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How to Help a High-Functioning Alcoholic

What is a functional alcoholic?

On a day-to-day basis, the impact of drinking patterns differ from person to person. Many of those who struggle with problematic drinking habits find it difficult or simply cannot function, whilst others (known as high-functioning alcoholics) may seem as though they can function fairly normally. They may also be able to maintain personal relationships at varying levels and have avoided serious infractions with the law.

There is a severe lack of official research into functional addictions, primarily because those who are functioning normally are less likely to seek help.

To the world, functional alcoholics appear completely “normal” – even when under the influence (their tolerance levels are likely a lot higher than your own). They may not experience traditional ‘black outs’ or get blind drunk on a regular basis or display drastic personality changes under the influence due to alcohol abuse – but some do. Those who suffer from this are still fundamentally struggling with addiction the same as any other addict, often it’s just luck that some function where others cannot.

functional alcoholic

Functional alcoholics and relationships

While on the surface a functional alcoholic may seem okay, as with any addiction, it can put a strain on interpersonal relationships. It can be unsustainable to have a relationship with a high functioning alcoholic. Sometimes those closest to high-functioning alcoholics are the only ones who know that they have alcohol problems.

Spouses, close friends and close family members may notice emotional distance from the addict, or notice mood swings, lethargy and sporadic high tempers.

If someone you love is a functioning alcoholic you may notice these characteristics:

  • They prioritise drinking over other aspects of their life.
  • They happily break personal commitments because of drinking.
  • They have five or more drinks every sitting on a daily basis.
  • They put limits on themselves, maybe tore only drink at weekends, and always fail.
  • You feel as though they change their personality when drinking.
  • They may well hide their drinking.

Do alcoholics have intimacy issues?

One of the earliest casualties from substance abuse is usually intimacy. Once your loved one enters recovery they will need to work hard in order to regain the ability to be intimate and enjoy healthy sexual relationships. The effect of alcoholism on relationships and intimacy is extensive and touches on many different areas of intimacy.

Parts of an intimate relationship that can be affected by the effects of alcoholism include:

  • Trust
  • Stability
  • Affection
  • Expectations
  • Commitment
  • Shared values
  • Respect

Do alcoholics have bad tempers?

Alcohol doesn’t cause anger, but it can fuel pre-existing emotional distress. And if a person is already temperamental, ongoing alcohol abuse will make things even worse. People often turn to alcohol as a means of self-medication, any further aggravation will likely lead to even more alcohol consumption. Because alcohol literally changes the chemistry of the brain, it disrupts your thinking, judgement, and emotional response. It often causes a lack of emotional control, which can lead to tempers flying.

Symptoms of functional alcoholism

Alcohol abuse can sometimes be difficult to spot. The person in question may perform well at work, have a clean appearance and enjoy a happy social life. While they probably seem okay to everyone else, it is likely that warning signs and symptoms are appearing closer home.

Some common signs of a functioning alcoholic include the following:

  • Drinking excessively
  • Drinking alone
  • Usually justifying their drinking as being a reward or celebration
  • Struggling to socialise without alcohol and avoiding social scenarios without alcohol
  • Unable to remember previous nights or days as a result of heavy drinking
  • Having a flippant attitude about their heavy drinking
    Becoming aggressive, short-tempered and impulsive after drinking
  • Storing alcohol in odd places, such as in their car or garage
  • Becoming irritable and restless if they are unable to drink for a day or two

Support for family and friends of functioning alcoholics

As a family member or friend of someone struggling with alcohol abuse, it can be a struggle to know how to help or what to do. It’s difficult to watch a loved one’s drinking habits spiral. The Recovery Lodge Family Support Team are specifically there to guide families throughout the recovery process, from admissions through to aftercare. Each family will be assigned a family support coordinator so they feel comfortable in having someone to turn to 24/7. You can contact us directly on 01795 431751. Or contact us here.

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