There are certain terms you may hear somewhat often in the addiction recovery world, and one of these is “high functioning.” Most commonly associated with alcohol abuse, this term seems simple enough – but is too often misunderstood, whether by those dealing with addiction or those supporting them.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, our alcohol rehabilitation programs are for anyone dealing with alcohol addiction, including those who may fall into the high functioning category. It’s important, though, for anyone using this term to understand what it really means, what makes someone a high functioning alcoholic, and why this term doesn’t simply make addiction “okay” or something that should be accepted. Here’s a primer on all of these vital areas.

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

As the name somewhat indicates, a high functioning alcoholic is someone who may have an addiction to alcohol, but also has no problem maintaining most or all of their daily life and responsibilities. They may have a successful job, relationships with family and friends, etc., all while still consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.

This is where the term can become confusing – after all, if they’re able to maintain their lifestyle and responsibilities, don’t they have their addiction under control? Unfortunately not – even though a high functioning alcoholic may be able to hide their drinking from family and friends for long periods of time, it’s still causing them harm.

The Dangers of High Functioning Alcoholism

Though it’s easy to think that because someone is a high functioning alcoholic, they may be better off than a more “conventional” alcoholic, this isn’t necessarily the case. Because they’re able to mask their addiction and maintain their lifestyle, it’s often much easier for them to continue drinking instead of seeking help – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still dangerous side effects.

High functioning alcoholics may still be at risk of developing health problems, have issues in their relationships or job, and suffer from mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. The longer they continue to go untreated, the more likely these risks can manifest – so it’s important for friends and family members to be aware of the signs of alcoholism, even if someone is able to maintain their daily life.

Possible Signs of High Functioning Alcoholism

Another of the problems with high functioning alcoholism: Some people are so good at concealing it that it can be difficult to spot. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t signs to look out for – here are some of the most common ones:

  • Regular lying about amounts consumed: This is fairly typical of any type of substance abuse, but high functioning alcoholics tend to be especially adept at masking this particular symptom.
  • Hiding empty bottles: This one may not always be obvious, but it’s something to look for if you have suspicions about someone abusing alcohol.
  • Developing a wildly high tolerance: Even when others can’t consume certain amounts of alcohol without becoming visibly drunk, a high functioning alcoholic may be able to drink more and remain relatively “normal.”
  • Being more secretive at certain times: Even if someone is usually open about their life, there may be certain times where they become more secretive or evasive – this could point to an issue with alcohol abuse.

These are just a few signs that can hint at high functioning alcoholism, but remember that only a professional will be able to make a diagnosis.

Approaching Addiction Conversations the Right Way

If you believe someone is struggling with high functioning alcoholism, it’s important to approach the conversation in a constructive and caring way. These can be tougher conversations than your average addiction intervention, which are already often very difficult – this is because in many cases, a high functioning alcoholic is hiding their issues not only from others, but from themselves as well.

First, avoid any accusations or judgments – this will only make someone feel attacked, which can backfire and make them more likely to neglect their addiction instead of seeking help. Second, stay focused on solutions – try to steer the conversation towards finding help, either from an addiction specialist or a support group. Finally, don’t be afraid to seek help if you’re struggling with how to talk to someone about their addiction – many times friends and family can benefit from counseling or therapy in order to better understand the situation and how they can help.

High functioning alcoholism can be difficult to diagnose, but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable. With the right approach and help from those around you, it’s possible for anyone suffering from high functioning alcoholism to get the treatment they need and start on the road to recovery.

For more here, or to learn about any of our alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs for addiction recovery, speak to our caring staff at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.