What Is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

high functioning alcoholic

In 2018, almost 6% of American adults were reported to have an Alcohol Use Disorder, but it is expected that the actual figure is much higher, with many alcoholics keeping their addiction a secret from those around them.

You see, not all alcoholics fit the ‘down-and-out’ stereotype. The high functioning alcoholic manages to operate in society whilst being dependent on alcohol.

If you are worried about yourself, or a loved one, this article should help shed some light on what it means to be a functioning alcoholic.

Symptoms of a High Functioning Alcoholic

A high functioning alcoholic is likely to plan their life around drinking and drinking around their life. They won’t necessarily drink all day or drink themselves into a stupor every time they drink.

They are much more likely to go about their day productively. This might include going to work, carrying out daily tasks, and even partaking in sporting activities. A functioning alcoholic is more likely to set time aside at the end of the day to drink.

Due to their increased tolerance, a high functioning alcoholic will require more alcohol than most to feel its effects.

They are likely to find it difficult to control their intake. After the first drink, they might develop a ‘thirst’ for another as they begin to chase the feeling that comes with drunkenness.

High functioning alcoholics are more likely to drink alone. This might be because of a sense of shame, or simply because it guarantees that no one is going to comment on their intake.

The withdrawal symptoms experienced by a high functioning alcoholic might not be as obvious as those of other alcoholics. They might suffer from mild physical symptoms such as shaking hands, nausea, and headaches. They may also appear agitated and of low mood when not drinking.

One of the biggest dangers of high functioning alcoholism is that it is much more likely to be prolonged. This means that the serious health implications of heavy drinking are not likely to present themselves fully until later in life.

Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that can increase your chance of developing alcohol dependency:

  • Having existing or past alcohol use disorders in the family, especially parents or other close relatives
  • Suffering from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
  • Being prone to stress
  • Suffering from low self-esteem
  • Pre-existing trauma

Leading experts in addiction believe that alcohol is often used by addicts to escape from emotional pain. This pain is almost always born from earlier trauma or loss. 

Helping a High Functioning Alcoholic

This being said, it is not always the case of breaking down behavioral patterns and creating new ones. Attempting to curb your own or someone else’s drinking is not necessarily of any benefit without a deeper understanding of the root cause.

The most important thing to look at is WHY an individual drinks. By understanding what alcohol is being used to mask, the individual can begin to understand why they drink.

Seldom is this obvious at first, but if someone can conquer the reason why then they can eliminate the resulting need.

Alcohol rehabilitation centers offer high functioning alcoholics a safe space to tackle these issues by implementing therapies, such as Rapid Resolution Therapy, along with a safe alcohol-free space.

If you or a loved one are showing signs of alcohol dependency, do not hesitate to contact us for further information.