What Are the Signs of Dating a High Functioning Alcoholic?

High Functioning Alcoholic - Harmony Place
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High-functioning alcoholics are people with a high lifestyle and professional success. They may seem to have it all going on the outside, but this does not mean they aren’t experiencing significant personal or business-related problems underneath. Being in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic can exert serious psychological damage while being under their care for any amount of time has implications too great to count.

Alcoholism is an intense and destructive disease that can ruin the lives of those who have it. Some people may not be able to tell when they are succumbing to high-functioning alcoholism, but others will know right away if their drinking starts having a negative effect on their life or mental health. 

Although someone might seem like he has his addiction under control, in reality, alcoholics cannot keep up with such heavy drinking without eventually suffering severe consequences. A person can ruin his career, marriage, or other family relationships.

The Spouse Should Seek Support

It’s important not only for the alcoholic themselves to seek help, but also the loved ones that are affected by the person’s alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism can take a toll on family and friends by affecting their overall health and emotional well-being. 

In many cases, it’s only the individual’s significant other who knows the extent of the alcohol abuse. This is because a functioning alcoholic can be extremely clever at hiding the problem. Only someone that lives with them, or has access to their finances to uncover the truth. 

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

High-functioning alcoholics are people generally with a high-speed lifestyle and professional success. They may seem to have it all going on to the outside world, but this does not mean they aren’t experiencing significant personal or business-related struggles underneath. Being in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic can exert serious psychological damage. Being under their care for any amount of time has even greater implications.

High Functioning Alcoholics and Denial

It is rare that high functioning alcoholics are able to admit they have a problem. These people may believe they are on the right track when they say: “If I’m doing well financially or feel seen as happy and successful by my peers then everything else will seem trivial.” 

Functional alcoholics can be hardworking, well-educated, and high-level professionals with great careers. Professional status and success make it harder to approach the person typically about having a problem with alcohol.

High functional alcoholics are extremely resistant in recognizing the need for change. In many instances with alcohol use disorder, a person will hit a “rock bottom” where they have no one left to help enable them and no source of income. Therefore their only option is to get help. High-functioning alcoholics rarely reach this bottom and will continue to disregard that a problem exists. 

Experiences of a High Functioning Alcoholic 

If a person has three or more drinks per day, the person may be consuming above the recommended amount. Moderate drinking is one per day for women and up to two for men. Binge drinking is having more than four beverages in one episode and five or more for men. 

Many of the individuals who drink excessively may function at a high level. The following are experiences of a person that is a high-functioning alcoholic:

  • Drinking is not restricted to certain times, situations, or beverages
  • Friends and family are asked to cover for the person such as calling into work sick, paying bills, or lending money
  • The person self isolates while acting sociably and may seem outgoing to others
  • Personal commitments are broken to family and friends due to drinking behavior
  • Secret struggles with mental illness such as depression or an eating disorder may have taken over the person’s life
  • The individual frequently blacks out
  • Rumors that your spouse is constantly out at parties or bars

High Functioning Alcoholics and Relationships

Having a significant other who drinks but acts like they’re in control of their drinking habits can be stressful.  There are dangers to being with them that can cause both physical and emotional pain. If you find yourself trying your best to be the one person this individual confides in, there is no need for secrecy or shame. Supporting your spouse is still possible even through addiction. 

Recognizing the signs of being in a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic can help you learn what your own next steps should look like. Does your spouse do any of the following when it comes to alcohol abuse? 

There is Always a Reason to Consume Alcohol

In many cases, people are so addicted to alcohol that they will drink at any time. Whether it’s a night out or just an office lunch, your spouse finds every reason possible. This type of drinking usually starts as the accompaniment for social occasions and quickly blossoms into a need for drinks at any time.  

Some may say alcoholism is when someone drinks too much in general. In reality, it can start with moderate drinking during inappropriate times such as work hours or while driving home after dinner with friends. If simply waking up in the morning becomes a reason to drink, its definitely a sign of a bigger problem. 

Alcohol is Used to Cope with Stressors

The use of alcohol as a coping mechanism is one sign that could point to a high-functioning alcoholic. If your loved one feels like drinking can help deal with the stress or problems in your relationship, then it might be time for some self-reflection. 

Abusing a depressant like alcohol will only make them worse in the long run and create more dependencies. By drinking to avoid problems they are essentially dulling their senses rather than addressing what’s causing those feelings. It may seem innocent enough at first, but this becomes habit-forming. High-functioning alcoholics typically do not see a problem with this action as they are still viewed as successful and responsible. However, the more this self-destructive behavior continues, the more likely they are to see their relationships extinguish.  

