High Functioning Alcoholic

Getting Help as a Professional With a Drinking Problem

A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who maintains daily life obligations despite heavy drinking habits or problematic alcohol consumption. You may appear to have it all together, but high-functioning alcoholism does not make you immune to the negative consequences of alcohol abuse.

Liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, coma, death, new or worsening mental health challenges, and other effects, are all significant risks. Some forms of cancer, accidents or injury, financial and legal problems, and other concerns are all potential consequences of heavy drinking too.

Excessive drinking or problematic drinking habits indicate that treatment is necessary, even if you consider yourself a high-functioning alcoholic. So, what should you know if you think you or someone close to you is a high-functioning alcoholic?

First, let’s talk about high-functioning alcoholism and how it can differ from other subtypes of Alcohol Use Disorder. Then, we’ll review the signs of high-functioning alcoholism, treatment options, and how the programs at Icarus Behavioral Health Nevada can offer proven help!

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic? Subtypes of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorders can present in diverse ways. If you are a high-functioning alcoholic, you likely meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but can function and complete daily tasks as expected. You are likely highly respected at work or in other parts of life and may attempt to hide your drinking habits.

Many high-functioning alcoholics are in denial about their condition, do not realize that they have a problem, or are unaware that they’re at risk of all of the potential negative consequences associated with heavy drinking.

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found five “subtypes” of disorders that detail what alcohol abuse can look like for different people, including functional alcoholism. Regardless of the subtype you relate to most, all people with alcohol use disorders deserve help and can benefit from treatment.

Young adult subtype: The young adult subtype refers to young adults who abuse alcohol with low rates of a family history of alcoholism and a lower likelihood of dual diagnosis disorders. 31.5 percent of those with alcoholism fit into the young adult subtype of alcohol use disorder.

Young “antisocial” subtype: A few distinctions exist between the young adult subtype and the young “antisocial” subtype of alcoholism. Those with the young antisocial subtype of AUD often started drinking early. They’re usually in their mid-twenties, may come from families with a history of alcohol abuse, and are at a higher risk of dual-diagnosis disorders. 21% of those with alcoholism fit into the young antisocial subtype.

Functional subtype: The functional subtype is another way to describe “high-functioning” alcoholics. If you’re reading this, you or your loved one might fit into this category. Those of the functional subtype often have stable jobs and families and are well-educated. Depression, cigarette smoking, and a family history of alcohol addiction may be present in the functional subtype.

Despite stereotypes surrounding what alcohol abuse “looks” like, 19.5% of people with AUD fall into the functional category. High-functioning alcoholics require treatment, and being a high-functioning alcoholic is not a reason to put treatment off.

It is important to remember that high-functioning alcoholism doesn’t remain high-functioning. Often, people who fall into the functional alcoholic subtype function as expected in daily life for many years until they don’t.

Without treatment, high-functioning alcoholism can go on for decades, leading to health problems that abruptly threaten or take one’s life.

Intermediate familial subtype: About half of those in the immediate familial subtype of AUD have families with multigenerational alcoholism. People who fall into this category are usually middle-aged. Nearly half live with depression, and 20% have met the criteria for Bipolar disorder. You may be more prone to cigarette smoking, cocaine, and marijuana use if you relate to this subtype. While 19% of those with alcohol addiction fall into this category, only a quarter seek help.

Chronic severe subtype: If you fall into the chronic severe subtype of alcohol addiction, you likely began drinking at a young age and continue to face addiction well into adulthood. Nearly 80% of those in this category have a family history of alcoholism. The chronic severe subtype, which makes up for only 9% of those with AUD, has the highest rates of dual-diagnosis disorders like depression, personality disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and the use of other drugs (e.g., cocaine, Opioids, or marijuana).

What are the Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism?

Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

If you experience high-functioning alcoholism, you may find it easier to hide alcohol dependency from family members and others in your life, such as your colleagues. This does not mean that you don’t have alcohol abuse disorder. Knowing the signs of high-functioning alcoholism can help you identify it in yourself or someone you know so that it does not continue to go unaddressed.

Common signs of high-functioning alcoholism include but aren’t limited to the following.

  • Hiding how much alcohol you drink or how often you drink from loved ones or others in your life.
  • Wondering whether you have a drinking problem or joking about your drinking habits.
  • Continuing to drink despite attempts to reduce alcohol use or quit drinking.
  • Drinking more than intended, or getting drunk when you don’t mean to.
  • Feeling like you “need” alcohol to be confident or get through activities.
  • Needing more alcohol than before to achieve the desired effect.
  • Binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a day).
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety.
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia when stopping drinking.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon can be helpful for high-functioning alcoholics and their family members before, during, and after addiction treatment. However, everyone has a different path to recovery.

