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Dangers Of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Alcoholism is one of the most dangerous forms of addiction, and this type of substance abuse disorder may not manifest immediately recognizable symptoms.

It can take months or years for a slight alcohol abuse problem to turn into full-blown dependency, but alcoholism is ultimately inevitable for anyone who abuses alcohol consistently. High-functioning alcoholism usually combines the semblance of a perfectly normal life with a serious substance abuse disorder under the surface.

Understanding High-Functioning Alcoholism

When most Americans imagine an alcoholic they picture a disheveled, unkempt person who cannot function without alcohol and whose life is in shambles due to constant drinking. In reality, many people manage to keep their jobs and personal lives in relatively good order while nursing alcohol abuse disorders. High-functioning alcoholism refers to a case of alcohol dependency in which the alcoholic does not seem to suffer the adverse effects of alcoholism. However, this is not a tenable situation, and high-functioning alcoholism is a type of alcohol abuse disorder that almost always eventually becomes full-blown alcoholism.

Defining A High-Functioning Alcoholic

Social drinking is a very common tradition in American culture. Many young people socialize in bars, nightclubs, and other establishments serving alcoholic beverages, and alcohol is present at many private social functions. The pervasive nature of alcohol in American culture causes many people to underestimate the destructive power of alcohol abuse, and many Americans struggle with alcohol abuse without realizing it until it reaches a critical level.

A high-functioning alcoholic typically relies on a pattern of alcohol abuse on a regular basis. The reason these individuals can maintain a relatively normal life despite consistent alcohol abuse is a cycle of denial. Many high-functioning alcoholics are not only able to maintain their careers and even find tremendous success within them, but also use several excuses to tell themselves they do not have a drinking problem. The appearance of success and achievement on the surface can make it difficult for the people in their lives to recognize the danger signs of alcoholism.

Examples Of High-Functioning Alcoholism Excuses

Many high-functioning alcoholics may try to justify their drinking with several excuses.

  • “I only drink on the weekends.”
  • “I just have one drink to blow off steam when I get home from work.”
  • “I pay my bills on time and hold down my job, so I’m not an alcoholic.”
  • “I only drink top-shelf.”

These are just a few of the most common excuses high-functioning alcoholics tell themselves and others out of denial. The reality is that no one can manage a consistent alcohol use regimen and maintain a normal life. They may hold such a pattern for several months or even years, but alcohol abuse will eventually escalate and start causing noticeable problems.

How To Tell If You Are A High-Functioning Alcoholic

Denial is a major factor in any high-functioning alcoholism case. It usually requires a person experiencing the negative effects of his or her addiction firsthand to acknowledge a problem exists, and a high-functioning alcoholic could potentially maintain this kind of lifestyle for so long that he or she does not recognize any problems with his or her behavior. As long as he or she pays bills on time and performs well at work, there is seemingly no problem.

Questions To Ask Yourself

If you are concerned about developing high-functioning alcoholism or any other variety of alcohol abuse disorder, take time to reflect upon your alcohol-related behaviors in the past.

  • Do you regularly drink more than intended, or get drunk without realizing it?
  • Do you feel like you need alcohol to have fun, relax, or engage with others socially?
  • Do you feel compelled to drink to blow off steam after a stressful day?
  • Do you frequently black out or forget what you did when you were drinking?
  • Do you feel angry or agitated when people express concern about your alcohol habits?
  • Do you ever drink at inappropriate times or when you are alone?
  • Have you had relationship problems due to alcohol use?
  • Do you feel like you need alcohol to feel confident?
  • Do you feel nervous when you do not have any alcohol in your house?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have a high-functioning alcoholism problem. You may not have experienced any serious negative effects from drinking at this point, but if you continue to nurse this habit you will inevitably suffer the consequences.

Risks Of Alcoholism

Any type of alcoholism, including high-functioning alcoholism, comes with a severe degree of risk for personal health and well-being. A high-functioning alcoholic may not notice any tangible effects of his or her drinking for some time, but he or she is undoubtedly suffering adverse effects.

Alcoholism damages the body in various ways. Consistent alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of liver disease and alcohol alters the structure of the brain. Alcohol is a major contributing factor to pancreatitis, liver disease, some types of cancer, memory problems, and brain damage. Alcohol is also likely to cause an individual to engage in high-risk or dangerous behaviors and impair judgment. An individual is more likely to engage in domestic violence and other dangerous behaviors under the influence, potentially against his or her family and friends. Alcohol abuse can also eventually lead to child abuse and neglect.

Getting Help

The process of overcoming high-functioning alcoholism is virtually the same as overcoming any other type of addiction. The first step is to acknowledge a problem exists, and the second step is to find help. High-functioning alcoholics unfortunately struggle with this first step because the apparent normality of their lives and their ability to maintain careers and relationships seems to counteract the usual caricature of a person with a drinking problem. High-functioning alcoholics walk a very dangerous line and this type of lifestyle cannot last long. The first step of acknowledging the problem may be the hardest, but once a high-functioning alcoholic overcomes this barrier, he or she can find the help required to kick the habit.
 

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