Many people feel alcoholism means a homeless man or woman, drinking alcohol from a brown paper bag, usually under a bridge. But, having alcoholism doesn’t always mean your life is completely falling apart. Conversely, alcoholism is often far more insidious and you can well be “high functioning” and still suffer from alcoholism.
In fact, many people have a good job, still are close to their family, social bonds and other friendships while still suffering on the inside from their alcohol use. Sometimes the “symptoms” become more obvious, like trouble at work or DUI, but often there are no external signs of what is now officially termed “alcohol use disorder.” Whether mild or severe, alcohol use that causes any sort of problems, internal or external, is still problem drinking.
A high-functioning alcoholic may not act the way you might think. While alcoholics are usually saddled with the terms “irresponsible” or “unproductive,” these alcoholics may have great jobs, pay all of their bills and even be very high achieving. All of these things can cause people to look the other way when it comes to their drinking, and they may very well be in denial themselves.
A high-functioning alcoholic might say, “I have a great job!” or, “I pay all of my bills!” and these things might make them feel less like they have a problem, when in reality, they could still be losing relationships or even be teetering on the edge of losing everything with their risky behavior.
The idea that someone can drink heavily or have heavy binge sessions and keep that behavior up over time with no consequences is false. Over time, these behaviors will catch up to them, either in the form of a job loss or a DUI or loss of a relationship. Sometimes it all comes crashing down at once.
Some addiction experts say that 75-90% of all alcoholics are high functioning, indicating that this is a disease that doesn’t completely incapacitate those afflicted, and according to the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, only 25% of alcoholics ever receive treatment. This indicates a large level of denial on a societal level. Our society encourages drinking, excuses those who have ‘had too much the night before’ even doing things like lowering workload after a company party so people can recover. All of this contributes to the denial some in this position face.
How to Know
Coming to terms with alcohol, especially high-functioning alcoholism is something that is very personal. Here are some things you can ask yourself to see if your alcohol use is more of a problem than you thought:
- Excessive drinking (for men this is four or more drinks a day, or 14 drinks a week, for women, this is three a day or seven in a week).
- Joking about your alcohol consumption
- Hiding any part of your alcohol consumption
- Getting a DUI or other legal problems
- Getting drunk when you didn’t intend to
- Using or needing alcohol to relax or feel confident in social situations
- Making excuses for your drinking so loved ones don’t worry
- Drinking in the morning or when alone
Risks of Alcohol Use
A high functioning alcoholic may seem in control, but anyone who consumes alcohol excessively will have consequences. For one, you are exposing yourself to the risky behavior that comes along with alcohol use. Unsafe driving, unsafe situations, blacking out, or risky sexual encounters name just a few.
On top of the external ramifications, you can also face health problems, such as cancer, pancreatitis, liver disease, memory loss, brain damage and high blood pressure. You are also susceptible to car accidents, suicide, domestic violence and a host of other issues.
Luckily, treatment for high functioning alcoholism is the same as any other treatment. If you are still one of the lucky ones who has a job with insurance, then your options for treatment are pretty much wide open. You can take advantage of round-the-clock care with an inpatient program, and you can follow that with outpatient treatment and therapy or just do an outpatient program on its own. It is crucial that you get a formal assessment so you can get in the right program. Once you have decided to nip this in the bud, you will get the most success by listening to the recommendations of others and following on that path.
Are you a functioning addict or know someone who is? The first step is realizing you have a problem and that you need help. If you or a loved one are addicted to party drugs, we can help. Call (877) 837-5403 and a substance abuse advocate can help you explore your treatment options.