We often think of alcoholics as people whose drinking has caused their lives to fall apart - they may have lost their jobs, messed up relationships, alienated their friends, or gotten into trouble with the law.
And while it's true that these things are common side effects of alcoholism, not all alcoholics fit into this mold. There are many people who can continue to function despite having a drinking problem. They can hold down a steady job, have relationships, marriage, children, lots of friends, and lead relatively successful lives.
These so called functional, or high functioning alcoholics, still have a drinking problem despite leading what appears to be perfectly normal lives.
The bad news about high functioning alcoholics is that they are usually in deep denial about their drinking. Also, their successful lives make it more difficult for others to notice that there is a problem.
Friends and loved ones will see the responsible, practical, and efficient person that goes to work everyday, not the alcoholic who is slowly destroying their health and running away from their problems. Many people in leadership roles or other influential positions are high functioning alcoholics.
Their achievements can make it even more difficult for them to get help, or to only realize there is a problem when it's too late. This is because it not possible for anyone to maintain a heavy drinking habit for a long period of time without any consequences. Before long, something will give.
How to recognize the signs.
It's important to know what is considered to be heavy drinking. For women, this is more than three drinks a day or more than seven a week. For men, heavy drinking is more than four drinks a day or more than fourteen per week.
Going above the limit for your gender means you're at risk for alcoholism, as well as numerous health risks. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people are heavy drinkers, and 20% of them are considered high functioning alcoholics.
There are also signs that a drinking habit has become a problem. Some things to look out for are:
-Missing work, school, or other responsibilities.
-Getting into fights, getting DUI's, or other troubles because of drinking.
-Needing a drink to relax or feel confident.
-Drinking first thing in the morning or when alone.
-Blacking out, or forgetting what they did or said while drinking.
-Denying they have a problem, or becoming defensive about their habit when confronted.
-Causing others to make excuses for their drinking.
Someone who is a functional alcoholic may not exhibit these signs, but they can still hurt themselves and others by engaging in risky behavior because of their drinking. Drinking and driving, blacking out, or risky sexual behaviors are all quite common.
The health risks associated with heavy drinking are quite serious too. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to liver disease, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, cancer, brain damage, and impaired mental functioning.
There is also a higher risk of dying from suicide, car accidents, and even murders among heavy drinkers. Alcohol abuse has also been linked to domestic violence, child abuse, and other accidents.
It is possible to get help for a high functioning alcoholic. Getting the person to admit they have a problem will be difficult, but the next step should be a little easier. Outpatient programs are a good option because they allow a person to live at home while getting treatment daily. Joining a 12 step group like Alcoholics Anonymous is another option, and of course asking for help from a doctor, therapist, or other professional is always a good idea.
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