Addiction doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. People from all different walks of life can struggle with alcohol use disorders.
People who are high-functioning alcoholics, sometimes referred to simply as a functional alcoholic, is someone who abuses alcohol but still manages to project an outside image of normalcy. They may have successful careers, maintain busy social lives, and be active in the community.
Because high-functioning alcoholics can still hide their internal struggles from the casual observer, people who are high-functioning alcoholics are often deeply in denial about the extent of their problem. Here, we take a look at some of the things that they may say to avoid confronting the truth.
1. I Don’t Drink During the Day
On TV, alcoholics are portrayed as people who are constantly drinking and have a bottle of vodka by the bed or a flask tucked away in their briefcase. The reality is more complicated.
Someone who is high-functioning uses drinking to cope with unpleasant emotions or stressful situations. They may be able to go several weeks—or even months—without drinking under the right circumstances. However, when something triggers the urge to drink, they can easily spiral back into drinking on a nightly basis.
Please note that “I don’t drink on workdays” is just a variation on this theme. Often, someone who is drinking heavily on the weekends approaches the workweek with dread. They’re not drinking, but they’re white-knuckling it through the week with the expectation of binging as soon as they clock out on Friday.
A better way to think about alcohol use disorders is to frame it as a question of how often your thoughts are occupied by drinking. When you’re not able to drink, do you feel anxious, agitated, or out of sorts? Do you find yourself spending the entire day looking forward to taking the first sip?
2. I Never Get Hangovers
Hangover symptoms such as muscle aches, headaches, dry mouth, fatigue, and stomach pain are the result of drinking too much alcohol. However, the amount of alcohol required for a person to experience a hangover depends on their own personal tolerance. If you’re drinking regularly, your tolerance may have increased to the point where hangovers are no longer a concern. Or, you may have dealt with hangovers for so long that you’ve simply become accustomed to feeling unwell and learned to push through the discomfort.
Whether or not you experience a hangover after drinking does not change the detrimental effect alcohol is having on your body. Excessive alcohol consumption is still putting you at risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, impaired cognitive function, liver damage, and pancreatitis regardless of whether or not you feel hungover after a night of drinking.
3. I Eat Well and I Exercise Regularly
Nutritious meals and regular exercise are good for the body, but they don’t cancel out the negative effects of excess alcohol consumption. Drinking heavily is still causing damage to your body regardless of how healthy you currently feel.
For several years, there was a widespread attempt to portray moderate drinking as having cardiovascular benefits. However, a study published in March 2022 in JAMA Network Open has found that no amount of alcohol offers beneficial health effects. The study looked at the genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people through the UK Biobank, a large research database in Britain featuring genetic, lifestyle, and health information that was collected for public health research. Their research indicates that previous studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial simply failed to take into account that people who drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol have healthier overall lifestyle habits than those who drink more heavily. Even red wine, which is most often cited as beneficial due to the presence of resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins, does not have a meaningful impact.
4. Other People Drink More Than I Do
If your social circle includes many people who drink heavily, it’s easy to justify your own behavior. However, moderate drinking is defined as two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men or four or more drinks on one occasion for women.
Instead of comparing your alcohol consumption to others, you should be asking:
- Am I drinking more often than I planned?
- Do I drink more than I intended?
- Am I drinking to cope with stress or unpleasant emotions?
- Do I think I need to drink to feel normal?
5. This Is Just Who I Am
Alcohol use disorders are chronic illnesses. They won’t get better without treatment. It’s difficult to predict how addiction will progress, but eventually, it will become impossible for someone who is “functional” in their alcoholism to continue their behavior. They’ll get arrested for drunk driving, be fired for turning up drunk at work, drive away friends and family with their behavior, or start to experience alcohol-related health problems.
Help Is Available for High-Functioning Alcoholics
Fortunately, help is available. At Waypoint Recovery Center, we provide a full continuum of care for men and women with alcohol use disorders—including treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Care at our South Carolina residential addiction treatment program is personalized to fit individual needs and focuses on helping clients build the wellness-focused habits that are essential for long-term sobriety. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or your loved one take the first steps towards a brighter future.