When you hear someone talking about alcoholism, what – or who – comes to mind?
Perhaps you automatically think about an unemployed person who drinks all day, or someone forced to beg on the streets.
In reality, many people who abuse alcohol appear “normal.”
When someone drinks too much, too often, yet still manages to carry out their major responsibilities, they are suffering from high-functioning alcoholism.
It’s a common problem; 30% of Americans abuse alcohol.
By knowing the signs, you can support a loved one who may need help.
Here are 11 red flags:
1. Casual references to drinking large amounts of alcohol
When someone drinks on a frequent basis, it may be reflected in their humor.
They might tell you a “funny story” that entails copious quantities of alcohol, and laugh about the incident even if it involved a serious accident or illness.
However, when confronted directly about their problem, they will often deny it.
2. Frequent minor illnesses and injuries
Alcohol abuse takes a toll on the body, and it also increases the risk of accidents.
You might notice bruises or cuts sustained from accidents that happened whilst they were drinking.
Nausea, headaches, and increased susceptibility to minor infections are other signs to watch for.
3. An impulse to reach for a drink when experiencing any kind of strong emotion
If you have a friend or relative who seems to believe that a few beers or glasses of wine is the perfect way to deal with joy, sorrow, anxiety, or anything in between, they probably abuse alcohol.
High-functioning alcoholics become angry and irritable if they are asked to abstain for a couple of days.
They will feel a strong urge to reach for a drink to help them handle these emotions.
They may be psychologically and physically dependent; sudden withdrawal can cause nausea, trembling, and sweating.
4. Hastiness to justify drinking to others, even if they are not asked to do so
Someone who drinks too much will be able to fool themselves into thinking it’s normal, but on some level they will be aware that others around them probably don’t drink as much as they do.
To pre-empt criticism, they may be quick to offer excuses for their excessive consumption, such as “I’ve been good all week” or “Oh, it’s nearly my birthday!”
5. Drinking alone
Most people agree that healthy alcohol consumption takes place in social settings.
Drinking alone doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, but it’s a habit that can soon spiral into alcohol abuse.
They might hide their alcohol so that friends and family don’t discover their excessive consumption.
6. An unusually high alcohol tolerance
High alcohol consumption results in tolerance.
Someone who can drink a lot before they start showing signs of intoxication probably abuses alcohol, whether or not you witness it first-hand.
7. Impression management
To minimize damage to their reputation, a high-functioning alcoholic will be keen to emphasize to those around them that they don’t have a problem.
They may go to great lengths to appear well-dressed, competent at work, and highly social outside working hours. In some cases, their lives seem a little too good to be true.
A blackout is a period of memory loss triggered by alcohol or drug abuse.
It doesn’t involve a loss of consciousness; the person might appear quite normal.
However, when they sober up, they might have a large gap in their memory.
If someone can’t remember what they did whilst drinking, this implies they consumed far too much.
9. Rumors of legal trouble, particularly driving-related offenses
Most high-functioning alcoholics stay out of legal trouble.
However, some drive whilst under the influence of alcohol, and this can lead to DUIs. Repeat offenders may even incur custodial sentences.
10. Drinking in the morning and rarely experiencing hangovers
People who use alcohol in a safe, appropriate manner seldom drink in the mornings.
However, people who drink to excess sometimes feel compelled to drink in the morning, or even in the middle of the night, to offset the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms they experience as alcohol leaves their body.
Drinking in the morning means they stave off hangovers.
11. Choosing alcohol over food
In the short term, drinking alcohol can enhance appetite.
Because it removes peoples’ inhibitions, alcohol often leads to overconsumption of fatty, sweet foods.
However, people who often abuse alcohol can experience a loss of appetite.
They may get their calories by drinking instead of eating. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition.
What to do if you identify these signs in yourself or in someone else
Alcohol abuse has serious health consequences, so timely intervention is important.
Addiction is no cause for shame; health professionals and therapists are accustomed to treating people who drink too much.
Your first step is to visit your regular doctor, or encourage your loved one to speak to their usual healthcare provider.
Inpatient or outpatient treatment might be necessary in some cases, together with medication to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
With the right support, a high-functioning alcoholic can regain control over their drinking and lead a healthier life.