Treatment for the High Functioning Alcoholic

high-functioning alcoholic out drinking

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease, so it only makes sense for there to be different subtypes of alcoholism. According to the National Institutes of Health, the five alcoholism subtypes include:[1]

  • Young Adult Subtype
  • Young Antisocial Subtype
  • Functional Subtype 
  • Intermediate Familial Subtype 
  • Chronic Severe Subtype 

When people think of alcoholism, they typically imagine the chronic severe subtype. However, only 9% of alcoholics in the U.S. meet the criteria for the chronic severe subtype of alcoholism. These individuals display obvious signs of alcoholism, started drinking at an early age, and have progressed into a severe form of alcoholism over the years.

The functional subtype of alcoholism is, however, more common. Functional alcoholism accounts for 19.5% of all American alcoholics.[1] This type of alcoholic–often referred to as the high-functioning alcoholic may not display outward signs of alcoholism and appear to be successful, well-educated, and stable. 

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

High-functioning alcoholics tend to be middle-aged individuals with successful careers, high levels of education, and stable home lives. They tend to hide the symptoms of their alcoholism behind their success and financial stability. When compared to other subtypes, functional alcoholics tend to struggle with fewer consequences of alcoholism. 

Typically, functional alcoholics began drinking in their late teens to early twenties. They may have slowly developed a problem with alcoholism rather than experiencing a quick progression. This is what allows them to hide the signs of their alcoholism so well. 

Overall, functional alcoholics appear to have their lives together. However, they typically begin drinking as soon as their responsibilities have been completed. Oftentimes, they use their success as an excuse for their drinking habits. 

While high-functioning alcoholics seem stable and well-put-together, they are silently suffering on the inside. In fact, many of them struggle with major depressive disorder. Because of this, high-functioning alcoholics require professional treatment just as much as any other subtype of alcoholism.

Challenges That Come With Helping a High-Functioning Alcoholic 

Helping a high-functioning alcoholic can be difficult, especially because the signs of alcoholism are difficult to spot in these individuals. However, more challenges arise once their alcoholism has been identified. 

Because these alcoholics are successful in their careers and home lives, they are more likely to be in denial about their alcohol abuse. Additionally, they may feel more pressure to hide their alcoholism out of shame or embarrassment.

Being “Too Busy” for Treatment 

Trying to help a high-functioning alcoholic can be difficult, especially because they have established careers. Oftentimes, functional alcoholics are dedicated to their work, taking pride in their ability to show up and perform despite their troubles with alcoholism. 

When someone tries to convince them to attend treatment, they may use their career as an excuse to avoid getting help. For example, they may say that they don’t have the time to attend treatment due to work, they cannot afford to take time off of work, or attending treatment will result in their termination. 

Thankfully, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that prevents employers from firing individuals for attending professional addiction treatment. This law allows individuals up to 12 weeks of leave to attend drug and alcohol rehab.[2]

Denial

Another common barrier to helping functional alcoholics is their denial. Their success and ability to appear put together cause them to believe that they do not have a problem with alcohol. Additionally, their lack of experiencing alcohol-related consequences keeps them in denial. 

Family members of high-functioning alcoholics can attempt to address their denial by having honest and respectful conversations with them. How their behavior makes the family feel should be discussed. This could allow them to understand the seriousness of their alcohol abuse as well as their need for professional treatment.

Shame or Embarrassment 

Lastly, feelings of shame and embarrassment are common among functional alcoholics. They are passionate about their careers and like that the people around them view them as successful. However, this causes them to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their alcoholism. 

Functional alcoholics view their alcoholism as a failure. This is one of the reasons they attempt to hide their alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, leaving their alcoholism untreated will only lead to worsened symptoms and adverse health effects over time. 

To help a high-functioning alcoholic, it is important to let them know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Additionally, there are plenty of discrete addiction treatment programs that can help them remain anonymous. 

Alcohol Treatment for the High-Functioning Alcoholic 

High-functioning alcoholics receive the same evidence-based treatments as other subtypes of alcoholics. Their first step in recovery is attending medical detox for alcoholism. 

