While alcoholism is a devastating disease that can destroy lives, some people who struggle with it manage to hold down stressful jobs and big responsibilities. From the outside, these so-called high-functioning alcoholics seem to have it all together. They can drive nice cars, live in great neighborhoods, and make a significant income.
However, just because they’re high-functioning doesn’t mean that they’re immune to the effects of alcohol. They’re still at risk of hurting themselves and others around them. For example, a pilot nursing a hangover, a surgeon with shaky hands, or a banker handling large sums of money are each at-risk of causing terrible disasters if they stay on their dysfunctional path.
Here are some signs that can help in identifying these ticking time bombs:
1. They drink instead of eating.
Alcoholics will often replace meals with a few drinks, lose interest in food altogether, or use mealtime as an excuse to start drinking.
2. They can wake up without a hangover, even after several drinks.
Drinking alcohol regularly over a long period of time can cause the body to become dependent on alcohol. Often high-functioning alcoholics are able to drink a lot without the same hangover that plagues the occasional drinker.
3. Not drinking makes them irritable, nervous, or uncomfortable.
If an alcoholic is forced to abstain from drinking, his or her body often reacts negatively, as they are dependent on the sedative effects of alcohol. Abrupt withdrawal can cause anxiety, nervousness, sweating, a rapid heart rate, and even seizures.
4. Their behavior patterns change significantly while under the influence of booze.
Alcoholics may change significantly when they drink. For instance, a typically mild-mannered person may become aggressive, or make impulsive decisions.
5. They can’t have just two drinks.
An alcoholic has a problem stopping, and may even finish others’ drinks. Booze will never be left on the table, and there is always an excuse for “one more round.”
6. Periods of memory loss or “blacking out” are common.
Many alcoholics will take part in activities that they have no recollection of the following day. They may not seem extremely intoxicated at the time, but they’re unable to remember events that took place.
7. Attempts to discuss drinking behavior are met with aggression and denial.
When confronted with issues surrounding their alcohol consumption, heavy users will typically regress to denial or aggression, making discussion difficult.
8. They always have a good explanation for why they drink.
If flat denial or aggression is not the chosen mode of avoidance, most alcoholics will have a seemingly rational explanation for their behavior. Stress at work, problems at home, or an abundance of social activities are common reasons to explain their detrimental behavior.
9. They hide their alcohol.
Many alcoholics will drink alone, or sneak drinks from a bottle in a desk or in their car. This type of hidden drinking is a tremendous red flag and there is no other explanation for this behavior other than alcoholism.
Let’s keep our society productive, safe, and sober by keeping our eyes open for problematic behavior in order to get these troubled coworkers, family, and friends the help they need.
If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, head to SAMHSA’s National Helpline or consult with a trusted health care practitioner. Help is out there, and it’s just a phone call or a click away.
Dr. David Greuner