The typical stereotype of alcoholics is a person who has maybe hit rock bottom, reeking of alcohol from the moment they wake up to the moment they inevitably pass out at night. Many people even assume that alcoholism is reserved for the worst members of society, from the dead beat dads to the homeless society that lives on the streets.
But the truth is that this is hardly the case.
In fact, there are droves of highly functioning alcoholics who appear otherwise sober and presentable, albeit with a heavy drinking habit…
…all while concealing the need to consume large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis.
Alcoholism can have a disastrous effect on your physical, mental, and emotional well being. Even so, many alcoholics manage to function efficiently despite their level of consumption. In many cases, their use may remain unknown to friends, family members, and co-workers.
Because, unlike the common stereotypes will have you believe, alcoholism manifests itself in many ways.
In the case of functional alcoholics, the user often feels like they don’t have a dependency and even views his or her usage as manageable.
Though manageable, the truth is that the substance is still a requirement for functioning day-to-day, not unlike an office worker feeling the need for a morning coffee to get through the day.
The worst part?
Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. The successful CEO and the homeless person alike can both be affected by alcohol abuse. There is no discernment between an individual’s socioeconomic standing, their education level, or appearance. They appear to be, at least on the outside, a normal functioning individual.
So What Is A Functioning Alcoholic?
To most of us, the signs of a functioning alcoholic might go unrecognized. The high-functioning alcoholic, regardless of their substance dependency, retains their ability to perform and succeed in their daily tasks.
In fact, their success may lead to many people, such as friends and family, to overlook their drinking problem. Often times, even the user doesn’t view it as a problem because he or she is holds a job, is financially secure, and has a relatively healthy social life.
Though these things may be true, their alcoholism remains undiagnosed and untreated. They either don’t recognize there is a problem or are living in a cycle of denial, which will ultimately lead to devastating effects.
Abuse And Usage Statistics In America
A study published in 2017 by the Medical Council on Alcohol found that the rate of alcohol use disorder rose by 49 percent within the first decade the 2000s. Other findings within the same study show that one in eight American adults, 12.7 percent of America’s population, meets the diagnostic criteria of alcohol use disorder.
Another study published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an estimated total of 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in America annually. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in America behind tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity.
What Are The Signs Of An Alcohol Dependency?
So what are possible signs that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol consumption?
Let’s start with what defines excessive drinking.
Excessive drinking is defined as drinking too much alcohol in one sitting or over-consuming within the course of a week.
For women, excessive amounts is defined by consuming four standard drinks per day or eight standard drinks within a week. For men, consuming five or more drinks per day or fifteen drinks within a week. Studies have shown that although an estimated 29 percent of the population drink at excessive levels, 90 percent of them do not consume at this level on a regular basis and do not meet the definition of an alcoholic.
That being said, the other 10 percent consume excessive amounts of alcohol on a daily basis and struggle to get through a single day without using.
The most common identifiable symptoms are
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Mood swings, agitation, and irritability
- Using excuses to justify drinking habits, such as to relax, deal with a stressful day or to calm down
- Drinking in place of normal responsibilities or obligations
- Being isolated from others or acting distant
- Drinking alone
- Having a hangover whenever sober
Health Risks of Alcohol Dependency
With heavy consumption comes serious health risks. Alcoholism can result in preventable liver disease, certain forms of cancer, pancreatitis, brain damage, memory loss, and high levels of blood pressure. Excessive drinking can also increase health risks to others through potential car crashes, suicide, murder, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Recognizing The Problem And How To Get Help
The first step to get help is to first recognize that there is a problem, which is often difficult for someone to do.
To first identify the problem, consider the following:
- Have you ever felt like maybe you should cut down on your drinking habits?
- Have you ever been annoyed by others criticizing your drinking habits?
- Do you ever feel bad about your drinking habits?
- Have you ever had a drink just to cure a hangover or steady your nerves?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you may have a serious drinking problem.
The next step is to seek treatment.
Treatment for people who are high-functioning alcoholics is the same for any person experiencing a form of substance dependence or abuse. There are many organizations that people can reach out to for help. The American Society of Addiction Medicine, Alcoholics Anonymous, or the American Addiction Centers Resource can all assist with finding the right treatment for you or someone you know.
Forms of treatment vary, professionals may work with you one-on-one assisting in formulating management strategies. There are also plenty of support groups that you can reach out to that will connect you with people that may also be suffering from alcoholism. Outpatient programs allow for patients to receive treatment at home or patients may opt to live full-time within a treatment facility.
Whatever the level of dependence or abuse, there is always help available to break through any denial and start you or someone you love on the road to recovery.