While “functional alcoholic” or “high-functioning alcoholic” isn’t a formal medical diagnosis, it is commonly used to refer to someone who is able to perform day-to-day tasks, i.e., going to work, childcare, and participating in social activities without much difficulty. Someone who is not able to do this typically exhibits signs of impairment that are in line with alcohol use disorders (AUD).
However, just because an individual does not experience a full set of consequences for their alcoholism, it does not mean that they shouldn’t seek help for the condition. In this post, we shed light on how to identify someone who might be a functional alcoholic, the potential risk factors as well as how to offer help to someone you know might be suffering.
What Is A Functional Alcoholic
As we have already established, it is not a medical diagnosis. Thus, people who might be suffering from functional alcoholism might be properly referred to as sufferers of an alcohol use disorder. A “high-functioning alcoholic” may not exhibit some of the diagnostic criteria for an AUD, which include an inability to manage cutting down drinking despite obvious consequences. They might, however, satisfy additional requirements that result in an AUD diagnosis.
Functioning alcoholics develop a tolerance to the effects. Alcohol tolerance occurs when a person needs to consume more alcohol to have the same impact because their body has adapted to deal with the disruption created by alcohol. Thus, it becomes easier to understand functional alcoholism.
An individual who has a functional tolerance could be under the influence without being aware of it, enabling them to engage in some activities of everyday life in a way that seems normal to others.
Identifying A Functional Alcoholic
There are a few tell-tale signs to look for to identify someone as an functional alcoholic. However, because these signs may contradict with the diagnostic traits of AUD, you must be vigilant. According to American Addiction Centers, below are a few signs you need to watch out for:
- Being dismissive of any input about their drinking patterns, or insisting that it is not a problem
- Continuing to drink despite its negative toll on their mental or physical wellbeing
- Hiding the amount of alcohol they have been consuming. It includes sneaking alcohol into spaces where it is not served
- Experiencing cravings in high-pressure situations
- Developing an immunity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol; or being able to handle their responsibilities despite consuming alcohol
- Fixating on when they can drink next
If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the signs above, they may be experiencing functional alcoholism. It is best to have a conversation with them and suggest seeking medical help.
Potential Risk Factors For Functioning Alcoholics
According to the National Institutes Of Health (NIH), nearly 20% of all people dealing with alcohol use disorder are high-functioning. If you see yourself or a loved one dealing with the factors below, you might be at an increased risk of developing this disorder.
- High stress levels at home or work. This could include any other mental health issues you are not seeking help for.
- If you have been experiencing frequent depressive episodes. According to studies, depression is closely linked to alcoholism.
- Some people are genetically predisposed to becoming more dependent on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If you have a relative who has struggled similarly, you might be at a higher risk.
- You might be at a higher risk if you have been continuously exceeding the weekly recommended alcohol intake— 14 units/week.
How Can You Help
Once you have identified that you or someone you know might be struggling with functional alcoholism, there are a couple of options available to seek help. The first thing you can do is to have an open and honest conversation about the issue. It is best to talk to a professional who is equipped to deal with such issues. Another option is enrolling into groups like AAA or Drinkline. If this doesn’t help, you can opt for the treatments listed below:
- Alcohol detoxification
- Residential alcohol addiction treatment
- Aftercare or secondary care
Get In Touch With United Recovery Project
If you suspect that you or a loved one is dealing with functional alcoholism, and want to seek help, get in touch with us. We offer rehabilitation services in South Florida and California. Since we keep a low client-to-staff ratio, we are able to offer highly personalized services.
For more information, call us at 954.429.5026 or connect with us online.