When Dry January Isn’t Enough: What is High-Functioning Alcoholism, and When Should You Seek Help?

Embarking on a Dry January is like hitting the reset button for many, but what happens when the battle with alcohol extends beyond a 31-day challenge? Enter the world of high-functioning alcoholism – a term describing those who manage their daily lives while wrestling with alcohol addiction. In this blog, we'll demystify high-functioning alcoholism, break down its signs and symptoms, and offer insights into when it's time to seek a helping hand.


Decoding High-Functioning Alcoholism


Imagine a superhero who fights a silent battle while maintaining a secret identity – that's the high-functioning alcoholic. These individuals juggle their responsibilities, seemingly have it all together, but are grappling with a dependency on alcohol behind the scenes. While they may convince themselves and others that their drinking isn’t an issue, deep down they know something is amiss. Alcoholism is more than just the amount someone drinks. It is a chronic, progressive, and ultimately fatal (if left untreated) disease of the mind and body. Many alcoholics are able to self-identify as such due to their continued drinking in spite of continuous consequences. A high-functioning alcoholic may not have those same consequences. Regardless, they are still unable to stop drinking for any prolonged period of time and when they begin again, they lose all control. They are alcoholic.


High-Functioning Alcoholism: The Signs


  • The Great Denial Act: High-functioning alcoholics are masters of disguise, downplaying their drinking habits and keeping them under wraps to avoid detection. They manage to keep everyone around them in denial, including themselves. 
  • Tolerance Tightrope: Like acrobats walking a tightrope, high-functioning alcoholics build up a tolerance, needing more alcohol over time to feel its effects. It's a delicate balancing act that often goes unnoticed. As their tolerance increases, so does their physical addiction to booze.
  • Life’s MVPs: These individuals excel at work, maintain relationships, and seem like life MVPs. Outwardly, everything's fine, but internally, they're wrestling with the destructive chaos of King Alcohol.
  • Solo Performances: While they may appear social, high-functioning alcoholics often prefer solo performances, drinking alone to avoid any raised eyebrows. Only having one or two drinks in social settings, a high-functioning alcoholic will slip away to drink the way they want to - in excess. 
  • Early Morning Encore: A red flag is the morning encore – reaching for a drink in the morning to ease withdrawal symptoms or shake off a hangover. Laughing it off as “hair of the dog”, these morning drinks are necessary for someone addicted to alcohol. 


​​When to Tune in and Seek Help 


The key to this user-friendly guide is knowing when it's time to tune in and take action. Here are some indicators:

  • Lost in Translation: If attempts to cut down on drinking get lost in translation, it's a sign that control might be slipping away. If you’ve found that you can’t stop when you want to, or when forced to stop, always pick it back up, it may be time to seek professional help. 
  • Consequences, Take Two: Despite the outward appearance of normalcy, consequences may be lurking backstage – health issues, strained relationships, or job hiccups. They may not even be external consequences. Many high-functioning alcoholics maintain the veneer of happiness while mentally and emotionally crumbling. 
  • Health Takes a Bow: Alcoholism can sneak up on physical and mental well-being. Paying attention to the signs of health decline is like having a crystal ball for intervention. The body and the mind are not made for the constant bombardment of alcohol. They both break down over time. 
  • Relationship Rewind: When alcohol starts playing the role of relationship saboteur, it's time to hit the rewind button and reassess the situation. On a long enough time horizon, alcohol is always undefeated. 


What’s Next?


High-functioning alcoholism is like a hidden script in the larger play of life. Unraveling the mystery requires recognizing the signs and knowing when to hit the pause button. If you or someone you know resonates with this script, don't hesitate to reach out to Sunflower Recovery Center. Understanding the cues and seeking help is the move that you can rewrite the storyline towards a healthier, happier ending. Recovery is a  journey worth taking, and the first step is just a conversation away.

Recognizing High-Functioning Alcoholism & When To Get Help