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How to Identify a High-Functioning Alcoholic

One of the most important facts to remember about alcoholism is its progression. Alcoholism begins in an early stage that looks nothing at all like a life-threatening disease, proceeds into a middle stage where problems begin to appear and intensify, and gradually advances into the late, degenerative stages of obvious physiological dependence, physical and psychological deterioration, and loss of control. – WILLIAM F. ASBURY, Beyond the Influence

What If?

What if you were asked to look at a wall of photos, each of a person’s face? Would you be able to identify the high-functioning alcoholics? Probably not. There is no “look” common to high-functioning alcoholics.

What if you were able to meet these people face-to-face? Would you be able to tell? Again, not likely.

What if you were able to ask each one if he or she is a high-functioning alcoholic? It may surprise you to learn that one of the signs of high-functioning alcoholics is that they will not admit to being one. They may readily share that they drink, but they will deny being an alcoholic.  There may be at least two reasons for that.

  1. They don’t want to admit that they have a drinking problem.
    • Admitting to having a drinking problem is also an admission that the confessor does not have the ability to exercise self-control.
    • Admitting to having a drinking problem is tantamount to admitting that one has an addiction.
  2. They don’t want to admit that they are an alcoholic.
    • It doesn’t matter what adjective precedes “alcoholic.” The person is still an alcoholic.
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I swear I am not a high-functioning alcoholic.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

A high-functioning alcoholic might be comparable to a ticking time bomb. As long as it is ticking, it hasn’t done any harm—yet. From another perspective, as long as it is ticking, it represents a potential danger—regardless of how it is disguised to not look like what it really is.

High-functioning alcoholics appear to be and act like everyone else. They exist in every walk of life. They drink too much, but, for some reason, they are able to function normally, at least most of the time.

Speaking of ticking time bombs, would you want your spouse to be one? Of course not. You don’t want to be one and you don’t want any of your friends to be one. What about your business partner? Or your pilot? Or your surgeon?

It is important to recognize the existence of high-functioning alcoholics and to be able to identify them to be able to help them.

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Who, me?

How Can You Recognize a High-functioning Alcoholic?

The MindBodyGreen website offers a list of signs that, observed together, probably indicate that an individual is a high-functioning alcoholic. Several of the most recognizable include:

  • They have a drink instead of lunch or dinner. This one is easy to spot because you find yourself eating while your companion is drinking—and probably not eating. This habit is visible at home only to a roommate or spouse.
  • They “need to have a drink.” The need for drink typically arises out of a need for relief from stress or anxiety. When these first two signs are characteristic of a coworker, odds are, if they are able to function well at their job, they are a high-functioning alcoholic.
  • They cannot have just a drink or two. Happy Hour is highly attractive to high-functioning alcoholics.
  • They have a well-reasoned response for why they drink. This is a classic rationalization. It’s akin to saying that “You may think you hear me ticking, but I’m not hurting anyone.”
  • They hide bottles of alcohol. This is the kind of habit that you probably observe accidentally when the alcoholic slides a desk drawer open just a tad too far.

High-functioning alcoholics need help before they get so enslaved that recovery is exponentially more difficult or before they or someone else gets hurt.

What Can You Do? We’re Here to Help

  1. If this article describes you, contact us. We can help you.
  2. If this article describes someone you know, contact us. We can help them.
  3. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick.

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