Professional programs change the game for high-functioning alcoholics and others in similar situations. If you are a high-functioning alcoholic, Icarus in Nevada is here to help.

We’ll help you create a personalized treatment plan regardless of your care level and will work with you to accommodate external commitments as needed.

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Treatment Options for High-Functioning Alcohol Abuse

High-functioning alcoholics can benefit from any of the following treatment options. The most suitable form of treatment for you may depend on various factors.

When you contact us about getting help for high-functioning alcoholism, Icarus Nevada’s admissions team will help you choose the right alcohol rehab and treatment options and will answer any questions you have about treatment.

Medical Detoxification Programs

Medical Detoxification Programs

Medical detoxification or detox programs help you through the initial process of stopping alcohol consumption. Drinking heavily and stopping cold turkey can come with uncomfortable and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, far beyond insomnia when stopping drinking. Going to detox at a treatment center like ours at Icarus Behavioral Health means that you will have professional support and supervision during alcohol withdrawal.

Medications might be prescribed to help reduce cravings in some cases. Not all people attend detox before another level of care, but in the case of alcohol, it is often required due to medical necessity and the risks of seizures during withdrawal.

Residential Inpatient Treatment

Residential or inpatient treatment requires that you eat, sleep, and live on-site at your treatment facility from the start to the end of your program. If you attend a standard residential inpatient treatment program, you can usually expect to be away from home for 30-90 days.

Your daily schedule will consist of individual therapy, groups led by a mental health professional, recreation, and other activities. In groups and individual sessions, you’ll identify triggers, find healthier ways to cope and work to understand your needs.

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Partial Hospitalization Programs

Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are one step below residential inpatient treatment. PHP’s time commitment is similar to a typical work or school schedule. PHP is a common level of care used for high-functioning alcoholism because it does not require that you live on-site. Instead, you will commute to treatment on all or most business days.

Like in residential, you’ll have a full schedule of individual therapy, groups, and other activities, but you’ll get to go home at the end of the day.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs are one step below PHP and can also be an ideal solution for high-functioning alcoholics. The difference between PHP and IOP is that IOP has a lower overall time commitment, requiring you to spend fewer hours total at your treatment center per week. The increased flexibility our Las Vegas IOP provides can make it ideal for those who need to attend work or school while in treatment.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Our outpatient treatment program is our lowest level of care. Non-intensive outpatient options are most often a step-down form of care for those who have already completed a higher level of care. Your outpatient plan will be unique to you but usually includes a few hours per week or more of group and individual therapy or other treatments.

Aftercare and Alumni Support

As you prepare to exit treatment, you’ll work with staff to build an aftercare plan. As a high-functioning alcoholic, building a sustainable life for yourself and focusing on what makes a difference for your sobriety and general well-being, such as maintaining a strong work-life balance and staying in tune with your mental and physical health needs, is critical.

Our staff members will help you create a customized aftercare plan to prevent relapse and help you sustain long-term recovery. Your aftercare plan might include continued therapy, support groups, and other services.

Alumni support is separate from aftercare. Icarus Behavioral Health Nevada offers alumni services for those who have finished our programs. Our alumni services include but aren’t limited to check-in calls with staff post-treatment, meetups and outings where you’ll connect with other alumni, and more.

Get Help for Problem Drinking at Icarus in Nevada Now

Get Help for Problem Drinking

If you or your family member is a functional alcoholic, know that it’s more than possible to stop drinking and create a happy, healthy, sober life for yourself long-term. Even high-functioning alcohol abuse comes with severe negative consequences, but healing is possible with our help at Icarus Nevada.

To learn more about treatment and how we can help, call the admissions line on our website today for a confidential discussion of options!

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FAQs on Functional Alcohol Use Disorders

What does it mean if you’re high functioning?

In relation to substance abuse and other mental health issues, high functioning generally means that you can engage in daily life obligations successfully despite meeting the criteria for a condition. High-functioning alcoholics may hold a job or have a family and are often very successful people.

What makes you a chronic alcoholic?

If you are a chronic alcoholic, you have met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder long-term. Your alcohol abuse and alcoholism will likely have continued despite multiple attempts to quit drinking. However, it is crucial to know that even those with chronic alcohol use disorders have stopped drinking successfully and that you can, too.

Is there a spectrum of alcoholism?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. The category you fall into will be determined by how many symptoms of AUD you have. However, severe consequences can occur for anyone with an alcohol problem, even if it is considered “mild,” which is part of why these terms and labels can be misleading.