5 Signs You’re a Functioning Alcoholic
Asking yourself “Am I a functioning alcoholic?”. While many people follow the path of alcoholism that involves lost jobs, financial insecurity and failed marriages, this is not the case for all who suffer from alcoholism.
Some alcoholics can be defined as “functioning alcoholics”. These people are able to keep jobs, finances and families together, even though they may be falling apart at the seams due to their constant intake of alcohol.
These high-functioning individuals may justify their excessive drinking with excuses like “drinking is part of the job” or “I work best when I can relax with a bottle of wine”.
The reality for many, though, is that these people are unable to function without alcohol, and eventually the cracks begin to emerge.
One of the hallmarks of alcoholism is a complete denial of a problem with alcohol, even though all the signs are there. The unfortunate fact is that many alcoholics will keep drinking despite having faced severe repercussions due to their drinking, and only get help when they have no other option.
Do you suspect that you or a loved one is a high functioning alcoholic? Keep reading to find out the signs.
Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic
People who exhibit these signs may be a functioning alcoholic:
1. Drinking to deal with stress
Coping with the demands of a job and perhaps a family can be challenging for anyone. Plenty of people around the world have a couple of drinks so that they can blow off steam. For high-functioning alcoholics, though, alcohol becomes a way of reducing tension on a daily basis.
You may have a falling out with your partner, which leads you to drink. A difficult work relationship might make you drink. Being turned over for a promotion might also have you reaching for a glass.
2. Denying having a drinking problem
Functioning alcoholics will go to great lengths to deny that they have an issue with alcohol. They will point to their ability to continue meeting their obligations as a sign that they have their drinking under control.
Of course, they do not admit that they are struggling, and may not even recognise this in themselves. As bigger problems emerge, their drinking problem becomes so obvious that it is impossible to continue denying.
One tactic that functioning alcoholics often use well is making a joke out of their drinking. By doing this, they deflect the seriousness of the issue.
3. Needing to drink before/while in work
Functioning alcoholics frequently need alcohol to get through the day. This might mean drinking a brandy before work, or it may involve having a hip flask secreted somewhere in the workplace, that can be swigged from throughout the day.
Not doing this means alcohol withdrawal symptoms will kick in, which stops their ability to work.
4. Drinking to deal with mental health problems
Functioning alcoholics use alcohol to deal with mental health issues like anxiety, depression and PTSD. These can all impact how well someone can get through their day to day tasks, and the reality is that self-medicating can work.. until it doesn’t.
Once alcohol dependence has been established in someone with a pre-existing mental health condition, this person must not only fend off withdrawal symptoms, but they also have to deal with the original problems that they faced in the first place. These have a tendency to come back with a renewed vigour once alcohol is out of their system.
This is the reason why when alcoholics with co-occurring disorders get sober, they must also deal with the mental health condition that caused them to drink in the first place.
5. Drinking to overcome feelings of inferiority
Someone’s desire to succeed in life and their desire to drink often comes from the same place: inferiority.
These feelings of inferiority are often rooted in childhood events that cause the person to feel low self esteem, so they do everything they can in life to make themselves successful and feel good about themselves
Unfortunately, this never works in the long run, and in the case of a functioning alcoholic leads to a continuing need for more: more money, more success, more alcohol.
When people who have been living their lives like this come to recovery, they must start to heal the wounds of the past, and learn to love themselves.
Dangers of Alcoholism
The dangers of alcoholism are many. They include:
Physical health problems
Alcohol is a poison, and it damages everything it comes into contact with. If you are a high functioning alcoholic, you will likely have alcohol running through your bloodstream most of the time, where it can damage your internal organs and ultimately kill you.
Physical health problems from alcohol include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
Mental health problems
Alcoholism can be caused by mental health problems, and it also exacerbates them. People often begin drinking to self-medicate their mental health issues, then find themselves unable to stop.
Mental health problems exacerbated by alcoholism include:
- Bipolar disorder
Drinking can cause rifts between families, the breakdown of romantic relationships, and fallouts between friends and work colleagues. People can do or say things while they are drinking. This can be difficult to resolve.
If you or a loved one has found themselves losing connections due to drinking, it may be time to get help. When alcohol is put down, it creates a great opportunity for getting back in contact with people, and mending relationships that had been adversely affected by alcohol.
