There is often a thin line between casual drinking and alcohol dependence. Those who are high-functioning in their alcoholism quietly battle a dangerous addiction while maintaining a façade of normalcy. They may appear to have their drinking under control, but in reality, they may be in denial about having a substance use disorder.  

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Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Many signs may indicate that you or someone you know has high-functioning alcoholism:

  • Maintaining Appearances: People who are high-functioning alcoholics excel at hiding their addiction behind a veneer of success. They may hold down prestigious jobs, have thriving social lives, and maintain relationships, all while struggling with alcohol dependency.
  • Denial and Justification: A key sign is the refusal to acknowledge the severity of their drinking habits. People often downplay the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed, dismissing the concerns of friends or family.
  • Tolerance and Escalation: Over time, someone who drinks heavily and/or frequently develops tolerance, leading them to drink increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect. This gradual escalation can go unnoticed by those around them.
  • Preoccupation with Alcohol: Constant thoughts about when the next drink will be, planning activities around alcohol consumption, or experiencing anxiety when alcohol is not available are all red flags of a developing addiction.
  • Maintaining a Work-Life Balance: While some people with alcohol use disorder may excel in their professional lives, the use of alcohol as a go-to for both stress relief and work-life balance will eventually spiral out of control.

The Dangerous Facade

When someone is able to lead a seemingly normal life while harboring a destructive habit, they are not only in denial but also making it difficult for others to intervene. Friends, family, and colleagues may remain unaware until the consequences become urgent and include the following:

  • Health Implications: Despite their outward success, people with high-functioning alcoholism are not immune to the physical toll. Liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and mental health disorders can manifest over time, eroding the very foundation of their high-functioning lifestyle.
  • Relationship Strain: Maintaining relationships becomes increasingly challenging as the person prioritizes alcohol over meaningful connections. Intimacy, trust, and communication suffer, leading to isolation and a decline in overall well-being.
  • Professional Consequences: While people who are high-functioning alcoholics may excel professionally, the workplace is not immune to the repercussions of addiction. Decreased productivity, absenteeism, and impaired decision-making can jeopardize careers and livelihoods.

When to Seek Help

Recognizing the signs of high-functioning alcoholism is the first step, but knowing when to seek help is equally crucial. Here are critical indicators that intervention is necessary:

  • Escalation of Drinking Habits: If the individual’s alcohol consumption continues to increase despite efforts to control it, this is a clear sign that the situation is deteriorating.
  • Impact on Relationships: When alcohol begins to strain personal and professional relationships, it’s time to seek help. This might include increased conflict, isolation, or a noticeable decline in emotional connections.
  • Physical and Mental Health Decline: Any signs of deteriorating physical or mental health should not be ignored. These symptoms, from chronic fatigue to mood swings, may indicate the need for professional assistance.
  • Loss of Control: If the individual finds it challenging to limit or stop their drinking despite attempts to do so, intervention becomes imperative.

Alcohol Withdrawal

In addition, people with high-functioning alcoholism may attempt to stop drinking suddenly or may be placed in a situation that prevents them from drinking. When this occurs, they may experience signs of alcohol withdrawal, such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Sleep disturbances

In some cases, withdrawal from alcohol can cause seizures and even death.

At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center in Northern Pennsylvania, we offer a range of programs and services to meet your individual needs. From detox services to alcohol intervention and inpatient residential treatment, we can assist you in your recovery journey. To find out more, please contact us today. 

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