High-functioning alcoholics might be one of the most dangerous types. They often are in denial about their alcoholism. They don’t realize how hard their drinking is on family members and friends, and since they seem to function normally, they don’t see a problem with it.
High-functioning alcoholics do not fit the “drunk” stereotype. They might reason that because they go to work and school, interact with their family, manage a household, and fulfill their everyday responsibilities, they can’t possibly have an alcohol problem.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the alcoholic who is in danger of denial. Family and friends often fail to see the danger signs. They refuse to believe that their loved one has a problem, and even congratulate him or her on his or her ability to function under the influence. The first step to helping a high-functioning alcoholic is to stop denying that they need help.
Recognizing a high-functioning alcoholic isn’t difficult if you know what to watch for. No matter how well they might function, drug or alcohol use affects everyone in some way. Here are some signs to watch for:
- They start skipping social events uncharacteristically.
- They have a sudden lack of focus or change in attitude.
- They suffer from typical signs of alcoholism such as insomnia, paranoia, or shakiness.
- They miss deadlines at work or call in sick often.
Once you have determined that your loved one needs help, understand that they don’t think they need it. Realize that to them, these signs are not symptoms of a problem, but something they can handle and don’t need to worry about. It will be difficult to convince them otherwise, so be prepared for a challenge.
When you approach a high-functioning alcoholic, make sure that he or she is sober first. Talking to a loved one when he or she is under the influence will be a useless exercise. The best time to open a serious conversation about getting addiction help is when they are hungover or feeling remorse or guilt, but before they need legal help for a DUI charge.
Do not go on the offensive. Explain to them how their drinking is affecting you and your family, and be careful to express your own personal feelings so that they don’t get defensive. Telling them how difficult it is for you to watch them when they are drunk or drinking might help them see that their addiction does not just affect them.
Alcoholism isn’t a simple problem to have, and it isn’t easy to cure. It will be particularly difficult to break through your loved one’s barriers since they can’t even admit that they have a problem. Ultimately, however, alcoholism is a choice and can be overcome.
The most important thing to remember is to approach the alcoholic with compassion. However, do not let your love for them cloud your judgment. You must be willing to walk away when their chosen lifestyle becomes too much for your emotional health. You have a responsibility to yourself too, and running yourself ragged will not do either of you any good.
Like anyone with an addiction, high-functioning alcoholics will have plenty of excuses for their behavior. Do not accept them. There is no excuse for alcoholism, and if you let them justify their addiction, they will never have a reason to change.
Excuses cannot shield them from the consequences of their alcoholism. High-functioning alcoholics might believe that their lives are unaffected by their drinking, but there will always be negative consequences, both in their own life and the lives of those they love. Alcoholism takes an emotional, spiritual, and physical toll on family and friends. It also results in emotional distress, lack of self-esteem, hangovers, drunk driving, and health risks for the alcoholic.
Recovering from alcoholism is not easy, but approach your loved one with patience, firmness and honesty. The ultimate decision to quit drinking is theirs, but your attitude and support might make all the difference.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Jul 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Steiner, K. (2014). How to Help a High-Functioning Alcoholic in Denial. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/07/03/how-to-help-a-high-functioning-alcoholic-in-denial/