acquiesce - May 25th, 2021

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

If asked to imagine an alcoholic, many people would imagine someone who is always drinking, perhaps someone who looks unkempt and whose life is falling apart as a result of their habits. This, however, is not the reality for many people with an alcohol addiction.

Some people can cope absolutely fine despite consuming high quantities of alcohol on a regular basis. These are called functioning alcoholics. In fact, some people can be incredibly successful whilst still drinking excessively and often their achievements are what cause others to overlook their drinking problem. These people are called high functioning alcoholics.

A high functioning alcoholic may not even acknowledge that they have a problem. Denial is incredibly common with high functioning alcoholics as their drinking doesn’t negatively impact on their ‘outside life’. They may think “I’m doing well at work, have plenty of friends and a good relationship; therefore I am not an alcoholic” or they may make jokes about their drinking or excuses such as “I only drink expensive wine”, or “I haven’t lost anything as a result of drinking so it isn’t a problem”.

Whilst a high functioning alcoholic may appear fine at surface level, in reality they are likely suffering with much deeper rooted issues. Drinking problems and addictions usually occur as a result of an individual frequently using alcohol to cope with stress or other feelings they are experiencing. Many people suffering with addiction also have previously existing mental health problems and start using alcohol as a way to manage them.

Unfortunately, the ability to maintain a lifestyle that appears normal from the outside can often mean that functioning alcoholics go untreated as their symptoms aren’t taken seriously.

Whilst a functioning alcoholic may be able to meet all of their regular responsibilities, continue to be productive, or be in a top-ranking career, this type of success may lead themselves and others to minimise the concern for their drinking. Regardless of the denial this could lead to, frequent heavy drinking is always dangerous even if it has ever impacted an individual’s home, work or social life. 

It also doesn’t matter what type of alcohol they drink. Expensive wine is just as harmful as the cheap stuff, so don’t be fooled into thinking someone doesn’t have a problem based on the price of the alcohol they drink. 

Recognising The Signs and Symptoms

Heavy drinking is still the same whether you’re able to continue life as normal or not. Just because you are coping well or don’t fit the stereotype of an alcoholic doesn’t mean the alcohol consumption isn’t causing you harm.  

For women, having more than three drinks a day, or seven a week is classed as heavy drinking. For men, heavy drinking is classed as four drinks a day, or fourteen a week. If you drink more than the daily or weekly limit, you are at risk.

Here are some warning signs that could help you to recognise if someone you know is at risk without the usual symptoms such as avoiding responsibilities or suffering relationships:

  • Reliance on alcohol to feel confident or relaxed
  • Drinking in the morning or when alone
  • Getting drunk without intention
  • Struggling to remember previous nights or days
  • Denial or anger when confronted
  • The cause of loved ones to worry or make excuses for your drinking
  • Replacing food with alcohol
  • Rarely getting hangovers despite drinking
  • Irritable behaviour when not drinking
  • The inability to stop at one drink
  • Storing alcohol in unusual places such as in the car or garage
  • Being unable to socialise without alcohol or avoiding social scenarios where alcohol isn’t available
  • Addiction can also manifest itself as an increase in any existing mental health problems.
  • Fatigue
  • Disturbed Sleep
  • Weight loss or gain

What Are The Long Term Effects of Excessive Alcohol Consumption?

Although a functioning alcoholic may appear fine, even a highly organised and social person is at risk of putting themselves or others in danger when under the influence of alcohol. These short term risks include the dangers of drink driving, making poor decisions due to bad lack of judgement, having impulsive sexual encounters or memory loss.

The long term medical risks related to alcoholism include:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • High blood pressure

These are not the only risks. Ongoing excessive drinking can increase the chances of suicide, being murdered, dying in a car crash, the likelihood of domestic abuse, child abuse, and foetal alcohol syndrome.

How To Help Or Get Help

Although it can be difficult for a functioning alcoholic to admit to needing help due to their seeming ability to manage without it, once this has been established, the treatments are the same for all types of alcoholic.

It is worth recognising that admitting there is a problem can be difficult and if the discontinuation of alcohol is abrupt this can be dangerous. At Acquiesce, we can arrange a detoxification placement for you which supervises the quitting process and the withdrawal that follows, helping you to manage the symptoms and avoid a relapse.

At Acquiesce, we provide a discreet, highly supported and safe environment within the community for your relative to recover in. Without being hidden from the real world, our urban recovery model allows individuals to gain all the tools and experience necessary whilst maintaining a carefully monitored level of autonomy and responsibility over their own recovery. This makes the transitional period from treatment a much smoother process, resulting in a more sustainable recovery journey.

Our core programme addresses the psychological, physical, spiritual and social effects of addiction. It is delivered by our highly trained and experienced team and incorporates the latest evidence based interventions, alternative therapies and activities. Our programmes are designed to accommodate each individual’s existing commitments and responsibilities including family and work arrangements. 

If you think you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol misuse, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our friendly team at Acquiesce for a free, confidential and no judgement consultation. For more information, you can visit our helpful blog which includes advice on addiction and mental health. 

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