Understanding the High Functioning Alcoholic: 5 Signs That Might Surprise You

When most people think of an alcoholic, they imagine a homeless man, hanging out in front of a liquor store with a brown paper bag wrapped around a bottle of alcohol. He may be begging for money to get his next bottle.

Maybe they imagine a woman who has lost her job, her family and even, her self-respect. These are the typical images that come to mind when people think of an alcoholic.

If you or someone you love drinks more than normal but still functions at a high level, this is what’s known as a “high-functioning alcoholic.”

These people may not even think they have a problem because when they think of an alcoholic, they think of the stereotypes described above. Identifying and understanding the high functioning alcoholic can be difficult.

Identifying and Understanding the High Functioning Alcoholic

It can be hard to know if someone has a serious problem with drinking if they don’t show the typical symptoms. We will go over the five most common signs to look for. 

1. Joking and Denying There’s a Problem

When someone gets up and goes to work every day, it’s easy to be in denial about drinking too much. Deep down though, they may feel guilty about drinking so much that they tend to joke about how much they drink. They try to deflect from the real problem.

2. Using Alcohol to Cope

If someone needs a drink to relieve stress, over time, the only way they can cope with any type of problem is with alcohol. 

Excessive drinking can cause depression, which can lead to even more drinking to cope with feelings of despair.

3. Relationships Suffer

Most drinking takes place in a social setting. When someone drinks alone or even in secret, this is a clear sign they have a drinking problem.

As the excessive drinking continues, friends and family may start making comments and voicing concerns.

A spouse or long-time partner will notice the excessive drinking. When there is any mention of it, an alcoholic’s defenses go up and they become angry.

Arguing might also serve as an excuse to get some alone time to drink even more.

Some family members may become so concerned that they stage an intervention.

4. Doesn’t Know When to Quit

A functional alcoholic might seem to have control over his or her drinking, but when drinking alone, it’s hard to place limits or even know when they’ve had enough.

This can lead to blackouts. A person might even wind up with a DUI, getting seriously injured in a car accident or even worse, seriously injuring or killing an innocent person.

5. Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

Over time, as a person consumes more and more alcohol, their body becomes dependent on it. At first, not having it can cause shakiness, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and depression.

As the alcoholism progresses and they try to quit, the withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening. These withdrawal symptoms are called delirium tremens or DTs.

DTs can start from two to three days after a person’s last drink. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

Some of these symptoms are life-threatening, and it’s important that a person gets medical attention immediately. 

Don’t Do It Alone

Even when a person begins experiencing withdrawal symptoms and knows there’s a problem, it can be hard to admit it. A person may experience feelings of shame and fear.

Knowing these signs can help with understanding the high functioning alcoholic. If you or someone you love seems to be having a problem with their drinking, it’s never too late to reach out for help.

Check out our resource page so that you can easily find help for alcohol addiction and other types of addictions.

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