What is a Functioning Alcoholic?
Developing an alcohol use disorder is easier than you might think. In the United States alone, nearly 18 million adults have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). When movies and TV shows depict individuals living with alcoholism, they typically show them at rock bottom.
But this is not what the experience looks like for everyone. With nearly 18 million adults battling an AUD, not two could look the same. Some may spend their days down-and-out. But others get up in the morning and go to work and spend time with loved ones.
This is what separates functioning alcoholics from others. Functioning alcoholics maintain relatively normal schedules. Many high functioning alcoholics work in high-paying careers, are well-educated, have families and full social circles, and hide their addictions well.
But there are always signs if you look closely enough.
Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic
If you’re wondering how to know if someone is a functioning alcoholic, that may be the first sign of trouble. On the surface, those with functioning alcoholism seem to have their lives together. Most dedicate time to their career, home life, and social circle.
To outsiders, they may lead perfectly normal lives. But those closest to them may notice that something is not right. Of all high functioning alcoholic signs, one of the most obvious and common is that they average five drinks or more in a day.
Most functioning alcoholics do not drink excessively every day but rather an average of every other day. While functioning alcoholics may operate on a higher level than others battling the same disease, that does not make this a sustainable way of life.
Alcoholism, in all its forms, is a chronic and severe disease. Left untreated, alcoholism and its side effects only get worse over time. Alcohol use disorders, high functioning, and otherwise, take a physical and mental health toll over time.
How and Why People Become Functioning Alcoholics
Alcoholism can develop from a variety of risk factors. Drinking excessively to cope with stress, anger, anxiety, or other negative emotions is a dangerous and common practice. But as it turns out, it is one that may be difficult to avoid.
Some of the most common risk factors for alcoholism include:
- Mental health disorders
- Mood disturbances
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Family history
A Breakdown of Common Alcoholism Risk Factors
More than half of all alcoholics also battle a mental health disorder. Up to 80% of alcoholics also experience mood disturbances. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mood-based disorders that co-occur with alcoholism.
Withdrawal symptoms are another common factor in alcohol use disorders. By the time you realize that your drinking is out of control, you may find it difficult to stop. Alcohol cravings, emotional disturbances, and other withdrawal symptoms often lead to relapse.
Finally, a family history of alcoholism is one of the most significant risk factors. Studies show that children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics later in life than others. Stressful work or home lives can also make many of us more likely to reach for a bottle.
But alcohol is a short-term band-aid, not a long-term solution. Long-term recovery involves getting to and addressing the root of the problem rather than covering it up. If feelings of stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions are contributing to your drinking habits, behavioral therapy can help. Stress management techniques and healthy habit building can help, too.
Am I A Functioning Alcoholic?
Often, we recognize warning signs in others before we recognize them in ourselves. If you feel like you may have a drinking problem but still manage your daily responsibilities and relationships, it can get a bit confusing. But we are here to help you gain a better understanding.
The first thing to do is to evaluate your drinking habits:
- Do you match the description of someone who averages five drinks per day about every other day?
- Do you feel like your binge drinking isn’t a problem because you carry out daily tasks of living first?
- Do you have a higher drinking tolerance than most others around you?
- Do you hide your drinking from others?
- Do you avoid social situations that do not involve alcohol or sneak drinks before or after them?
- Do you feel angry or defensive when your drinking habits are questioned?
- Do you regularly experience blackouts on drinking days?
- Do you go to work in the morning hungover or still drunk?
- Do you secretly drink at work or while driving?
The combination of compulsive drinking and an otherwise normal daily routine can make it harder to see when you have crossed a line. No two people will have the same addiction experience.
But if you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, that is a sign of functioning alcoholism. Help is available. Our incredible team of addiction experts is here to help you build a better life. From evaluating your drinking habits to practicing healthier coping mechanisms, recovery starts here.
Ways to Approach a Functioning Alcoholic
If you’re wondering how to help a functioning alcoholic in denial, the first thing to remember is to be gentle in your approach. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of functioning alcoholism in someone you love, try to understand that they are battling a vicious disease.
No one chooses to become addicted. It is easy to feel like this is something they chose. But that is not always the case. As we mentioned earlier, a family history of alcoholism and other genetic traits, our environments, and peer pressure can have profound impacts on our choices.
Dealing with a high-functioning alcoholic isn’t always straightforward. But keeping an open mind, being honest and compassionate, and avoiding portraying negative emotions like shame, blame, or anger can help both sides get the most from the conversation.
Can Functional Alcoholics Benefit from Treatment?
No matter your level or type of addiction, there is always a chance that treatment can help you change your life. Everyone is different. But we have spent years developing research-based and proven-effective addiction treatment methods to meet our clients’ unique needs.
Functional Alcoholic Treatment Options
The treatment program and methods that you participate in may vary depending on your addiction level and other needs. For example, someone with severe addiction and overwhelming withdrawal symptoms would likely benefit from the 24-hour access to professional care, support, and guidance that comes with an inpatient or residential program.
But functioning alcoholics typically have full-time jobs and families to tend to, as well. While many people benefit from a full-time program, it isn’t always the most convenient option. That’s where intensive outpatient and other part-time programs come in.
Rather than committing to a full-time stay, we will help you build a program and schedule that will fit your needs and work around your obligations. This may involve visits for behavioral and family therapy, support groups, and other treatment methods one or more times each week.
A part-time treatment schedule allows you to get the help you need without facing too much of a disruption to your routine. It does not have to be one or the other.
Circle of Hope: Treatment Fit for Your Needs
From detox to aftercare, we will walk the path to recovery alongside you. If you are coping as a functional alcoholic now, that doesn’t mean that it will stay this way. Addiction generally develops into something more severe.
And the risk today is not worth the mental, physical, and social health toll of tomorrow. Call us today at 818-391-5259 for more information.