How to Spot a High Functioning Alcoholic

How to Spot a High Functioning Alcoholic

The pilot nursing a hangover, the bleary-eyed banker handling your life savings, the schoolteacher sneaking alcohol from his/her desk… all of these people have one thing in common: they are all high-functioning alcoholics. A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who consistently drinks an unhealthy amount of alcohol while maintaining an average level of success.

It is easy to lump all alcoholics together under one label. However, high-functioning alcoholics are a far reach from your stereotypical, sloppy drunk. In fact, most HFAs would be highly offended if ever referred to as an “alcoholic”. This personal denial combined with their obvious outward success plays a key role in many of these people going undiagnosed.

However, just because all appears fine on the outside does not mean that the high-functioning alcoholic shouldn’t seek treatment. In fact, the longer they go without proper treatment, the more severe the consequences. Therefore, if you are suspicious that you or someone you love are struggling with an alcoholic addiction, it is important to recognize the warning signs and seek help. With HFAs the signs may not be obvious, but trust us, they are there.

Not drinking makes them irritable or uncomfortable

We have all been in instances where we feel uncomfortable at a bar or party because everyone else is drinking and we chose not to. That is pretty normal and many people feel that way. However, if you notice yourself or someone else become visibly nervous or uncomfortable when they choose not to drink, something more serious may be at play.

In fact, Augie Schumatti at Georgia Drug Detox says that, “Because alcoholics are dependent on the sedative effects of alcohol, an abrupt break in routine can cause anxiety and irritability as well as a rapid heart rate and seizures.”

They always have an excuse for why they drink

The high-functioning alcoholic works hard and thinks they deserve to have a drink or two after a long day’s work. Most of us have been there. Sometimes the only thing that will make you feel better after a rough day is an ice cold beer or glass of wine.

However, the difference between the average person and the HFA is that everyday is a rough day at work and everyday they want to treat themselves to a few drinks. This is when it becomes a problem. It is more worrisome when they become aggressive when confronted about it. They may try to explain their drinking behavior by comparing their job to yours. Since many HFAs hold demanding jobs, they might say that you don’t understand and have no right to speak to their drinking behaviors. This is yet another sign that someone could be struggling with an addiction.

They frequently experience periods of memory loss

Frequent blackouts and increased memory loss occur towards the end of the HFA’s downward spiral. Many HFAs will participate in activities or hold long conversations that they don’t remember the next day. While these blackouts may seem harmless at first, they can easily become full-day memory lapses. This can cause them to do things that can result in physical, emotional, or psychological consequences.

They hide or sneak their alcohol

Many HFAs tend to drink alone or sneak drinks from a bottle in their desk or car when they know others are around and watching. This type of secrecy is the HFA’s way of hiding their problem from others. Whether this be drinking alone before going out or keeping a flask in their desk at work, this behavior is a huge red flag. There is no other explanation for it besides an addiction to alcohol in which case, they should seek treatment immediately.

They compartmentalize their lives

The reason so many HFAs go undiagnosed is because they are able to separate their drinking from other parts of their lives. This phenomenon speaks volumes to the fact that many of these individuals are so successful because of their organization and time management skills. To the HFA, drinking is just another part of their lives to schedule time for and plan accordingly.

Indifferent to emotional or physical consequences

Because many high-functioning alcoholics have been able to abuse alcohol for so long without suffering from any major losses, they will only get more reckless as the years go by. This is especially dangerous for HFAs because an HFA usually resides in a position of power or of great importance. When someone under the influence of alcohol or is prone to blackouts is making significant decisions, it can have dire consequences for all those involved.

However, even when these emotional or physical consequences do occur, they will continue to drink as if nothing happened. It is only when things begin to spiral out of control, such as a job loss or divorce, that he or she may seek help for the problem.

While there are many other signs that you or someone you love may be a high-functioning alcoholic, these are just a few to be aware of. Because many HFAs are in such deep denial about their problem, it is important to approach the issue as prepared as possible. Educate yourself on risk factors and other symptoms to ensure a healthy conversation about their addiction. Finally, it is important to have a list of treatment centers and resources in your back pocket to help that person take the first step towards recovery.

Bio: Alexa Engelhart is a Content Marketing Specialist at Power Digital Marketing based in San Diego, CA. She specializes in the rehabilitation and treatment industry and works closely with many detox and treatment centers.

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