Living with a high functioning alcoholic can be a heavy burden to carry for family members. Aside from its health impacts, alcohol abuse can destroy personal relationships with a spouse, children, and even friends. It can increase stress and decrease overall mental and physical wellness. A study by the National Library of Medicine found that alcohol abuse also contributes to increased divorce rates nationwide.
While alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, not all problematic drinking is apparent. A large percentage of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and associated behaviors go unnoticed by family and friends. These covert alcohol symptoms are extremely troublesome and can quickly become a primary source of family discord. Alcoholism that flies under the radar is usually referred to as high functioning alcoholism.
High functioning alcoholism is not without concern as it may continue to damage health and relationships. Living with a high functioning alcoholic is not easy. We can provide clarity in understanding the disease of addiction and resources to aid in recovery. Contact us directly at 855-281-5588.
What Does High Functioning Mean?
Spotting signs of functioning addiction is difficult. This may be due in part to the long-standing stigmas surrounding the disease of addiction. The mere mention of substance abuse draws up images of the proverbial rock bottom.
A study on AUDs conducted by American Addiction Centers, estimated that about 20% of people who meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder appear to be high functioning individuals who have successfully completed educational programs, maintained steady employment, and are even well-paid. Additionally, other studies estimate that as many as 75% of those with an AUD are able to function at a high level from day-to-day.
To make matters more complex, living with a high functioning alcoholic may even feel normal among some households. After all, those battling with an AUD can still carry on throughout the day reasonably well.
Are High Functioning Users Safe from Alcohol Addiction?
If a loved one meets all of the diagnostic criteria for an AUD but doesn’t display any outward signs or symptoms, is it ok that they continue drinking? The fact remains that those with an existing AUD are still susceptible to many of the same issues as others with a substance use disorder. Even if the person can hide their condition reasonably well, the health impacts can be catastrophic. In fact, alcohol misuse has been linked to over 80 different diseases and illnesses. It can also contribute to other mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and fuel post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) episodes.
No user is safe from the lasting effects of alcohol. Even more concerningly is the damage it can cause to family members and those living with a high functioning alcoholic.
How is Alcoholism a Spectrum Disorder?
To set the record straight, alcoholism is the more widely used designation for a person suffering from alcohol addiction. The medically accepted term is, in fact, alcohol use disorder.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “it’s important to remember that alcoholism isn’t created overnight. Instead, it emerges from long-term alcohol abuse.” Nearly 17 million American adults are suffering from alcohol use disorder. Countless family members are within close proximity to this growing epidemic, as well.
Alcohol use disorder is defined by criteria outlined by the 5th edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DMS-5), which can be found here.
Alcohol Use Disorder Severity
When a person is diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, the severity of the condition is determined by the number of symptoms they have.
- Mild: 2-3 symptoms present
- Moderate: 4-5 symptoms present
- Severe: 6 or more symptoms present
Those living with a high functioning alcoholic are witnesses to the gradual progression of AUD, as well as the steady decline of health and wellness. A once mild condition can quickly morph into a severe addiction, sometimes with little to no warning. Family members are often left to deal with the fallout and often find they are navigating uncharted territory through one of the nation’s most deadly diseases.
It can have a powerful impact on one person while causing minor problems for another. Because of the individual differences in the trajectory of alcoholism, addiction is treated as a spectrum disorder. The most current and effective model for treating an addiction spectrum disorder includes the continuing care model. The continuing care model includes ongoing treatment and care to treat all phases of addiction.
What are the Signs and Phases of Addiction?
If you’re living with a high functioning alcoholic, it may not be easy to spot the signs of addiction. However, it’s critical to assess drinking habits if you believe things are getting out of control. As indicated above, symptoms of addiction can vary. However, the common signs of addiction include:
- Loss of control of substance
- Abandoning hobbies
- Reduced school and work performance
- Continued financial stress
Addiction is also viewed as a multiphasic disorder. Knowing the phases can help with understanding individual patterns of use. Each phase of use contains different symptoms and treatment methods. Understanding the recent phase patterns is important for helping to address alcoholism or other drug problems. The 5 phases of drug use include:
- First use
- Regular use
- Risky use
- Substance Use Disorder
Am I Living with a High Functioning Alcoholic?
Knowing if alcohol has become a problem for yourself or a family member can be difficult. There are common signs that can help to determine if a family member is struggling with alcohol outside of family and friend’s awareness. Common signs of high functioning alcoholism include:
- Unable to control alcohol use
- Legal problems
- Drinking in secrecy
- Explosive or angry behaviors
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Alcohol use during stress life events
- Shakiness, irritability, restlessness
- Sleep problems
While many high functioning alcoholics may be able to keep up with the demands of everyday life, they may be slipping up in other areas. For one, the health impacts of ongoing alcohol abuse can be catastrophic for the user. Additionally, even high functioning alcoholics exhibit some regression in work performance or lack attentiveness, affection, or liveliness when around loved ones. These subtle changes can add up and begin to reshape personal and professional relationships.
Living with a High Functioning Alcoholic: What to Do
There are many things spouses and family members can do if an individual is struggling with both high or low functioning alcohol use disorder. Creating a safe family environment, especially for children, is monumental. Raising awareness for problematic drinking may include taking the following actions:
- Monitoring spouse drinking patterns
- Reducing the availability of alcohol in the home
- Asking a spouse about alcohol use
- Reducing your own use of alcohol
- Minimizing enabling behaviors
- Increasing accountability for chores, hobbies, and other activities
- Discussing a possible intervention with a trained professional
Speaking with outside resources may help to provide clarity. Often, a person’s proximity to addiction may make them more prone to emotional desensitization and may create scenarios where loved ones are downplaying problematic behavior or being outright dismissive altogether. Friends and family can provide an outside perspective to a potentially dangerous situation.
Is High Functioning Alcoholism Common?
Yes. High functioning alcoholism is becoming increasingly more common in current times, especially due to the current pandemic.
Due to the pandemic, alcohol use has increased approximately 25%, while alcohol sales increased a whopping 400% in 2020. The increased isolation and decreased mental health throughout the pandemic may account for the drastic change in alcohol use.
High functioning alcoholism does occur for approximately 20% of U.S. adults. The National Institute of Health states, “…young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in the U.S., and nearly 20% of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes.”
How Can AspenRidge Help?
AspenRidge provides recovery options for Coloradans suffering from alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder. We provide a continuum of care that addresses gender-specific issues as they surround alcohol and drug addiction. Our experienced and certified staff takes a phase-oriented approach to long-term recovery, and thorough assessments determine the level of care.
Recently, addiction treatment centers have expanded access and programs to focus on the unique needs faced by the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ Drug and Alcohol rehab programs should be uniquely formatted to meet an individual’s challenges as it applies to marginalized communities and groups. We offer inclusive support for LGBTQ community and residents throughout the state of Colorado. Our programs include:
- Partial Hospitalization Day Program (Day Program)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (5-Day IOP)
- Evening Intensive Outpatient Program
- Outpatient Program
Please contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-281-5588 to schedule an assessment.