The classic picture of an alcoholic as a person who always drinks too much and whose life is falling apart only pertains to a portion of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Many people appear outwardly fine or even successful, even though they abuse alcohol. Referred to as high-functioning alcoholics, these individuals may be successful at work and home. Often only their closest friends and family may be aware of a problem. High-functioning alcoholics are usually in denial about their AUD. If you are concerned about how alcohol use impacts your life or the life of a loved one, or to learn more about functional alcoholism and discover treatment options, contact Atlanta Center for Mental Health.
Through our residential mental health program in Atlanta, you can discover hope and healing. We provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and holistic treatment for alcohol use disorder and dual diagnosis. Take the first step toward recovery by calling 833.625.0458.
Who Is a Functional Alcoholic?
A functional alcoholic, or high-functioning alcoholic, abuses or depends on alcohol but can still function in society. Some people use the term currently-functioning alcoholic because these individuals are not likely to remain functional. In other words, their alcohol abuse will eventually become full addiction and start to impair their health and daily functioning.
For functional alcoholics, drinking rarely causes them to miss work or other obligations. They can manage daily responsibilities and outwardly appear fine or even successful. Internally, though, they struggle with uncontrollable cravings, obsessive thoughts about their next drink, and unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking. In many cases, high-functioning alcoholics are aware they have a problem but do not seek help because they have not yet faced severe consequences from their alcohol use. Still, others point to their ability to function as proof that they do not have a problem, leaving them in denial.
Signs and Symptoms of Functional Alcoholism
Mild alcohol abuse and binge drinking are often overlooked as problematic. However, this type of drinking can quickly spiral out of control, especially if you are predisposed to addiction. Signs and symptoms of functional alcoholism include:
- You continue to drink despite awareness of your problems.
- You are unable to stop drinking once you start.
- Friends or family have confronted you about your drinking.
- You crave a drink to relax or feel comfortable.
- You joke about having a drinking problem.
- You drink in the morning and throughout the day.
- You have lapses in memory or black-out while drinking.
- You drink alone.
- You hide alcohol.
- You drink in secret or lie about how much you drank.
- You’ve lost friends or have relationship problems because of drinking.
- You have legal issues related to drinking, such as a DUI.
- You get drunk when you do not intend to.
- You have missed work or deadlines because of drinking.
- You get angry when confronted about your drinking.
- Your drinking causes loved ones to worry about your well-being.
- Your drinking causes loved ones to lie or make excuses about your drinking.
- You surround yourself with other heavy drinkers to minimize your drinking.
- You spend most of your time thinking about, acquiring, or recovering from alcohol.
- You make excuses about or downplay your drinking.
Functional alcoholics may appear to be in control but put themselves and others at risk by drinking and driving, blacking out, or engaging in risky behaviors.
The Impacts of Functional Alcoholism and Marriage
Relationships are complex, and it takes a lot for a married couple to make it work and keep the family structure healthy and whole. Alcohol use disorders, including functional alcoholism, can be devastating to families and relationships if left untreated.
A person with an alcohol use disorder may be functional because they have avoided the stereotypical rock bottom consequences, including:
- Being arrested
- Being unable to maintain employment
- Having financial difficulties
- Having mental health disorders
- Losing housing
- Physical illnesses or injuries
A functional alcoholic will often try and control certain aspects of home life to ensure that they can comfortably continue their drinking. It is prevalent for one or more in the household to become an enabler to the functioning alcohol abuser, whether or not they are conscious of it.
Living with an alcoholic can be overwhelming, especially for a spouse or significant other. When children are present in the home, it can take a toll on their mental health and emotions. Functional alcoholics can come into conflict with anyone that impedes their drinking habits. Their drinking could eventually become the priority as it often does with a moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. Tasks such as paying bills, cleaning the house, or keeping relationships take a back seat.
Discover Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment at Atlanta Center for Mental Health
The heavy drinking involved in functional alcoholism can lead to severe health issues, including liver disease, pancreatitis, brain damage, memory loss, high blood pressure, and certain forms of cancer. Alcohol use disorder occurs on a spectrum, and just because you do not fall in the severe range does not mean you do not need alcohol treatment. If you are questioning your alcohol use, you likely have a problem. If you recognize the signs of high-functioning alcoholism in yourself or a loved one, do not put off getting help. Contact Atlanta Center for Mental Health today at 833.625.0458.