The term “alcoholic” is bandied about a great deal in society when people are referring to an individual who they think drinks too much. Because of this, we have built a stereotypical image of an alcoholic as being a person whose life is falling apart at the seams as a consequence of their drinking. Often the perception is of a person attending an alcoholism treatment program having reached “rock bottom” because they can’t stop drinking without help.
The danger of holding on to misconceptions is that we risk overlooking individuals who don’t meet the “classic” and incorrect picture of an alcoholic. There are people who are capable of appearing to be completely fine, concealing the fact that behind closed doors, there is a problem. These individuals are known as “high-functioning alcoholics” and they are in as much need of alcohol rehab as any other person.
High-functioning addicts may give an outward appearance of being successful, many of them with material wealth or a high-powered job with heavy responsibilities. They often hold positions of respect and authority and seem to be in complete control of their emotions, presenting a face to the world that hides their inner battle. The reality is that they are likely to require alcohol abuse treatment.
What Are the Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism?
- They regularly have liquid lunches
It’s not unusual for people to attend business meetings over lunch where there is the opportunity to drink. However, a high-functioning alcoholic will tend to drink without having any interest in food. Invariably, lunch becomes an opportunity not to eat but to abuse alcohol.
- Their behavior changes when they’re drinking
Alcohol affects people by altering their behavior. When someone is drinking through the day but maintaining a sober front, they may exhibit moods that are out of character, such as losing their temper or becoming aggressive.
- They can’t stop at just one drink
Although high-functioning alcoholics may say they’re going to have “just a quick drink”, they tend to be in denial of the fact that they can’t say no to more. When someone has developed alcoholism, they will no longer be in control of their cravings and will be unable to restrict themselves to a single glass of alcohol.
- They experience blackouts after drinking
A significant sign a person has alcoholism is when they are unable to recall the events of the previous day when they were drinking. This can often lead to them acting out of character and taking risks such as taking recreational drugs, having casual sexual encounters or driving while intoxicated.
- They always have an excuse for drinking
One of the classic signs of alcohol dependence is that individuals become irritable or angry when confronted. To justify their drinking, they will throw out excuses such as “I have so much stress to deal with” or “I’m struggling with my divorce” which belies their denial there is a problem.
- They make jokes about alcohol
It is not uncommon for high-functioning alcoholics to make jokes about their drinking habits and laughing about how much alcohol they consume as if it’s a competition. This generally disguises guilt-feelings that are so deep-rooted, the individual is not conscious of them-
- They conceal alcohol
An alcohol-dependent individual is likely to be compelled to drink at unusual times, including while they’re at work. They may stash alcohol around the office so that they have some on hand for when their addiction drives them to drink. This habit of hiding alcohol is likely to extend to the home as well, as alcoholics attempt to conceal their addiction.
- They feel ashamed of their behavior
A characteristic of an alcoholic is that they will often be remorseful about their behavior, particularly if they have hurt a partner or loved one. However, they may not always be fully aware of exactly how they hurt the person and although they feel shame, there is no depth or substance to it if they are unable to recall the damaging incident. Eventually, a pattern of negative behavior followed by remorse begins to emerge that is a clear signal there is an issue with alcohol abuse. Family therapy is generally offered at alcohol treatment centers to help rebuild relationships damaged by alcoholism.
- They compartmentalize their lives
High-functioning alcoholics tend to behave very differently when they’re in the routine of drinking, to such an extent that those close to them can be shocked by the change in them. However, the person they are at home, work or in the company of friends can be completely different, leading people to believe they are perfectly fine.
- They try to stop drinking but fail
People with alcoholism often make several attempts to quit but fail every time. This becomes a pattern that is repeated again and again unless they seek the right kind of treatment. The problem is that when people get into a cycle of drinking to excess and then stopping, even for a short while, before picking up the habit again they can do significant damage to their bodies unless they get alcohol rehab.
High-functioning alcoholics may give all the signs of being in control of their lives but the truth is very different. They are likely to be in control of every aspect of their lives apart from their need to use alcohol, which can quietly spiral out of control in the background. For these individuals, getting alcohol abuse treatment can seem out of reach, particularly if they don’t feel able to make the time commitment for inpatient rehab.
However, there are numerous recovery paths offering more flexible options for people who want to be alcohol-free but don’t want to make their illness known to others. Alcohol treatment centers offer services such as intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and therapeutic support delivered while patients reside at home can provide an alternative route to high-functioning addicts who wish to continue with their lives while they get better.