There’s a widespread misconception that alcoholism necessarily involves an inability to hold down a job, engage in meaningful relationships or fulfill any other major relationships. However, this dangerous myth enables many people with a deeply unhealthy relationship with alcohol to avoid confronting their alcoholism and seeking help.
Regardless of whether someone can succeed in a stressful job and afford a great house, excessive alcohol consumption still takes its toll on both body and mind. In addition, increasing their likelihood of developing health problems like liver disease and certain cancer, high functioning alcoholic is more likely to put themselves and those around them at risk.
Here are ten signs that you or someone you know may have developed high functioning alcoholic.
1. They can’t stop once they start
Most people are happy to have just a drink or two when it makes sense to keep alcohol consumption relatively low or when there are plans to move on to a location that won’t involve drinking. In contrast, alcoholics really struggle to stop drinking alcohol once they start, to the extent that they will often make thinner and thinner excuses for order another round or opening a fresh bottle of wine.
2. They swap food for alcohol
Lunches and dinners are often gratefully viewed as chances to start socially acceptable drinking, so you may notice that a high functioning alcoholic orders a strong drink before even looking at the food menu. In many cases, they will forego food altogether and just have a few drinks instead, citing a lack of hunger.
3. They don’t seem to get hangovers
While you might expect an alcoholic to be constantly under the weather as a result of their habit, the truth is that many high functioning alcoholic has developed a degree of physical tolerance to alcohol that reduces their chances of suffering hangovers. Often, this lack of hangover may be appealed to as proof that there is no burgeoning alcoholism, but in fact, it tends to suggest the opposite.
4. They regularly regret things they do when drunk
Frequently waking up after drinking and realizing that serious mistakes have been made the previous evening is a significant warning sign of an alcohol problem. Whether the errors of judgment are just socially uncomfortable (like spilling a secret) or seriously damaging (like yelling at a loved one for an imagined indiscretion), it’s obvious that alcohol is playing a negative role in the person’s life.
5. Lack of alcohol leads to discomfort
When a high functioning alcoholic cannot easily get access to alcohol, this has an adverse influence that manifests both physically and psychologically. You may notice sweating, restless bodily movements, and irritability. Meanwhile, symptoms noted by the alcoholic themselves might include rising anxiety and heart palpitations. In extreme cases, seizures can occur.
6. They are unwilling to discuss alcohol consumption
If someone has a problem with alcohol, they are likely at least subconsciously aware of it and ready to employ every possible defense mechanism to prevent themselves from having to engage with the truth. When you try to discuss alcohol consumption, alcoholics generally respond with anger, self-righteousness, or even flat-out denial.
In most cases, you won’t even be able to get past the first sentence or two, so it’s highly challenging to encourage the person to seek help—even if you approach them with love and empathy.
7. They can’t have fun without alcohol
High functioning alcoholic will often by the ones who quickly turn down invitations if it’s clear there won’t be any booze involved, or who insist that friends and family are “no fun” if they don’t want cocktails at noon. If there’s a clear, constant correlation between social enjoyment and the presence of alcohol, the person is overly reliant on booze.
8. They suffer blackouts and memory problems
Due to difficulties in ending alcohol consumption after one or two drinks, it’s common for even high functioning alcoholic to do things that they later cannot remember. They may try to cover these blackouts by making vague remarks about what they “recall” or they may angrily challenge your perception of events. Such episodes are extremely worrying, as someone who is so drunk that they cannot form new memories is also much more susceptible to making irrational—or even dangerous—choices.
9. They always make excuses for drinking
One day, drinking will be explained by the fact that the workweek is over and it’s time to relax. The next, the same level of alcohol consumption is supposed to be excused because the new week is about to begin and the person wants to delay work stress as long as possible. In addition, you’ll hear plenty of excuses about “celebrating” minor achievements or marking “significant” dates.
10. They conceal the level of their drinking
Finally, from hiding bottles around the house to sneakily ordering a double at the bar and claiming that other people have finished all the whiskey, alcoholism almost always goes hand-in-hand with dishonesty about the level of booze being consumed.
When someone feels they need to lie about what they’re drinking, how much they’re drinking or when they’re doing it, this is a sure sign that a real problem has developed.