The terms “high-functioning” and “alcoholic” seem to be at perfect odds with each other. However, an alcoholic is not just one kind of person practicing one kind of unsafe drinking habit, and in no way requires that a person be falling downstairs each and every day to hoist the title of an alcoholic. High-functioning alcoholics are a real, and exceedingly difficult group of people to categorize, as their generalized habits and practices are very tricky to accurately identify — and that is all by design.
This group of alcoholics are, on the outside, still fully capable of balancing their daily lives. They can get up in the morning and go to work each and every day. They can even be quite successful at work, as well as with their chores and duties on the homefront. These factors make confronting a high-functioning alcoholic difficult. After all, how can something be wrong when they are so successful? The way they engage with alcoholism is functionally different than what is typically perceived as an alcoholic. Their alcohol use is usually not regulated to one or two drinks every once in a while, nor are they waking up in the morning and drinking 3-4 glasses of whiskey.
They engage in a much more subtle way that can even cause the results to be much more dangerous. In the morning, they may take just a sip or two before heading out to work. Their lunch break becomes a prime opportunity not to eat lunch, but to mix up a drink in their car between their shifts. They hide alcohol around the house quite prolifically, while denying their practice to the ones closest to them. High-functioning alcoholics often do not conceive of their drinking as a problem, and in some cases, they see it as key in their success. They could brag about their ability to “only drink a few” and attribute their professional success to alcohol and its ability to make them more outgoing and charismatic.
Regardless of their facade of success, these kinds of confident, less obvious alcoholics are on the cusp of some incredibly dangerous behaviors. Not seeing their drinking as a problem, or rather seeing it as an asset to their daily lives, makes confronting them about their alcoholism exceedingly difficult. How can something be wrong if it has brought so much success? What’s the harm if it has helped them get through the day and accomplish all their duties at home and at work?
Even though it may be a difficult mental shift for them to internalize, help them move away from believing these things were accomplished because of alcohol to realizing they were accomplished in spite of their drinking. Pride is a major factor in how they approach getting help. Even when the individual knows that they are drinking too often, hiding the alcohol around the house where only they will find it is because of a sense of guilt or shame. Acknowledging that they are in fact an alcoholic is a major blow to their pride, since they have been able to function as a professional this entire time.
The pride associated with high-functioning alcoholism leads to one major danger that these individuals inhabit: they are much more likely to drink and drive, leading to DUI’s, or otherwise engage in public activities while intoxicated. Regardless of how much someone thinks they can drink and be “okay,” alcohol will always affect the body at the same biological level. It is here that the dangers get far too real, far too quickly and individuals fall victim to the alcohol, as well as their pride, simultaneously. From the outside, it can seem to come out of nowhere, as they have typically mastered the art of sneaking sips and drinks throughout the day, hiding their drinks, and balancing their lives. Yet they accomplish this by always, always having alcohol on their minds. Every decision is based around when and how they can get a quick drink, mathematically planning out times and amounts to continue to drink while keeping it all within their own hidden world.
Confronting someone who is even slightly suspected of being a high-functioning alcoholic early is the best, and often only way to prevent reaching the highly destructive phase of their practice. Since it can be so difficult to identify, any inklings to its occurrence can often mean that the problem is already major and about to start boiling over. This situation may be met with stark opposition, as their pride and way of life is to be flipped upside down. However, simply because they don’t follow the “standard” outline of what we perceive an alcoholic to be doesn’t mean they aren’t creating a destructive environment for their own health, as well as those around them and in the public at large. It is the most dangerous, unseen kind of drinking, and when it finally comes to the surface, it can do so in catastrophic ways, by way of drunk driving, public intoxication, and subsequent alterations due to consumption.
For those who are looking for help at any stage of the addiction recovery process, or information on different kinds of addictions and their recovery options, contact The Kimberly Center today at (855) 452-3683 to speak to our professional staff about the evidence-based programs we provide. Offering inpatient, outpatient, and continuing care programs for each stage of addiction and its related issues, compiled with an “above all, do no harm” approach that prioritizes holistic treatment with medication as a last resort, we work closely with each individual based on their specific needs to reach a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol or drug use.