In the long run, this is an untenable situation. Eventually, the high-functioning alcoholic will start to have trouble functioning. At that point, the mirage will dissipate and everyone—except perhaps the alcoholic themselves—will recognize the problem.
But the truth is it would be far better to get help sooner rather than later. Waiting until things truly fall apart is never the best strategy.
Spotting the Signs Sooner
We have already established that high-functioning alcoholics may be fully convinced that they don’t have a problem. When everything seems to be going well, it can certainly be hard to face up to anything that disrupts the positive image that has been so carefully maintained.
Still, there are signs that can be spotted—by the person with the problem or by friends and family. These warning signs may include:
- A tendency to drink rather than to eat at usual meal times
- A tendency to drink alone rather than in social situations
- An inability to stick to self-imposed limits on drinking
- Hiding alcohol in a variety of places so it can always be easily accessed
- Arranging the day’s schedule around times to drink
- Using alcohol as a primary means to relax
- Using alcohol as a personal reward system
- Mood swings and/or increased anxiety when alcohol is unavailable
- Palpitations or other physical symptoms when alcohol is unavailable
- Memory lapses and other cognitive difficulties
- An increase in risk-taking behaviors after drinking
- An increased tolerance for alcohol that requires drinking more to achieve the same effects
As a person’s tolerance increases and they start drinking more and more, their ability to maintain the illusion that everything is okay will probably begin to slip—and eventually fall away all together. Ideally, a person struggling with alcohol will get the help they need well before they reach that point.
We Are High Functioning When It Comes to Helping
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we understand how difficult it can be to admit to yourself that you have a problem with alcohol and that you need help to deal with it. That’s why we promise to provide evidence-based, personalized care that is grounded in compassion and respect. You will never feel judged at Wooded Glen. Instead, you will receive exceptional care from medically supervised detoxification through our robust rehabilitation program and on to our commitment to a continuum of care.
True high functioning means sober functioning—and we can help you reclaim both your sobriety and your life.