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What Does “High-Functioning” Mean in Addiction?

pretty middle age woman working late at an office computer - high-functioning

In the United States, millions of people struggle each day with alcohol use disorders. The signs of alcohol addiction are often easy to recognize in many people. However, for someone who is high-functioning, the signs of alcoholism are not always so clear.

Defining “High-Functioning”

The term “functional alcoholic” was used in a 2007 report by the National Institutes of Health to describe the nearly 20 percent of people with alcoholism who held down stable jobs, were well-educated, and had families.

These “high-functioning” people are not seen as alcoholics by others and often do not consider themselves to have a problem with their drinking. Despite drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol, they rarely, if ever, miss work and generally perform well at their jobs. Some may be in powerful positions in their careers or be very high achievers. People with high-functioning alcoholism almost always fulfill their obligations to family, friends, and colleagues. They appear mentally and physically healthy.

However, they are most likely struggling with symptoms of alcohol addiction, such as thinking obsessively about having their next drink and experiencing uncontrollable cravings. They may have made unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking.

Tolerance & Dependence

Someone with high-functioning alcoholism drinks heavily but is able to hide or manage the effects in a way that keeps other people from noticing them. In addition, they drink more and more because they have developed tolerance: their body requires more alcohol to get the desired high. Eventually, if they continue drinking heavily, they will develop physical dependence. Their body will require large amounts of alcohol to function properly. This is the stage at which their alcoholism will become more noticeable and start to have more obvious consequences on their work, home, and social lives.

Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Drinking heavily and regularly is one of the first signs of high-functioning alcoholism. After work, the person may be the first one at the bar or pour themselves a drink as soon as they get home. They may justify the need to drink because of the stress of work.

In addition to drinking regularly, a person who is high-functioning may have a social life that revolves around alcohol. They may only want to attend events where they can consume alcohol, and they may not want to socialize with others until they’ve had a drink.

According to Web MD, additional signs of a functioning alcoholic may include:

  • Drinking in the morning or when you are alone
  • Drinking more alcohol than you wanted to, getting drunk without intending to, or forgetting what you did while drinking
  • Denying drinking, hiding alcohol around the house or in vehicles, or becoming angry when asked about your drinking
  • Having relationship, legal, or financial problems caused by drinking
  • Causing your loved ones to make up excuses for your drinking or worry about it
  • Losing control, blacking out, or engaging in dangerous or risky behavior

Serious Health Risks

Some people who are high-functioning believe their alcohol use helped them achieve success. They think it helped them be more sociable or charming. They are not aware of or in denial of the potentially serious health risks their excessive drinking can cause. Alcohol use disorders can lead to pancreatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and fatty liver disease. It can cause high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, or stroke. Serious memory loss or brain damage is possible.

Additional possible health risks include:

  • A weakened immune system, which can increase susceptibility to diseases and infections
  • Cancer of the head, mouth, voice box, esophagus, throat, neck, breast, liver, rectum, and colon
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • A higher risk of injury or death in a vehicular accident, drowning, falls, or burns

Do You Need Help?

Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available. Now is the time to get the help you need. Call Anabranch Recovery Center located in Terre Haute, Indiana. We will answer your questions and help you begin your journey on the path to recovery.

Are you or someone you love in search of residential addiction treatment near Terre Haute? For more information about Anabranch Recovery Center, and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (888) 302-8095.

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