How to Spot a High Functioning Alcoholic


How to Spot a High Functioning Alcoholic

Many images come to mind when people think of an alcoholic. However, they rarely think of someone with a drinking problem who is still able to carry out their daily tasks and responsibilities. An individual in this category is known as a high-functioning alcoholic (HFA).

Since these types of alcoholics are skilled at concealing their drinking problem, it can be difficult to identify them. However, there are signs that can help you spot a high-functioning alcoholic. 

The Definition of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Simply put, a high-functioning alcoholic is someone who drinks alcohol to excess, but is still able to perform the roles and tasks associated with their daily life. An HFA has relationships with friends and family, they hold down a job, and they maintain a home. They are living a double life though. To the outside world, they seem responsible, but they suffer from a drinking problem on the inside.

A high-functioning alcoholic lives in denial, and may not even believe that they have a problem. Since they appear to be stable and successful, both the HFA and the people around them may never view them as an alcoholic. Contributing to this state of denial is the stigma that is associated with a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.

The high-functioning alcoholic is reluctant to admit to themselves and others that they have a problem, while the people around them also live in denial. Friends and family might say things like, “He might drink a lot, but I’ve never seen him drunk.”

Due to the secrecy and denial associated with being a high-functioning alcoholic, many people in this group do not receive a diagnosis or go to an alcohol rehab center for their alcohol addiction. However, being aware of the warning signs that a person is an HFA can help you get treatment for someone you love.

How to Identify a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Some of the signs that someone is an HFA overlap with those associated with other alcoholics. Not every high-functioning alcoholic will have all of these symptoms, although the longer they go without treatment, the more likely it is they will display more of these warning signs.

  • Spending time with others who drink: A high-functioning alcoholic will spend time with people who enjoy drinking. Not only do they enjoy the same activity, but spending time with other drinkers makes it more difficult for the HFA to stand out as an alcoholic.
  • Obsessing over and craving alcohol: The HFA spends a great deal of time thinking about when they can have their next drink, how it will taste, and how much they can drink without looking drunk. Also, they can never have just one drink. The craving for alcohol is too strong. Although they may never appear drunk, they still lack control over their alcohol intake.
  • Feeling ashamed about getting drunk: The HFA strives to keep their drunken behavior under control, so they experience intense embarrassment if they get out of hand or sloppy after drinking. However, they won’t stop drinking. They will just be more careful to maintain their image in the future.
  • Unable to quit drinking: A high-functioning alcoholic may have tried to stop drinking in the past without success, but they still refuse to seek assistance. Many HFAs believe that treatment is a sign of weakness.
  • Secretive drinking: The HFA may hide the extent of their drinking from other people by sneaking drinks before going out or by drinking alone. They may also keep their drinking buddies separate from their family, friends, and work acquaintances.
  • Drinking as a reward: A high-functioning alcoholic might say that they work hard so they deserve a drink as a reward. These words are a way for the HFA to justify their drinking to themselves and to others.
  • Blacking out and forgetting: If the HFA’s condition worsens, the person may experience blackouts and memory loss, as well as emotional, physical, and relationship problems. It is at this point that the high-functioning alcoholic may consider seeking treatment.

How to Help a High-Functioning Alcoholic

If you’re worried that someone you love might be a high-functioning alcoholic, you should set up a time to talk to them when they are sober. Start by calmly stating how you would like things to be in your relationship and explain how their drinking hurts you. Then, explain that people can still have a drinking problem even if they are functional at work, school, and home.

The HFA may still be in denial about their problem, so they might not immediately recognize that they need help. However, don’t give up. Continue encouraging them to seek treatment at an alcohol and drug rehab center.

If you or someone you love is struggling as a high-functioning alcoholic, please contact the friendly and knowledgeable staff at HARP Treatment Center.

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