close up of drink in hand

An addiction to alcohol can take many forms.

A person who abuses alcohol isn’t necessarily uneducated, unemployed, and isolated from the community. An alcoholic can be someone with a college degree, a prestigious job, a loving family, and a wide circle of friends.

5 Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

Someone who appears to be outwardly successfully, but is struggling with a dependence on alcohol, is considered to be a high functioning alcoholic. There are five signs that suggest this definition might apply to your drinking behavior.

1. You’re Unable to Set Limits

Do you regularly find yourself drinking on days where you planned to stay sober? Once you start drinking, do you often drink more than you planned? If you struggle to control your alcohol consumption, this is a warning sign of a potential substance abuse problem.

Official guidelines for alcohol use are a good starting point for determining if your alcohol consumption is excessive. The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that while binge drinking doesn’t automatically mean someone is alcohol dependent, it can be a warning sign of future problems. Binge drinking is defined as men consuming five or more drinks in about two hours or a woman consuming four or more drinks in the same time frame.

2. You Make Excuses for Your Drinking

Common excuses heavy drinkers give for their alcohol consumption include:

  • I deserve to relax at the end of a hard day.
  • I only drink because I am stressed.
  • I just like how my drink tastes.
  • It’s not a problem as long as I still get everything on my to-do list.
  • Everyone in my family drinks, so it’s in my DNA.

Excuses are often rooted in the belief that you “need” alcohol to feel normal. Even if you haven’t progressed to the point where you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, tremors, and insomnia when you’re unable to drink, you may have a psychological dependency that centers on using alcohol to feel relaxed and confident.

Alcohol may be legal for adults over the age of 21, but it’s still a mood-altering drug. Drinking impairs judgement, impulse control, and problem-solving abilities. Regular alcohol consumption also lowers your levels of serotonin—which makes it difficult to adequately regulate your mood. How you feel when you’re intoxicated is not the “real” you.

3. You Lie to Your Loved Ones to Cover Up Uncharacteristic Behavior

When a high functioning addict is confronted by their spouse, children, or friends, they’ll lie or take actions to cover up how much alcohol they’ve been consuming. This might include:

  • Paying for alcohol in cash so a spouse can’t see how often you visit the liquor store
  • Hiding empty bottles
  • Claiming to be ill when you’re hungover
  • Saying you have to work late so you can go to the bar alone

4. You’re Spending More Time with Other Heavy Drinkers

It’s human nature to seek out a peer group that reflects your own behavior preferences. Spending time with heavy drinkers may help you rationalize that your own alcohol consumption isn’t as problematic as others might think. A social circle that is filled with heavy drinkers also provides abundant opportunities to continue to overindulge.

5. You Make Jokes About Your Drinking

Humor is often rooted in the truth. If you deflect from your behavior by making jokes about the amount of alcohol you consume, this suggests you subconsciously know there is a problem.

Jokes are particularly problematic if your humor is in response to a legitimate expression of concern from your loved ones. For example, if your spouse tells you they are worried about you blowing off family commitments to spend more time drinking, making jokes trivializes a serious issue. This creates an environment where your spouse feels disrespected and ignored, which sets the stage for further marital troubles down the road.

Getting Help

It might seem like a high functioning alcoholic doesn’t need treatment, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Addiction is a progressive illness. Just because someone is able to drink heavily and maintain their regular responsibilities today doesn’t mean they’ll be able to continue on this path forever. They will eventually make a mistake that costs them their job, friends, family, or freedom. The long-term health effects of excessive alcohol consumption, including alcoholic liver disease, chronic pancreatitis, malnutrition, and cancer, are also a concern.

Treatment for an alcohol use disorder typically involves a medically-managed detox followed by intensive group and individual counseling to address the underlying issues contributing to substance abuse and promote the development of healthy coping mechanisms. Residential or outpatient treatment should be followed by aftercare support to ensure lasting sobriety.

Mountain Laurel Recovery Center provides a full continuum of care for men and women struggling with alcohol addiction. Our holistically grounded, multi-disciplinary approach acknowledges that addiction is a sickness of isolation best overcome through a life lived and shared in a supportive community.

If you or a loved one are in need of help from addiction, please contact our PA alcohol treatment center today.
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