Behind Closed Doors: I Was a High-Functioning Alcoholic
Each of us has something that we’re dealing with. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. Remember, no one is perfect, but we all have the opportunity to improve, not just for ourselves but also for those around us. I remember a few years ago, someone at the bar asked me how I managed to maintain a great work and family life. They knew I was a big drinker, and I’m guessing they could tell I was battling alcoholism because they were, too. After I left alcohol behind, I’d often ask myself, “How did I manage to function while battling alcoholism for all those years?” I mean, I relied on it to deal with everyday stresses. I was a great husband, father, employee, and overall, I was doing pretty well for myself. Not too long after that, I learned about the term “high-functioning alcoholic.” It turns out, I was one. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Even though I was able to get things done and live somewhat of a normal life, behind closed doors I was actually dealing with something pretty serious. I realized it didn’t matter if I was a “high-functioning alcoholic.” Drinking that much wasn’t good for my physical or mental health. I’m glad I got the help I needed. If you’re reading this, maybe you’re in the same situation I was in just a few years ago. If I can do it, so can you. Every setback is the opportunity for a major comeback. Alcoholism can be conquered. Let’s take a look at what a high-functioning alcoholic is and how you can address alcoholism.
A Look at Alcoholism
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition where alcohol causes distress and harm, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine (NLM). Alcoholism causes a strong craving to drink, not being able to stop drinking once you have started, and a negative emotional state due to alcohol. Alcoholism is common in the United States. In fact, the NLM reports 18 million Americans are battling the condition. Here are some signs you may be dealing with alcoholism:
- Drinking more or longer than you wanted or intended to
- Wanting to stop drinking, but you’re unable to
- Strong urges to drink
- Spending a lot of time recovering from alcohol’s negative effects
- Alcohol is affecting your work or school performance in a negative way
- Alcohol is having a negative impact on your relationships with family or friends
- Finding yourself in dangerous situations due to alcohol
- Developing or worsening mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
- Needing more alcohol to feel its effects
- Withdrawal symptoms when you’re not drinking
If you think you may be battling alcoholism, it’s important to speak with a medical professional as soon as possible. It’s also recommended you seek professional treatment, especially if your condition is severe.
Am I a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who maintains somewhat of a normal life despite their alcoholism. They may still succeed in school, work, as a parent, or as a spouse. However, the fact still remains that they have a serious condition that needs to be addressed. “High-functioning alcoholism” isn’t a condition that is typically diagnosed by medical professionals since it really isn’t a medical term, but it does still exist. You may be a high-functioning alcoholic if you:
- Drink to replace a meal
- Pre-drink before a night out
- Get angry or defensive when someone brings up your drinking habits
- Attempt to hide drinking from others
- Joke about having alcoholism
- Come up with reasons for drinking
- Perform well at school or work despite alcoholism
- Receive praise for your accomplishments despite battling alcoholism
One of the dangers of being a high-functioning alcoholic is that you may believe you don’t need to change anything since you’re still taking care of your responsibilities. However, any form of alcoholism or excessive drinking is a roll of the dice. There’s always a chance of alcohol taking its toll on your health. Also, just because alcoholism isn’t negatively affecting your personal or professional life right now doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.
The Dangers of Drinking Too Much
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcoholism can affect your health in the short term and long term. The CDC reports, “Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 95,000 deaths and 2.8 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States from 2011–2015, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 29 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years.” Short-term health risks of alcoholism and excessive drinking include:
- Alcohol poisoning (a medical emergency)
- Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome
- Engaging in violent behaviors that result in injuries
- Engaging in risky behaviors, such as impaired driving, that can result in injuries
Long-term health effects include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
- Various cancers
- Memory problems
- Learning problems
- Poor work or school performance
- Problems with family or friends
In order to prevent these negative health effects, the CDC recommends drinking in moderation. However, if you are battling alcoholism, you shouldn’t drink at all.
What Is Excessive Drinking?
Excessive drinking is a term used to identify two specific types of drinking: binge drinking and heavy drinking. According to the CDC, binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking. Binge drinking is classified as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. Heavy drinking is classified as eight or more drinks in a week for women and 15 or more drinks in a week for men. There’s also what’s known as moderate drinking, which is the CDC’s recommended alcohol intake if you do choose to drink. Moderate drinking is classified as one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men. As mentioned earlier, those battling alcoholism shouldn’t drink at all. These recommendations apply to people who do not have alcoholism.
