For many young adults and even plenty of older adults, drinking is a way of life. From binging in college to passing time with cocktails after work in the professional world, alcohol plays a significant role in American culture. While most people, even those who begin drinking in high school or college, manage to develop healthy drinking habits as they age, others aren’t so lucky. The rush and intoxication of binge drinking can be too much to overcome, leading to tens of thousands of adults who rely on alcohol to make it through the day.
Unfortunately, societal perceptions of alcoholism often fail to clearly demarcate the line between social drinking and a real problem. In TV shows, books, comics, and movies, frequent drinking is portrayed as normal and even expected, severely overshadowing the threat of alcohol addiction. This can make it very hard for adults who drink regularly to identify or admit to an addiction, severely decreasing the likelihood of seeking help before it’s too late. This is especially true for functional alcoholics.
What Is a Functional Alcoholic?
Functional alcoholism is a form of alcohol addiction in which substance abusers are still able to carry on many standard life activities. Also known as high-functioning alcoholism, these individuals often have close social relationships, attend school, or hold down a job without any major indications of a problem. They may drink to excess on a regular basis, but the illusion of normalcy can mask the depth of the issue at hand from friends, family, and even themselves.
Despite the appearance of control, virtually no one will remain a high functioning alcoholic for long. Eventually, the grips of alcoholism will take over, ruining careers, relationships, academics, and anything else in its wake. Of the over 15 million Americans with an Alcohol Use Disorder, as many as half are of a high functioning variety.
Signs of Functional Alcoholism
In many cases, the signs of functional alcoholism have great overlap with a social or party-centered lifestyle, but there are a number of warnings to watch for in your loved ones or yourself.
A lot of adults drink on a regular basis, but what is considered heavy drinking?
In men, four drinks or more per day or 14 of more a week can be considered heavy drinking, while three drinks or more per day or seven or more drinks a week qualify for women. While some people can maintain this frequency for weeks, months, or even years at a time without being at risk, prolonged heavy drinking is an early indicator of a substance abuse problem and can contribute to health complications like liver disease.
Frequent Cover Ups
For someone whose drinking has become a problem, it’s common to slip up at home, at work, or at school, even for high performers. This may mean frequent tardiness at work, missed deadlines, skipped classes, or an inability to attend family events due to hangovers or intoxication. It may also be common to seek assistance from others, asking coworkers to punch time cards or lie to bosses, requesting help with children, or lying to get out of obligations.
Isolation, Particularly from Friends and Family
Many high-functioning alcoholics are very social, spending plenty of time with friend groups and maintaining romantic relationships and even marriages. However, during down time, it’s not uncommon for affected individuals to spend time alone, drinking and hiding their behavior from others. Some alcoholics may also skip social events or family obligations unintentionally, often due to getting too intoxicated prior to going out.
Inability to Maintain Commitments
Heavy drinking regularly isn’t a habit that can be maintained for long. Sooner or later, the consequences will begin to pile up, and things will start to slide. Functional alcoholics will often overcompensate, winning awards at work while forgetting appointments and ignoring family. Someone with amazing performance in one place and problems in others may be struggling to balance a drinking problem.
Drinking During the Day
For most people, morning is a great time for coffee, eggs, and a nice, hot shower. For functional alcoholics, however, the morning might be a great time to start drinking. While an occasional drink during the day at a ball game or brunch is normal, drinking in the morning, whether out of boredom or a need for alcohol, is not. Regularly day drinking or frequent suggestions of day drinking can be a sign of a problem.
Getting Angry at Confrontation
Alcoholics of all kinds resist the label, lashing out when friends and loved ones bring up questions and concerns. In many cases, functional alcoholics are no different. While most high functioning alcoholics maintain a jovial attitude about drinking, accusations and interventions are still met with anger and criticism, particularly for those who do not want others to know the true extent of their drinking habits.
Flasks may have a time and a place, but that time isn’t always and that place isn’t everywhere. While most adults can attend a play, enjoy a lunch, or tour a museum without a drink, many functional alcoholics will attempt to spice up these kinds of plans. They may play it off as a fun addition to a day out or something that everyone does, but healthy drinkers are perfectly fine enjoying events without alcohol.
Making Jokes about Drinking
While alcoholics in denial often get angry when their drinking is brought up to them, functional alcoholics who are aware of the extent of their drinking may make jokes to avoid detection. Many use these jokes as a way to deflect criticism and dissuade questions, while others try to create a camaraderie around the process of drinking and getting drunk.
Functional alcoholism isn’t a safe or better form of alcoholism; it’s still a serious disease with significant consequences. While some addicts are able to maintain jobs and lives for a while, this situation is temporary at best. With an estimated 88,000 deaths from alcohol abuse a year, staying in this state isn’t worth the gamble.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, please contact Outpatient Services today. Call (844) 211-7944 to speak to a member of our compassionate, caring staff.