What are the Signs of Being a Functioning Alcoholic?

What are the Signs of Being a Functioning Alcoholic?

Discover the signs of high-functioning alcoholics with our comprehensive guide. Find out how to identify the problem and ways to seek help now.

Photo by Vinicius “amnx” Amano on Unsplash

Do you observe any changes in your loved one’s drinking habits? They might be consuming more glasses of wine with dinner or frequent bars after work.

If their alcohol consumption is worrying you while they’re doing well, they could be a high-functioning alcoholic. Functioning alcoholics are individuals, including high-performing ones, who suffer from alcohol dependency. But they are still able to function normally at home and work.

Some signs of a functioning alcoholic include:

  • Consume beyond alcohol limits without appearing intoxicated
  • Use excuses like stress relief to justify their heavy drinking behavior
  • Display irritable or defensive behaviors when unable to drink

Let’s explore more early signs to prevent long-term consequences on health and career.

What is Functioning Alcoholism?

For many people, alcohol has played a part in social interaction. They find it enjoyable to drink at gatherings or in moderation. According to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), 6.2% of adults in the United States aged 18 and older have alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use, particularly when excessive, is associated with a number of negative effects. These include increased risk of illness and other health problems and accidents. But if you can maintain professional and personal success despite heavy drinking, you’re a functioning alcoholic.

Differentiating between social drinking and dependency is important. In high-stress environments like demanding careers, the line between the two can blur, which may lead to functioning alcoholism.

Functioning alcoholism refers to individuals who are alcohol dependent but can maintain their daily duties and professional success. They often appear to have their lives together. This leads many to overlook the severity of their drinking problem.

Key Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

The world of professionals may be stressful. After a demanding workday, many professionals look forward to sipping on a drink to wind down. 

Since professionals live normally, despite their drinking habits, it may be hard to identify the characteristics. But some symptoms and warning signs are appearing elsewhere.

Here are some common signs of a functioning alcoholic:

1. High Tolerance and Regular Consumption

Alcohol abuse occurs when alcohol consumption exceeds the recommended limits for moderation. According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults can choose to drink in moderation or not to drink.

Here are the three classifications of drinking alcohol:

Moderate Drinking

  • Up to one alcoholic beverage per day for women aged 21 and older
  • Up to two drinks per day for men in the same age group

Heavy Drinking

  • Eight or more drinks weekly for women
  • 15 or more drinks weekly for men

Binge Drinking

  • Characterized by a specific pattern of alcohol intake resulting in a BAC or Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.08% or higher
  • Typically achieved through consuming five or more drinks within a span of approximately 2-4 hours.

High-functioning alcoholics drink more alcohol without appearing intoxicated. High-functioning alcoholics usually stop caring about meals. But instead, use mealtimes as an opportunity to resume drinking.

2. Denial and Concealment

It can be hard for loved ones of alcoholics to see the problem. This is true, especially when the alcoholic seems to be managing their life well. These high-functioning alcoholics may not experience the same negative consequences as others struggling with alcohol use disorders. But this denial can make it difficult to talk to them about their drinking.

If you’re worried about a partner’s drinking, approach the conversation calmly. You have more options for handling alcoholic loved ones.

Keep an eye out for attempts to excuse their drinking, such as:

  • “I don’t drink inexpensive alcohol, and it’s not a big deal.”
  • “I’m successful. How can I have a drinking problem?”
  • “Everyone drinks this way, it’s normal.”
  • “I have a stable job, good friends, and I pay my bills.”
  • “I haven’t experienced hardship or life damage as a result of alcohol.”

These excuses, while common, don’t negate the potential dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. And it doesn’t stop you from living an alcohol-free lifestyle.

3. Stress and Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

Approximately 20% of individuals with alcohol abuse are considered to be highly functional, according to estimates from America’s National Institutes of Health. It is said that the majority have a decent income and are well-educated.

Many people turn to drinking alcohol as a way to cope with stress. While it may provide a temporary sense of relaxation, alcohol is not a healthy coping mechanism in the long run.

Alcohol can actually worsen stress symptoms in the long run. When the effects of alcohol wear off, stress levels can rebound and become even worse. Regular consumption of more alcohol may lead to dependence. This can make it even more hard to cope with stress in a healthy way.

If you’re struggling to cope with stress on your own, please ask for help from a health professional. Alcohol isn’t the only way to cope with stress in the professional world.

4. Strained Personal and Professional Relationships

Some people oftentimes drink alcohol to escape the stress from the workplace. But the truth is, it can only worsen your personal and professional relationships.