Functional alcoholics tend to have extreme tolerances to alcohol. This causes medical detox to be extremely important for their health and safety. Having a high tolerance means the body is dependent on alcohol to function properly, causing severe symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol consumption is ceased.

In other words, high-functioning alcoholics may need extra time in detox programs. Additionally, they are more likely to need detox medications that limit withdrawal symptoms and prevent cravings.

Once they complete alcohol detox, the functional alcoholic can decide to attend inclient or outpatient treatment. While inclient treatment is highly recommended, the functional alcoholic may resist attending a residential program. If this occurs, they can attend an outpatient rehab assuming that their home life is stable and supportive to recovery.

When it comes to treating high-functioning alcoholism, it is extremely important to teach stress management. Dealing with a high-stress career can be a major trigger for alcoholism relapse. Additionally, functional alcoholics may need dual diagnosis treatment for depression. 

Find Treatment for a High-Functioning Alcoholic Today

If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism but continue to be a success in your career, schooling, or family life, you may be a functional alcoholic. Even if you are successful in other areas of your life, attending professional treatment for your alcoholism is vital. It is important to understand that high-functioning alcoholism can progress into the chronic severe subtype over time. 

Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today to get started with one of our alcohol rehab programs in New Jersey.

References:

  1. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes
  2. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

Related Posts

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after you experience something traumatic. You could also develop this condition after seeing or hearing about a traumatic event. The symptoms can begin immediately after the traumatic...

6 Warning Signs of Relapse

Maintaining long-term sobriety from addiction is never easy. People must continuously practice their recovery maintenance techniques without cutting any slack. When someone does slack in their recovery, they put themselves at risk of suffering from a relapse. ...

Is it Okay to Go to Rehab More Than Once?

Addiction to drugs and alcohol can have a significant, negative impact on every aspect of your life. From your mental and physical health to finances and social life, addiction takes a toll that can last years–or a lifetime.  Addiction is a complex condition....

Schizoaffective Disorder and Substance Abuse

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that causes the symptoms of schizophrenia and a co-occurring mood disorder like bipolar or depression. This means individuals with this condition may experience hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, mania, and...

Is There a Relationship Between Tourette’s Syndrome and Addiction?

According to the CDC, 1 out of every 162 children (0.6%) has Tourette's syndrome (TS).[1] If you don’t have personal experience with this condition, you have probably heard about Tourette's syndrome in the media.  While the media portrays TS as uncontrollably...

Can I Get Disability Benefits Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for My Addiction?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 61 million people (1 in 4) in the United States live with some form of disability.[1] Living with a disability of any kind can lead to challenges in some aspects of life. It could also mean a higher likelihood...

The Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Addiction

While you have probably heard someone joking about having social anxiety, this condition is far more complex than being shy around new people. Social anxiety disorder is a condition that can cause extreme fear associated with being in public or socializing with...

What are Cross Addictions and is the Concept Actually Real?

Many people who suffer from addiction struggle with a dependency on multiple substances.  Those who recover from an addiction to one substance may become addicted to something else throughout their recovery. This is known as having a cross addiction or addiction...

What is 12-Step Rehab Like in New Jersey?

Addiction is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. At the same time, when people get sober, everyone has their own unique recovery journey. 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the options of choice for more...

Alcohol Tolerance vs. Alcohol Dependence: Understanding the Difference

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are prevalent issues in America. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, “25.8% of people aged 18 years and older report binge drinking in the past 30 days.”[1] Additionally, they found that 95,000 American adults die...

Take The First Step to a New Life

Transform daydreams into realities

Moving Mountains takes a whole-person approach to recovery by offering a continuum of care, clinically proven treatments, and holistic healing. We work closely with you to identify your unique needs, facilitate individualized treatments, and help you establish a foundation upon which your recovery--and the rest of your life--can grow. Our compassionate, friendly staff is available 24-hours a day to take your call and help you begin your recovery journey.

 

Combatting the ever-growing drug epidemic that this country faces begins with you. Make the most of our vast knowledge of addiction treatment and our proven ability to change lives. Let's Move Mountains together.  Take the first step towards a new, better life by giving us a call today.

Begin RecoveryVerify Insurance

Get Addiction Help Now
(973) 397-5055
Representatives available now.