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It can come as a shock to learn that someone you know as a responsible, hard-working person is in reality an alcoholic. It surprises us because we assume that alcoholics are sloppy, disheveled, and often unemployed. A functional alcoholic, though, is able to be productive and social at work and home, with no overt signs. Keep reading to learn more about the signs and traits of a functional alcoholic.

What is a Functional Alcoholic?

A functional alcoholic, or high functioning alcoholic, is someone who engages in alcohol abuse without showing the signs of alcoholism. He or she is likely to be married, employed, and educated. Because they manage to maintain a normal daily schedule, it is often a surprise to learn they privately battle alcoholism. A high-functioning alcoholic is very committed to keeping their drinking problem hidden from family members, friends, and colleagues. If someone should approach them with concern about the problem, they are likely to flatly deny it. This is a knee jerk reaction to many things, such as fear, stigma, and accountability.

10 Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

A high-functioning alcoholic may not show the obvious signs of alcohol use disorder (AUD) at first. However, there are some warning signs that reveal their struggle. Here are ten signs of a functional alcoholic:

  1. They consume increasing amounts of alcohol as a coping tool to manage stress.
  2. They organize their life around opportunities to drink.
  3. They lie about how much alcohol they actually consume, even hiding it around the house, in the car or office.
  4. They are in denial about their drinking problem and become angry if confronted
  5. They may neglect their diet in favor of alcohol.
  6. They are often told they hold their liquor well.
  7. They begin to isolate themselves, retreating to a location where they can drink alone,
  8. They may drink in the morning to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  9. They may be using alcohol to self-medicate a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
  10.  They begin to forget important dates or meetings.

The Signs of AUD and Three Stages of Alcoholism

Functional alcoholics eventually start to show signs of their disease. As alcohol use disorder progresses to more severe stages, it can become life threatening. For this reason, recognizing the signs sooner rather than later can help the person avoid progressing into alcoholism. Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  1. They avoid friends and family while drinking in private.
  2. They consume more alcohol as time goes on.
  3. They drink in response to stress, sadness, anger, or disappointment.
  4. They have hand tremors in the morning or other visible withdrawal symptoms.
  5. They may not remember things they said or did the night before.
  6. They begin to experience financial, legal, career, or family problems due to drinking.
  7. Their doctor advised them to cut down on alcohol based on lab results.
  8. They lie about how much alcohol they drink.
  9. They obsess about alcohol during the day or crave alcohol.
  10. They may get drunk several days in a row.

The three stages of alcoholism are: Stage one: Early stage AUD allows the person to still function well at work. They still look healthy and seem fine. As drinking becomes a daily habit, and consumption increases, they begin showing signs of alcoholism. Stage two: The chronic stage of AUD involves alcohol dependency when the brain has made changes in response to the dopamine surge. During this stage, people begin to show concern about the person because they exhibit signs of the disease. These might include withdrawal symptoms, mood swings, isolating, neglecting hygiene, sleep problems, and changes in appearance. Stage three: End stage AUD features compulsive drinking, or the psychological need to drink. The person no longer has any control over the alcohol. During this stage, the person drinks in order to not feel sick. Serious health problems emerge, and depression escalates.

How to Approach a Functional Alcoholic About their AUD

Even if the person is in denial about their AUD, you can still plant the seeds through suggestion. By doing so, your concern for them may bear fruit at some point in the future if your loved one agrees to seek treatment. How you approach the loved one, and the timing of this chat, must be carefully considered. You’ll want to engage him or her in a calm, thoughtful conversation focused on your concerns for their wellbeing. Consider these tips when starting this conversation:

  • Do not have the conversation when they are intoxicated.
  • Do not bring it up during a heated argument or while angry.
  • Avoid hurtful language such as name-calling.
  • Prepare your thoughts in advance by writing them down and even practicing your comments in a calm voice. This helps you prepare to respond calmly should the chat go downhill.
  • Express your concerns for them with compassion.
  • Resist sounding judgmental. Instead, tell them you know they are doing the best they can.
  • If they are not receptive, consider holding a formal intervention with an addiction specialist.

Treatment Solutions for Alcohol Use Disorder

Getting help for overcoming AUD is essential, as it is nearly impossible to sustain abstinence for long without structured support. Treatment for AUD includes: Detox: During a medical detox vital signs are closely monitored and withdrawal symptoms are carefully managed. Detox takes about a week on average. Evidence-based therapies: Selected psychotherapies help the person change their maladaptive behaviors. Some examples of these evidence-based therapies include CBT MET, DBT, and CM. Group work. Group sessions are a core treatment element for AUD. Members of the group discuss their stories, struggles, fears, and hopes while gaining peer support. 12-step meetings. Many rehabs include aspects of the A.A. 12-step program or a non-12-step alternative. Psychosocial. Recovery tools are taught that will equip the person with new coping skills and better interpersonal techniques. These tools can help them avoid relapses when encountering challenges in recovery.

LifeSync Malibu 5-Star Alcohol Use Disorder and Dual Diagnosis Rehab

LifeSync Malibu is a physician-owned luxury treatment center that uses an integrated approach for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Headed up by a board-certified addiction specialist, LifeSync Malibu offers the finest amenities coupled with evidence-based therapies. If you or a loved one is a functional alcoholic, please reach out to us today at (866) 491-4426.