When you think of an alcoholic, you think of someone unable to hold down a job, finish their education or maintain a relationship because their drinking gets in the way. You may think of someone whose drinking causes frequent legal problems, or someone who experiences physical withdrawals if they try to stop drinking for even a day.
While those are all signs of a certain type of alcoholic, there’s another type of alcoholic: the high-functioning alcoholic. This person might have an advanced degree, a distinguished career, a beautiful family and an active social life. They’ve probably managed to avoid legal problems associated with their drinking. To all outside appearances they “have it all,” but behind closed doors, they struggle with alcoholism.
It can be hard to identify a high-functioning alcoholic because many of the more obvious warning signs of alcoholism — life problems, legal problems, relationship problems, even physical addiction — may not be there. Denial — the mechanism by which all alcoholics rationalize their drinking — can be particularly powerful in the case of the high-functioning alcoholic. So, how you can tell if you’re a high-functioning alcoholic? Here’s how.
You Drink Habitually
You can be a high-functioning alcoholic and not drink every day, although many high-functioning alcoholics do drink every day. Whether or not you drink every day, you look for excuses to drink, such as social functions where others will be drinking, for instance. You may also treat drinking like a reward, telling yourself that you deserve a few drinks because you work hard or you’ve had a long day.
You may drink in secret and try to hide your excess drinking from others. Even on days when you don’t drink, you spend a lot of time thinking about drinking and looking forward to the next time you’ll be able to drink. You may not experience physical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, but your obsessive thinking about where and when you can drink reveals your psychological addiction.
You Minimize the Problem
You’re in denial about the severity of your alcohol abuse problem if you tell yourself that it’s “not that bad,” or tell yourself that you can’t be an alcoholic because you haven’t experienced the severe life problems that lower-functioning alcoholics have.
You may tell yourself that you can’t be alcoholic because you hold down a good job, because you’re a good spouse and parent, because you haven’t “hit rock bottom” or “lost everything,” or because you drink expensive brands of alcohol. Many high-functioning alcoholics are unable to remember the negative consequences of their drinking — they can only acknowledge the relief and good feelings that alcohol brings to them.
You Often Drink More Than You Meant To
You might tell yourself you’re only going to drink so much, but you end up drinking much more than you intended — regularly. You often “black out” when drinking; even if you’ve only had a few drinks, you’ll wake up the next day unable to remember what you did while you were drunk.
High-functioning alcoholics are no less addicted to alcohol just because they hold down good jobs, have families and friends and are well-educated. High-functioning alcoholics often don’t experience the severe life, legal and relationship problems that lower-functioning alcoholics do, and as a result, they’re often deeply in denial about their problem. If you think you might be a high-functioning alcoholic, don’t wait until something terrible happens. Get help for your drinking now.