Your Spouses Moods and Personality Vary Drastically

For many alcoholics, drinking is a means of moderating their emotions and feelings to avoid the negative ones. For high functioning alcoholics, they may be inebriated sometimes or sober other times which results in what appears to be one with two personalities. 

This could mean your spouse appears to be aggressive at work but down and depressed when alone, or vice versa. This kind of roller coaster ride can take its toll over time because eventually, highs will become more pronounced. Lows will become even lower due to being on edge for so long.

It is possible to quit drinking heavily and still achieve a high level of functioning but it takes admitting a problem exists to tackle the problem head-on and deal with the ramifications.      

They Set Unique Limits on Alcohol Consumption  

You may have witnessed this one before. A high functioning alcoholic might impose limits to their drinking such as “I only drink on weekends”, or ” I’m only drinking wine tonight”. These kinds of limitations can be helpful for preventing abuse or binge drinking but they could also result from someone attempting to convince themselves that they are in control of their alcohol consumption.  

In many cases, the person doesn’t stick to their limits, or if they do stay within the perimeters set, they still engage in a form of reckless drinking. For example, high-functioning alcoholics may say they “only drink on weekends” but still consume several bottles of liquor within the weekend. High-functioning alcoholics and relationships often suffer from egregious behavior like this. 

They Need Help to Cover Indiscretions 

When it comes to high functioning alcoholism, the person may borrow money from a friend or loved one. They might also constantly make excuses for not being somewhere before eventually coming up with an excuse that is believable but still focuses on their addiction. 

As high functioning alcoholics use more and more, they will enlist more and more help from their spouses to keep their ideal image alive. Spouses may find themselves making excuses for their loved one’s absences at family functions or work events. They may also find themselves bailing the individual out of jail. The alcohol use disorder can get so bad that the spouse ends up being the glue that holds the person’s life together. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Become Obvious

They suffer withdrawal symptoms with the inevitable onset of sobriety. The high functioning alcoholic is still able to hold it together when he or she has consumed too much, but as soon as they sober up and detox from alcohol their mood changes for the worse. They feel anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. 

Individuals suffering will experience feelings such as heightened anger and agitation that should only last until their body adjusts back to normalcy again. For severe cases that can lead to life-threatening consequences from quitting drinking altogether, there are detox centers that can help them safely through each stage of withdrawal. If your spouse experiences extreme withdrawal symptoms, it’s time they seek alcohol addiction treatment

How to Help When You’re in a Relationship with a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Addressing a drinking problem is never easy. You’ll need to choose a time when you are both sober and at relative peace in order for your conversation not to be fueled by anger or emotion. You’ll want to make sure you’re being open and honest in conveying your feelings about your partner’s drinking. There will always be no clear solution as alcohol use disorder can take different shapes for each individual with the illness. However, it’s important during this difficult process of confronting someone to stay focused on the problem rather than lash out, place blame, or engage in otherwise combative behavior which could only worsen things between each other. 

Ways to Confront a High Functioning Alcoholic

Confronting someone you love about alcohol use disorder is scary. If you remember to stay focused on how this will benefit them and that you love them, it will help ease tension. Start the conversation by letting them know how much you love and support them. Some examples include: 

  • “There is something difficult I would like to discuss, I want you to know this is coming from a place of love.”
  • “I’m concerned about your health, alcohol can do a lot of damage to your mental health and body and I just want the best for you.”
  • “Can you at least think about getting professional help?” 
  • “I promise I will support your decision and help you find the right treatment.”

You should of course tailor any conversation for you and your spouse. Having a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic, you more than likely have plenty of personal experiences that can help you construct the conversation effectively. 

How to Help Your Loved One Take the Next Step

Getting help for substance abuse doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. Seeking treatment is about getting an individualized plan that fits your loved one’s needs. By working with a team of treatment specialists, your spouse will learn how to live that doesn’t require alcohol. 

At Harmony Place, we offer inpatient rehab programs as well as the services and care needed to help people get clean, gain clarity into their mental state, restructure their lives and receive continued support on the road to recovery and happiness. To learn more about our program or what you can do for yourself call one of our dedicated admissions consultants today!

One thought on “What Are the Signs of Dating a High Functioning Alcoholic?

  1. Julie Emmitt

    I have a family member who recognized he was a binge drinker. He didn’t drink every day but when he did he could not stop. He has had counseling and the doctor put him on naltrexone. It really seems to be working. He said he can drink on occasion and have only a couple of drinks. What is your opinion of this drug?

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