The effects of high-functioning alcoholism on a person’s personal and professional lives can be severe. Even though they’re able to maintain an image of accomplishment, regular alcohol intake might lower motivation.

Drinking or hangovers can lead to missing important events, work deadlines, or social gatherings. This unreliability can breed resentment and erode trust with loved ones and colleagues.

Moreover, alcohol can cause mood swings and irritability. Someone struggling with alcoholism might become short-tempered or argumentative, pushing loved ones away.

Lastly, responsibilities at home and work often fall by the wayside as the focus shifts towards consuming alcohol. This neglect can cause feelings of anger and resentment from partners, children, or coworkers.

For high-functioning alcoholics, early identification can help reduce these risks and enhance results.

5. Neglecting Health and Personal Interests

Alcohol can become the center of your focus, pushing aside other aspects of life. And even if you appear to be functioning well in daily life, it doesn’t mean you are healthy.

Regularly exceeding recommended drinking limits can take a toll on your body. You might experience:

  • Unexplained fatigue or changes in sleep patterns
  • Weakened immune system that makes you more susceptible to illness
  • Poor nutrition due to unhealthy choices or missed meals while hungover
  • Skin problems, digestive issues, or changes in weight

As a result, activities you once enjoyed might fall by the wayside. You could:

  • Skip workouts, hobbies, or social events to drink or recover from drinking
  • Lose interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • Withdraw from anyone who doesn’t share your drinking habits

Here’s the key thing: High-functioning alcoholics might hold down a job and have a functional life. But underneath, there’s a struggle with alcohol that’s slowly chipping away at their health and well-being.

The Risks of Untreated Functioning Alcoholism

Photo by Stanislav Ivanitskiy on Unsplash

Consuming alcohol causes intoxication, or “getting drunk.” While some of alcohol’s short-term effects are harmless, others can be more dangerous for the health of the drinker. This is particularly true if more alcohol is ingested quickly.

Untreated functioning alcoholism can cause:

  • Physical health issues like liver damage, heart disease, and digestive problems
  • Mental health problems like cognitive impairment, depression and anxiety
  • Strained relationships with family members, co-workers, and friends due to alcohol-related conflicts
  • Workplace challenges such as decreased productivity, absenteeism, and conflicts with coworkers
  • Financial difficulties due to potential job loss and spending too much money on alcohol 
  • Legal issues such as DUI (driving under the influence) charges and legal penalties
  • Increased risk of injuries and accidents
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from social activities
  • Decline in quality of life due to the negative impact of alcoholism

If you or a loved one starts to feel worried about risk factors, talk to your healthcare physician.

Treatment Options for High-Functioning Alcoholics

Confronting an alcohol problem needs courage. Admitting you need help is a powerful first step.

Here are the options to treat functioning alcoholics:

Self-Reflect on Your Drinking Habits

Some ways to reflect on excessive drinking consumption include:

  • Track your drinking patterns
  • Assess the consequences
  • Evaluate triggers
  • Compare your drinking habits with guidelines
  • Acknowledge feelings

Explore Support Options

Support groups provide an open environment for individuals to share their experiences. Here are some support options:

  • Confidential Consultation
  • Online Resources
  • Peer Support Groups
  • Professional Treatment Programs
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Lifestyle Adjustments

Continuing mental health treatment and making well-informed choices are important.

How Our Alcohol-Free Program Can Help

If you or someone close to you is struggling with quitting alcohol, consider joining our alcohol-free program: Project 90. This is an initial step that leads you closer to a healthier, alcohol-free life.

Project 90 is specifically designed to address the unique needs of high-achieving executives and professionals. Through this program, you’ll:

  • Learn to overcome unhealthy patterns and replace them with sustainable behaviors
  • Discover new ways to manage stress, improve well-being, and prioritize your health
  • Achieve personal and professional goals

Moreover, this innovative program offers a 90-day alcohol-free journey followed by a choice: continue living alcohol-free or transition to mindful moderation.

Final Thoughts

A functioning alcoholic is a high-achiever who struggles with alcohol abuse. But they usually meet their obligations at work, school, or home. This makes it challenging for them and others to acknowledge their problematic drinking habits.

Do you drink more than three times a day? Or are you losing control while drinking? If so, take the next step to take control. Don’t wait years to achieve the freedom you deserve.  

Our Project 90 program can help you make changes towards an alcohol-free life. Contact us today to learn more and start your journey to lasting change!

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