What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

When a person hits bottom because of their drinking, several negative consequences have usually occurred. Often they’ve either lost their job, got arrested, became violent, were robbed or assaulted, committed theft while drunk, abused their children or spouse physically, they blacked out, and so on. The list of horrifying consequences as a result of alcoholic drinking can continue endlessly. For others, their bottom may have only included one of these mentioned nightmares. And for high-functioning alcoholics, often none of those scenarios have happened, yet their lives can quickly spiral out of control.

high functioning alcoholic

Am I a High Functioning Alcoholic?

A high functioning alcoholic may not endure serious consequences as a result of their drinking, but that does not mean they are not experiencing problems. High functioning alcoholics often have underlying health problems because of heavy drinking. The fact that an alcoholic can function does not mean that they are not suffering.

The list of the number of health problems that stem from consuming alcohol heavily is long. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that heavy drinking regardless of whether negative external consequences occur, consuming alcohol regularly is dangerous for a person’s health.

Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health.  Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:

  • Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works.
  • Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of the heart muscle, Arrhythmias – Irregular heartbeat, and Stroke.

Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Deteriorating Health from Alcohol

For many high functioning alcoholics, because they have yet to identify or accept that they have a problem with alcohol, their health deteriorates before other problems become obvious. In these circumstances, high functioning alcoholics may hide their drinking and use prescription drugs to counter any withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol delirium tremors are a result of heavy drinking and do not discriminate. Many high functioning alcoholics are prescribed Ativan, Valium, and other benzodiazepines which help them tolerate and minimize the “shakes.” Before a high functioning alcoholic comes to grip with his or her disease they may turn to prescription drugs to mask withdrawal symptoms.

Harvard Medical school publishing reports that although only a small portion of heavy drinkers are alcoholic or diagnosed with AUD, alcohol use disorder, this does not mean that heavy drinkers are not enduring difficulties and becoming alcoholic. Harvard describes many types of heavy drinkers who are having problems because of their drinking but yet not considered an alcoholic.

Nearly one-third of American adults are “excessive” drinkers, but only 10% of them have alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)…there are many people in the almost alcoholic zone who are having alcohol-related problems with their health, their relationships and social lives, and even their work, but who don’t connect the dots between these problems and their drinking…these people dismiss the possibility of being an alcoholic—and they truly don’t qualify under current definitions—but may need to take a step back to look at how drinking is affecting their lives. (Harvard)

If you believe that you’re a high functioning alcoholic, now is the time to reach out for help before it’s too late. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and fatal disease that catches up to everyone no matter how lucky you think you are.

Get Professional Alcoholism Help

The term high functioning alcoholic is an oxymoron. If a person is experiencing difficulties as a result of their drinking, they need professional help. A high functioning alcoholic will over time, no longer function as well. If you or your loved one has yet to experience any outright negative consequences from drinking, such as loss of employment, legal problems, financial difficulties or divorce, but are unable to stop drinking, it is time to find a treatment program. The programs we offer for alcoholism and abuse are tailored to meet the individual needs of each person. Our success rates remain great because of our cross-disciplinary staff of experts who specialize in alcoholism treatment.