When most people think of the word “alcoholic,” an array of stereotypical images come to mind. You might picture someone who’s sloppy, slurs their words, stumbles around, and constantly has a hangover. You may think of someone who has dysfunctional relationships or several DUIs. Or you might picture the angry, irritable alcoholic who yells and loses their temper when they’ve had too much to drink. But some people who struggle with problematic drinking don’t fit these descriptions. In fact, a lot of people with alcohol addiction challenges manage their lives well despite their drinking problems. When people are able to abuse alcohol and maintain their jobs and households without suffering any major loss, behavioral health experts refer to them as high-functioning alcoholics.
What Is A High Functioning Alcoholic?
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 20 percent of alcoholics in the United States are high-functioning alcoholics. Even though they’re chronic heavy drinkers, high-functioning alcoholics defy stereotypes commonly associated with alcoholism. You won’t find them slurring their words, being sloppy at work or school, or getting into trouble with the law. They may even excel in these areas of their lives. High-functioning alcoholics can be model employees, upstanding citizens, and financially astute. In fact, most high-functioning chronic drinkers are mature, middle-aged adults. They tend to have stable, well-paying jobs, friends, and normal, everyday lives. You may not even realize they have a drinking problem. Some high-functioning alcoholics keep their alcoholism a secret while others fail to recognize their drinking as a problem. But like other types of alcoholics, high-functioning alcoholics depend on and suffer from intense cravings for, alcohol.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms you may notice high-functioning alcoholics exhibit include:
- Needing alcohol to feel relaxed or confident
- Drinking alone, in the morning, or at work
- Forgetting what they did or said while drinking
- Denying the amount of alcohol they consumed
- Getting drunk when they didn’t intend to
- A strong need, or urge, to drink that occurs daily or consistently
- Not being able to stop drinking even when they say they’ll stop drinking
- Acting dramatically different when drunk compared to how they act when sober
- Using alcohol as a reward or to relieve stress after work
- Becoming hostile when someone confronts them about their drinking
Even though high-functioning alcoholics seem to have their lives under control, they do have a drinking problem. Usually, they don’t realize how problematic their drinking is until their health suffers or they reach an emotional tipping point. The good news is that there are ways you can help a high-functioning alcoholic get the treatment they need.
Ways You Can Help A High Functioning Alcoholic
High-functioning alcoholics tend to be in denial that they have a problem. As a result, they might try to hide their drinking from you or make excuses for the habit, so you need to watch them diligently. Pay attention to their habits, how often and how much they drink, as well as how they act when they’re not drinking.
If your observations make you suspect they have a problem with alcoholism, you can:
1. Have a conversation with them about their drinking
This is usually the first step friends and family members take when they think a loved one might have a drinking problem, but you need to approach this kind of conversation carefully. Don’t try to talk to your loved one when they’re drunk. Wait until they’re sober or trying to cut back on their alcohol consumption on their own. When you talk to them, be empathetic and non-judgmental. Don’t talk down to them. Make sure they know that you’re actually concerned about them but don’t enable them or make excuses for them, either. Try to avoid blaming them but, instead, lovingly suggest that you want to handle the problem together, letting them know you’ll support them throughout the entire recovery process.
2. Encourage them to visit the doctor or plan a visit for them
If you don’t feel comfortable having a conversation with your loved one, you can encourage them to visit their doctor. To help reduce the number of Americans struggling with alcoholism, most annual physicals include “drinking checkups,” or screening for unhealthy alcohol use. In addition to that, physicians talk to their patients about activities that might be harmful to their health. This often means doctors ask patients about problem areas in their lives, as well as any “bad habits” they want to address. CT scans, blood tests looking for B12 levels, and liver functioning tests can also pinpoint and measure issues and symptoms caused by chronic drinking. When doctors suspect a patient may have a chronic drinking problem, they may speak to the person about excessive alcohol consumption and explain to them how quitting can reverse or lessen any health problems. Seeing the scientific and medical evidence might also help your loved one realize they have a problem, which can encourage them to get help and enroll in a recovery program.
3. Stage an intervention
If you’ve tried to talk to your loved one about their drinking and they refused your help, it might be time to plan an intervention. You can plan an intervention on your own or seek out help from experts who specialize in professional drug and alcohol interventions. Four of the most common types of intervention include:
- Simple, which consists of you sitting down with your loved one and asking them to stop drinking and get help.
- Classic, which begins with a planning session that includes everyone except the loved one with the drinking problem. A counselor helps prepare every person for their part in the intervention. The counselor can also offer your family support as needed.
- Family system, which is often used when multiple people in the family struggle with addiction or codependency. Family members participate in family counseling and coaching, as well.
- Crisis, which relies on situations, rather than an intervention, to serve as a wake-up call. Sometimes, the situation turns into an impromptu intervention which can be quickly followed by rehabilitation.
Spiritually Therapeutic Treatment for Alcoholism
Here at Genesis Recovery, we believe that your loved one can begin again and doesn’t have to settle for a life defined by alcohol. Our alcohol addiction program can help your loved one get the help they need. Our treatment approach is faith-based, clinical, rooted in the 12-step program, and full of community.
Through our care, your loved one can receive treatment that will help restore their mind, body, and soul. Contact us today at 619-797-7319 if you’re looking for a recovery program that can truly meet your loved one’s needs.