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Signs Of High Functioning Alcoholics

by Landmark Recovery

August 13, 2018

Alcohol is a harmful substance that can take a devastating toll on someone’s life. For many alcoholics, alcohol can be the impetus for ruining a career or marriage and drive someone into a spiral of depression. For others, alcohol may be a daily part of life that helps them function. Rest assured, however, that long term alcohol dependency is anything but functional.


Types of Alcoholics

There are two main types of alcoholics. You have the functional, or high functioning alcoholics who are able to use alcohol on a regular basis while still maintaining a balance in the professional and private lives. Then you have the dysfunctional alcoholics, those whose lives fall apart due to their reliance on alcohol. It’s not difficult to identify the latter, but high functioning alcoholics may be difficult to discern because they typically do a good job of hiding their alcoholism.

High functioning alcoholics may seem to have it all going on the outside, but this does not mean they aren’t experiencing significant personal or business related problems in reality. Being in a relationship with or being under the care of a high functioning alcoholic can exert serious psychological and emotional damage.


What is a High Functioning Alcoholic

A man sitting on a bench outdoors thinking about high functioning alcoholics

High functioning alcoholics are probably more common than you think. On the surface these people will appear to have things together. They may drink too much in general, but they seem happy, social, and successful. However, these outside perceptions all belt the truth that they are struggling to deal with an addiction to drinking. High functional alcoholics are difficult to discern and deal with because the way they see it, if the world doesn’t see they have a problem, it doesn’t exist. In other words, if they’re doing well financially or feel that they are seen as happy and successful, they are fine. High functioning addicts find it difficult to admit that they have a problem, so here are some signs to help you determine whether you or a loved one may be a high functioning alcoholic.


They Impose Limits on Their Drinking

You may witnessed this one before with friends or you do it yourself. A high functioning alcoholic may impose limits on their drinking such as “I only drink on weeknights”, or “I’m only drinking beer tonight”. These kind of limitations can be helpful for preventing abuse or binge drinking, but they could also a result of someone attempting to convince themselves they are in control of their drinking.


They Ask For Help Covering Things Up

High functioning alcoholism often arises when someone helps to enable it in another person. For example, the alcoholic may chronically borrow money from a friend or loved one to cover their habit. Or perhaps, they constantly make excuses for not being somewhere. They could also be constantly needing rides to and from places or have to be bailed out of jail. High functioning addicts are usually only a step removed from full blown dysfunction, so it’s usually the assistance of another person that keeps them afloat.


They Use Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

This is one of the universal signs of a drinking problem. If a person constantly leans on alcohol to ease the stress of a long day at work, or for dealing with problems in a relationship, they could have a serious problem. Alcohol is a depressant, so they are essentially using it to dull their senses. Even just a few drinks a night to take the edge off could be the start of a serious alcohol dependency, so be vigilant.


They Isolate Themselves

This sign is harder to notice than others. While in social settings they could be outgoing and gregarious, but behind closed doors they simply want to be and drink alone. When they’re not engaged in their “social responsibilities” such as work or parties, they spend their time holed up in a bar, or quietly drinking at their home. A high functioning alcoholic may specifically forbid people from being in their home because they do not want to expose their drinking habits to the world.


They Drink For Every Situation

Whether it’s a night out or just a small office get together at lunch, this person uses any occasion as an excuse to get loaded. This type of drinking typically starts as an accompaniment to any social situation and quickly blossoms into a drink for any situation at all, from waking up to calming down and going to sleep. Some may see alcoholism as drinking too much in general, but in reality it can start with moderate drinking at inappropriate times.


They Have Split Personality

For many alcoholics, drinking is a means of moderating their emotions and feelings to avoid the negative ones. For a high functioning alcoholic, they may be inebriated sometimes, or they may be sober other times. This results in what appears to be a split personality, where either they are up or down. This kind of roller coaster of emotional management can take its toll in the long run because gradually the highs and lows will become more pronounced.


They Suffer Withdrawal Symptoms

High functioning alcoholics tend to have things together while they’re drunk, but as soon as the substance starts to wear off they find themselves undergoing withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, increased irritability, and tiredness. For severe alcoholics, withdrawal can be dangerous and painful enough so as to be life threatening. For high functioning alcoholics, withdrawal can be painful and unpleasant enough that they experience symptoms such as anxiety and hostility.


How to Deal with a High Functioning Alcoholic

Two individuals holding hands. One individual is helping the other overcome their alcoholism.

If you see these signs in yourself or others, it may not be too late to get help. With the right kind of treatment at your disposal, you can successfully withdraw from alcohol and get back to living a sober, happy, healthy life. The first step in having to deal with a high functioning alcoholic is to identify whether or not they may have a problem. You can use the above signs to help you. Following this, you can learn about what’s an intervention, and if its appropriate to hold one for your loved one.


Next Steps

For those that need help now, there are addiction treatment centers that specialize in getting people clean, helping them gain clarity into their mental state, restructure their lives, and give them continued support on the road to recovery and happiness. Recovering from alcoholism can be tough but the individuals at Landmark Recovery are here to help you lived the life you dreamed. To learn more about our inpatient rehab program, as well as the services and care we offer, call one of our dedicated admissions consultants today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.