Thu. May 6th, 2021

Follow The Urban Conglomerate‘s weekly Alcohol Awareness series by Robin Koonce

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The high-functioning addict

The classical image of an alcoholic is someone who always drinks too much and whose life is falling apart because of it. But that is not always the reality.

Some people seem to function just fine even though they abuse alcohol. Experts call these people “functional” or “high-functioning” alcoholics.

You can still be an alcoholic even though you live a great outside life; with a job that pays well, home, family, and friendships.

A functional alcoholic might not act the way you would expect them to.  He or she may be responsible and productive.  They could even be a high-achiever or in a position of power, and their success might lead to people overlooking their drinking.

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In Denial

He or she could also be in denial.  They may think, “Well, I have lots of friends.” Or, “I pay my bills and have a great job; therefore, I am not an alcoholic.”  But they are not doing fine according to Robert Huebner Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcoholism

“No one,” he warns,“…can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities over long periods of time.  If someone drinks heavily, it’s going to catch up with them.”

What are the signs?

What is heavy drinking?  For women, heavy drinking is more than three drinks per day or seven in a week.  For men, heavy drinking is four, or more, alcoholic drinks in a day or 14 within a week. If you drink more than these guidelines, you are at risk. 

Some red flags, you should consider are:

-drinking in the morning when you are alone

*needing alcohol to relax or feel confident

*acknowledging you have a problem or joking about alcoholism

*forget what you did while you were drinking

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Functional alcoholics may seem to be in control. But they may put themselves or others in danger by drinking and driving, having risky sexual encounters or blacking out. 

Heavy-drinkers have a lot of other risks such as dementia, cancer and pancreatitis.  Any type of alcohol abuse raises the odds of domestic violence and child abuse.

How to get help

The treatment for the high-functioning alcoholic is the same for any other addict.  You can ask your primary doctor about getting help. You can ask a therapist, psychiatrist, or other addiction specialist.  Organizations like the American Society of Addiction Medicine can guide you to getting help.  A professional may work with you one-on-one. 

Outpatient programs make it possible for you to get treatment during the day and still go about your normal life.  The most in-depth care allows you to live full-time at a treatment facility while you’re seeking help.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357)

In Part II of our Alcohol Awareness series we will examine binge drinking.

By Robin Koonce

Mother of three, Woman of God, Writer and Contributor for The Urban Conglomerate, Avid Board-Gamer, Loves long walks

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