It is estimated that around 6.2% of Americans over the age of 18 have suffered from an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives. Of these roughly 18 million Americans, some wear their alcoholism on their sleeve, and others do a good job of keeping it under wraps. However, regardless of how well an individual conceals his or her alcohol abuse, it can have some devastating effects.
This is why it’s important to be cognizant of what a closet alcoholic or high functioning alcoholic looks like. Being able to catch a loved one’s alcoholism early will enable you to intervene, preventing the condition from becoming worse than it already is.
Not sure of what to look for? This article is here to help. Below, we’re going to get into the several signs that someone might be a functioning alcoholic.
What is a Functioning Alcoholic?
A functioning alcoholic is a form of alcoholic that’s capable of compartmentalizing his or her alcoholism. These individuals are able to appear as though they’re leading healthy lives, despite the fact that they’re either consuming alcohol in large quantities or using it as a crutch in social interaction.
On a surface level, functioning alcoholics are fairly successful individuals. In fact, some can even hold high-level jobs. It’s when you get past the superficial that you begin to see the problem that exists.
Despite the fact that they might lead successful lives, high functioning alcoholics are still causing damage to themselves, and maybe even others. After all, not only does alcohol have hugely detrimental physical effects, but it can also greatly affect a user’s behavior in relation to those who spend time around him or her.
High Functioning Alcoholic Symptoms
Because functioning alcoholism isn’t a surface-level condition, it doesn’t come with a lot of surface-level symptoms. To spot a functioning alcoholic, you must pay attention to the discrete. Here are the most common signs of an alcoholic personality.
1. Drinking Instead of Eating
One common symptom of functioning alcoholism is drinking instead of eating meals. This takes place in some alcoholics because they see a new meal as a chance to start a new drinking session. However, because they’re so caught up in their drink of choice, they end up foregoing food entirely.
If you suspect your loved one might be an alcoholic, you need to begin monitoring his or her meals. If these meals include no or small amounts of food coupled with 2 to 3 alcoholic beverages, there is a cause for concern.
2. Displaying Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Drinking
In the case of some alcoholics, withdrawal symptoms will present themselves whenever alcohol is not being consumed. These symptoms run the gamut from the behavioral to the physical to the mental and everything in between and can present themselves in a range of different severities.
Common withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, and headache, to name just a few. In extreme cases, delusions and hallucinations might even present themselves.
The key is to keep a close watch on your loved one as much as possible. If his or her mood, behavior, or physical well-being is varying at different times within the span of a day, alcoholism could very well be the underlying reason.
3. Lacking a Hangover
For most individuals, hangovers are an inevitable part of drinking alcohol, especially when done in excess. While you might get lucky and skip a hangover every once in a while, the fact of the matter is that a hangover will typically present itself. This is, of course, unless you’re an alcoholic.
Because many alcoholics have built up such a tolerance to alcohol, they no longer experience hangovers. Though this isn’t true of all alcoholics, it’s true of many.
Therefore, if you routinely notice that your friend isn’t experiencing a hangover after a night out drinking, there’s a decent chance that he or she has reached consumption levels common of alcoholics. At the very least, it should raise red flags.
4. Blacking Out
Another common symptom of functioning alcoholism is blacking out. Those with alcoholism will tend to lose cognitive recognition over large chunks of time, having no idea as to what had transpired in those chunks of time.
Perhaps amazingly, an alcoholic doesn’t even need to appear to be intoxicated during these blackouts. Because alcoholics build up such a tolerance to alcohol, they are able to act as they always do.
The key here is to focus on remarks that your loved one makes. Does he or she seem to be leaving out obvious information? If so, it might be because he or she has no recollection of it.
5. Being Unable to Drink in Moderation
Most individuals are more than capable of sitting down for a meal and having an alcoholic beverage or two. Many alcoholics, however, are not. Instead, they’ll drink to excess, drinking anywhere from 5 to 15 alcoholic beverages with ease.
In other words, alcoholics are unable to drink in moderation. Even if the people they’re with are only having a few beers or cocktails, they’ll end up having several, sometimes making excuses as to why they’re doing so.
If a close friend always seems to get hammered, but never tipsy, alcoholism could very well be the culprit.
6. Drinking in Secrecy
Culturally, drinking alcohol is a social activity. People get together at a bar, restaurant, house party, or some other type of social function and use alcohol as a bit of a social lubricant. Alcohol drops inhibitions and allows people to feel comfortable conversing with one another.
It’s when people start drinking alone in secrecy that you have to worry. A person who drinks alone is usually doing so to avoid the stresses and anxieties of life. At the same time, a person who drinks in secrecy is doing so because he or she feels ashamed of his or her drinking.
Obviously, this sign can be difficult to detect. We suggest keeping your eyes open for alcohol containers. If there are beer cans and shot glasses all over your loved one’s house or room, he or she is likely indulging in alcohol in secrecy.
7. Changing Behavior Drastically While Drinking
Alcohol affects the behavior of everyone who drinks it. However, most drinkers experience nothing more than an exaggerated version of their own personality. Often times, for alcoholics, this isn’t the case.
Instead, a good many alcoholics experience a complete change in demeanor. For example, a normally kind and docile man might become angry and aggressive while intoxicated. In another instance, a normally reserved woman may become impulsive.
While this isn’t always a sign of a full-fledged alcoholic, it’s still a cause for concern, regardless.
8. Denying That a Drinking Problem Exists
Another sign that a person is a functioning alcoholic is if someone speaks to him or her about his or her alcoholism, and he or she denies that he or she has a drinking problem. Most covert alcoholics feel shame over their alcoholism and will try to hide it at all costs. Also, in some cases, as a defense mechanism, high functioning alcoholics won’t want to admit their alcoholism to themselves.
This all, of course, hinges on whether or not the individual does, in fact, have a drinking problem. If the individual is demonstrating signs in addition to this sign, there is a major cause for concern.
9. Hair Loss
You might be surprised to hear that hair loss is actually a sign of alcoholism. While not all alcoholics lose their hair, and while not everyone who loses their hair is an alcoholic, there does seem to be a correlation between the two entities.
Note, that hair loss is only correlated with excessive drinking. Having a drink or two every now and then will not have any negative effects on one’s hairline.
Why does alcohol cause hair loss, you ask? Well, it has to do with the amount of stress that alcohol puts on the body. You can read more about it in this useful article by Capillus.
10. Trying to Quit Drinking, But Failing
One last sign of high functioning alcoholism is trying to quit drinking, but failing on a regular basis. While this symptom, at the very least, shows a desire and willingness to quit, it’s still undoubtedly a sign of someone who can’t kick his or her habit.
If you notice a friend or family member who is constantly caught in this cycle, you should urge him or her to consider checking into a rehabilitation center. If he or she goes in with the right attitude, he or she stands a good chance of quitting alcohol for good.
Find Other Useful Information
Generally, if a person displays a few of the signs discussed above, he or she is a functioning alcoholic. While there are some exceptions, all cases should be taken seriously. You should always try your best to get help for your potentially suffering loved one.
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