High Functioning Alcoholics in Popular Culture
The high functioning alcoholic archetype is one that has become favored in popular culture in recent years. Shows such as Mad Men present us with characters like Don Draper, who exemplify the idea of the hard-working, hard-drinking figure who necks back whiskey in the morning and closes deals in the afternoon.
People are sometimes a little quick to forget that, firstly, these shows are only shows, and that the realities of alcoholism are often much uglier than when they are portrayed on the screen. Secondly, Don Draper was successful, but he was also a mess, who had to drink just so he could function, and was made to go on sabbatical after he had a melt-down at work.
In the end, Don moved away from Madison Avenue to work on himself and heal, as shown in the closing scenes of the series. This is a far better outcome than many high-function alcoholics have in the end.
Alcoholism as a Progressive Illness
Like all untreated diseases, alcoholism is progressive. Most high functioning alcoholics do not start their drinking career by drinking enormous amounts of alcohol each day. It often starts fairly innocuously, with a few drinks after work a couple of nights a week. This leads to a few drinks every night of the week. As stress builds up, day-time drinking can creep in, and the downward spiral continues.
Uninterrupted, alcoholism’s progressive nature leads increasingly serious spiritual, physical, mental and financial woes. Fortunately, though, you can halt it’s progress, and recovery is possible.
Recovery from alcoholism is a life-long process. It involves addressing all of the elements that led the alcoholic to drinking in the first place.
How to Speak to a High Functioning Alcoholic
If you suspect (or perhaps know) that someone you love is a high-functioning alcoholic, it can be difficult to know how to bring the subject up. You may have tried before, and encountered humor, denial, or even aggression.
People with alcoholism do not usually want to talk about their alcoholism, and this is no less true with high-functioning alcoholics. Getting through to someone like this can be difficult, and it involves careful strategising before speaking with them.
- Make sure they are sober. The first aspect to remember is to only address this issue when your loved one is sober. If they are drunk, they are more likely to be difficult, they may admit that they have a problem, and then conveniently forget saying it in the morning.
- Be assertive. It is important that you clearly state how your loved one’s alcohol has negatively affected you, them, and the people around you.
- Remain calm. Whist delivering your message, try to keep a cool head. For your message to get through, it is important you don’t lose your temper or become emotional.
- Talk about the consequences. Speak with your loved one about the consequences that have occurred due to their drinking. Make sure they understand that there will be more consequences to follow if they do not decide to give up alcohol.
The sad truth is that even if you deliver your message perfectly, some people are just not ready to hear what you have to say. Do not beat yourself up. Your loved one may be ready to listen to you in time.
The important thing, here, is to then focus on increasing your own wellbeing and understanding of how there alcoholism affects you. You may find counselling or attending Al-anon groups very beneficial in this respect.
What Kinds of Occupations Attract High Functioning Alcoholics?
High functioning alcoholics have a tendency to work roles that are high stress and high in reward. For these people, the highs of their job also act as an intoxicant. They feel a buzz from meeting the demands of their jobs, and receiving the financial rewards and accolades.
Like alcohol, though, these highs only last for so long, and their lifestyle, combined with alcohol, leads to burnout. When this happens, the speed of descent of the high functioning alcoholic increases. They can end up losing their job, their money, and their families. Part of the recovery process for high functioning alcoholics, then, involves them finding a more healthy work/life balance. Once they find this eqilibrium, it is easier to stay away from alcohol and channel energy into more sustainable pursuits.
Getting Help as a High Functioning Alcoholic
If you always want to be the best and be seen as the best, admitting you have a problem can be so challenging. Humbling yourself to acknowledge that you have alcohol problems and that you need assistance can feel excruciating for someone who is used to depending on themselves.
The reality, though, is that even the most resilient people need help sometimes. By getting some support, you can ultimately become stronger, and go on to better things.
If you believe you are ready to do this, there are some simple steps that you can take. The most common option for people with alcohol problems is alcohol rehabilitation. This tends to be the fastest and most effective way of dealing with an alcohol problem.
If you do not want to go to rehab, there are other options, like Alcoholics Anonymous. Here, like minded people will guide you, many of them former high-functioning alcoholics themselves. You can access support and meetings directly through our platform, which is purpose built to get people into recovery from addiction faster.
We hope that you now have an answer to the question “Am I a functioning alcoholic”?