Who Shouldn’t Drink?
The truth is that drinking isn’t for everyone. And that’s perfectly fine. You should never feel pressured or forced to drink. If you fall under any of these categories, you shouldn’t drink at all:
- You’re under the age of 21
- You have certain medical conditions (always consult with a doctor)
- You’re pregnant
- You’re driving or planning to drive, or engaging in activities that require alertness
- You’re taking certain medications
- You’re recovering from alcoholism
By following these recommendations, you can eliminate the negative effects of alcohol.
Here’s What You Can Do If Someone You Know May Have Alcoholism
Knowing when and how to talk to a loved one about their alcoholism can be a difficult thing to judge. It’s OK to be nervous. This is a big deal. However, there are some steps you can take to make the process run as smoothly as possible. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, “An alcoholic can’t be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as a traffic violation or arrest that results in court-ordered treatment. But you don’t have to wait for someone to ‘hit rock bottom’ to act.” The first thing you can do is stop covering up for the person with alcoholism. Many experts suggest allowing the person to see the consequences of their drinking firsthand. Obviously, do not allow them to hurt themselves or others. You can also time your intervention. The best time to do this is a short time after the last alcohol-related incident. Make sure they are sober, you both are calm, and that no one else is around. This should be a private matter. If you know someone who is in recovery, it might be useful to have them speak with your loved one if you’re not getting through to them. It’s important to be honest. If you’re worried about their health, tell them. You can use examples of how their alcoholism has affected you and anyone else who may be dealing with the negative effects of their condition. I know if my wife or someone else close to me had reached out, I might have gotten into treatment sooner. And that’s another important thing to discuss — getting help. They’ll need your support during the recovery process. It might help if you offer to help them find a treatment center that will give them the care they need.
Help Is Out There
Overcoming your addiction can be difficult when you’re surrounded by stressors at home. By seeking treatment in a peaceful and structured environment like The Bluffs, you can conquer your addiction. Treatment facilities can also make the detox process more comfortable, providing a smoother transition into therapy. With treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on solution-based thinking, and dialectical behavior therapy, which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy focused on helping you deal with emotions and conflict in your relationships, you can beat your addiction. Remember, there is no shame in seeking treatment.
Call Vertava Health – Ohio Today
Here at The Bluffs, we understand your situation is unique, which is why we will create a treatment plan just for you. We will provide the perfect retreat to get you started on your road to recovery. Our rehab for alcoholism program will address symptoms of your addiction as well as any unique factors that may affect it. We use evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy to help change thoughts and behaviors that lead to unwanted or unhealthy habits. Take the first step today. To learn more, call (888) 481-7821.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the traits of a high-functioning alcoholic? A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who maintains somewhat of a normal life despite their alcoholism. They may still succeed in school, work, as a parent, or as a spouse. They may also get angry or defensive when someone brings up their drinking habits, attempt to hide drinking from others, joke about having alcoholism, come up with reasons for drinking, perform well at school or work despite alcoholism, or receive praise for their accomplishments despite battling alcoholism. What is alcoholism? Alcoholism is a condition where alcohol causes distress and harm, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine (NLM). Alcoholism causes a strong craving to drink, the inability to stop drinking once you have started, and a negative emotional state due to alcohol. Alcoholism may also be referred to as alcohol use disorder. What are the two forms of excessive drinking? Excessive drinking consists of binge drinking and heavy drinking. According to the CDC, binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking. Binge drinking is classified as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. Heavy drinking is classified as eight or more drinks in a week for women and 15 or more drinks in a week for men. Why is drinking in moderation important? Drinking in moderation can lower the risk of negative health effects excessive drinking may cause. By limiting yourself to one drink or less a day if you’re a woman and two drinks or less a day if you’re a man, you may avoid health issues such as liver damage, heart disease, and high blood pressure. You can also avoid finding yourself in dangerous situations, problems with your family and work life, or developing or worsening mental health disorders.