What Is a “Functioning Alcoholic”? Signs, Dangers, Help

High-Functioning Alcoholic

Although you might not hit all the criteria for the condition, and the impact on your life may appear minimal, AUD is a chronic and progressive condition. This means the negative impact on your life will likely grow, and the condition will not get better on its own without treatment. More recently, a 2020 study found that people who used alcohol to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to drink alone and drink to excessive amounts. Researchers cited further risk factors, such as having a child under 18 and at home, having depression, and having fewer social interactions due to the pandemic. People who are concerned about their drinking habits, and those who are showing signs of an AUD, may wish to reach out for help and support.

High-Functioning Alcoholic

Alcoholism affects everyone in a household — not just the individual who drinks. Alcohol abuse increases the risk of physical and emotional violence, as well as substance abuse in other family members. An addiction therapist can help you find positive ways to deal with the stress of living with a functional alcoholic.

Below are some signs that you or someone you love may be living with alcohol use disorder. These signs don’t always affect a person’s ability to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities. People with alcohol use disorder are dependent on alcohol, but that does not mean that they drink every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95,000 people lose their lives every year due to excessive alcohol use. Daily drinking can have serious consequences for a person’s health, both in the short- and long-term.

Is Anyone Really a ‘High-Functioning Alcoholic’?

High-functioning alcoholics will rarely admit that they have a problem. But if someone in your life has three or more alcoholic beverages per day (two or more for women), they are consuming more than the recommended amount. Dietary Guidelines define moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more beverages in one drinking episode for women and five or more beverages for men (a typical drinking episode is around two hours). The most in-depth care allows you to live full time at a treatment facility.

High-Functioning Alcoholic

People who live fully functional lives can still have AUD and can benefit from treatment and support. The condition causes changes in the brain that decrease the ability to quit on your own. This makes it important to seek medical treatment and peer support in your recovery process. For people with functioning AUD, seeking treatment as an outpatient may help them reduce disruptions to their work or family life. Your doctor can give you medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms and help you lessen alcohol cravings to reduce the risk of drinking again. If people with high functioning AUD do not get treatment, the disease may progress to a point at which their dependence significantly impacts their day-to-day lives.

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However, they are likely struggling with uncontrollable cravings, unsuccessful attempts at quitting, and obsessive thoughts about their next drink—all hallmarks of an alcohol use disorder. Both residential and outpatient day treatment programs are available for those in recovery. Since people with high-functioning AUD can be on the milder spectrum of the condition, alcohol intervention the earlier treatment happens, the more it may be possible to avoid a progression. There are no official diagnostic criteria for what it means to be high functioning. For this reason, it is hard to determine exactly how many people might have high-functioning AUD. By Sarah Bence, OTR/LSarah Bence, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and freelance writer.

  1. Such groups can offer valuable support, encouragement, advice, and information.
  2. Whether you have an alcoholic spouse, partner or other loved one, you may be wondering how to help.
  3. However, many alcoholics manage to function effectively, holding down jobs and maintaining households.
  4. The more a person drinks, the more at risk they are of developing severe alcohol use disorder.

For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

How to help friends and family

Someone with alcohol use disorder may struggle to cut back on drinking or quit, either when trying to do so themselves or when asked by others to try. These criteria are often internal struggles, not observable to others. Someone can live with alcohol use disorder without anyone else noticing. It is important to know that an AUD is a chronic but treatable disease. Early intervention and treatment can help reduce the severity of the disease and prevent further physical or mental complications from developing.

Physical and Mental Health

Your doctor may also conduct imaging tests if other laboratory studies come back abnormal. For example, a computed tomography (CT) scan tests for liver enlargement, which can occur after years of chronic drinking. Your doctor may order this test if your blood tests indicate abnormal liver functioning. A doctor cyclobenzaprine: muscle relaxer uses side effects and dosage may also diagnose AUD by asking about your health history and drinking patterns. If you give permission, they may speak to your family or loved ones regarding how much you drink. Support from other people who struggle with alcohol use disorder is an integral part of recovery, alongside medical treatment.

The term “currently-functioning” may be used since it’s not likely they will remain functional (and not misuse alcohol) indefinitely. The term high functioning alcoholic is no longer in use in the medical community. However, some people may use the phrase to refer to individuals who are experiencing an AUD but are still able to successfully function in their work and personal lives. This article explores the meaning alcohol use disorder symptoms and causes of the term high functioning alcoholic, looks at the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD), how people can help friends and family, and more. People should note that the term “high functioning alcoholic” is no longer in use within the medical community. This is due to the potentially stigmatizing language around the word “alcoholic”, which may also prevent someone from seeking help and support.

Treatment programs at The Recovery Village include a full spectrum of alcohol recovery services, from alcohol detox to rehab, aftercare and sober housing. When you’re ready to seek help, or if you have questions about how to live with an alcoholic, we’re here for you. People can have a varied reaction and tolerance to alcohol and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are alcoholics. However, as functioning alcoholics drink more regularly, they develop a higher tolerance. They still want to feel the buzz or numb out from their problems for a while, so they will begin drinking more as their tolerance to alcohol increases. If the consequences of high-functioning alcoholism have become overwhelming, and your loved one refuses to seek help for alcohol abuse, it could be time to plan an intervention.

The more a person drinks, the more at risk they are of developing severe alcohol use disorder. A functional alcoholic often consumes as much alcohol as someone with an alcohol use disorder. There is research showing that about 19.5 percent of people with AUD are middle-aged, well-educated, and have stable jobs, homes, and families. This could include people with high-functioning AUD, but these criteria are not definitive characteristics.

They may take steps to avoid the person while they are drinking, or they may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or self-blame. They may try to quit independently, but the withdrawals are too unpleasant or severe. Therefore, they continue to drink to keep the withdrawals at bay, and the cycle continues. These numbers do not include people who have died in alcohol-related accidents or violence, so the overall number is likely much higher. It can also ultimately lead to relationship difficulties as well as legal and financial problems. If needed, your doctor may also order blood tests to check your liver function.