Alcoholism is a harmful disease that takes a devastating toll on the lives of those it touches. High functioning alcoholics can ruin a career, drive a marriage to the breaking point, and spiral someone’s life into chaos.
For some, it happens right away. For others, it takes a years of quiet abuse before the effects start to take place. Some people may appear to have it together while they secretly cope with high functioning alcoholism.
While high-functioning alcoholism may seem doable in the short term, over time it is unsustainable. It is also unsustainable to be in a relationship with a high functioning alcoholic who does not address their addiction.
Sometimes husbands and wives of high-functioning alcoholics are the only ones who know their spouse has alcohol problems. People addicted to alcohol may be able to function at work or in social drinking situation, but they’re unable to hide the disease from the person closest to them. Spouses may catch alcoholics drinking in secret or see the emotional side effects of alcoholism.
Alcoholic husbands and wives may be emotionally distant or abusive. Every person who loves someone with an addiction faces tough decisions when figuring out how to help. Distancing yourself can seem selfish, but you have to look out for your own well-being before you can help someone else.
Being in a Relationship with a High Functioning Alcoholic
High functioning alcoholics may seem to have it all going on the outside, but this does not mean they aren’t experiencing significant personal or business related problems underneath. Being in a relationship with or being under the care of a high functioning alcoholic can exert serious psychological and emotional damage.
High functional alcoholics are difficult to identify because the way they see it, if the world doesn’t see they have a problem, it doesn’t exist. In other words, if they’re doing well financially or feel that they are seen as happy and successful, they are fine. High functioning addicts find it difficult to admit that they have a problem, so here are some signs to help you determine whether you or a loved one may be a high functioning alcoholic.
When you’re in a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic, here are several common things you may experience on a frequent basis.
- They prioritize drinking over most other aspects of their life.
- They frequently black out.
- They undergo aggressive mood changes while drinking.
- They ask you to cover for them when they can’t take on their responsibilities.
- You have to deal with rumors and comments about your spouse’s drinking.
- Your spouse is known as the person who parties too hard when in social situations.
- They constantly break personal commitments because of drinking.
- They have four to five or more drinks every sitting (per hour) on a daily basis.
- They put limits on themselves and fail to adhere to them.
- You feel as though they undergo intense differences in personality when drinking vs. not drinking.
Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic
Being in a relationship with an alcoholic who seems functional may seem normal on the outside, but there are underlying dangers that can cause a lot of pain and destruction. If you are in a relationship with a high functioning alcoholic, you are probably already in pain.
It’s difficult as you watch the person you love suffering in silence because of their disease. It’s likely never talked about and you keep quiet because you think you’re helping. Here are ways to identify the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic.
They Impose Limits on Their Drinking
You may witnessed this one before. A high functioning alcoholic may impose limits on their drinking such as “I only drink on weeknights”, or “I’m only drinking beer tonight”. These kind of limitations can be helpful for preventing abuse or binge drinking, but they could also a result of someone attempting to convince themselves they are in control of their drinking.
They Ask For Help Covering Things Up
High functioning alcoholism often arises when someone helps to enable it in another person. For example, the alcoholic may chronically borrow money from a friend or loved one to cover their habit. Or perhaps, they constantly make excuses for not being somewhere.
They could also be constantly needing rides to and from places or have to be bailed out of jail. High functioning addicts are usually only a step removed from full blown dysfunction, so it’s usually the assistance of another person that keeps them afloat.
They Use Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism
This is one of the universal signs of a drinking problem. If a person constantly leans on alcohol to ease the stress of a long day at work, or for dealing with problems in a relationship, they could have a serious problem. Alcohol is a depressant, so they are essentially using it to dull their senses. Even just a few drinks a night to take the edge off could be the start of a serious alcohol dependency, so be vigilant.
They Isolate Themselves
This sign is harder to notice than others. While in social settings they could be outgoing and gregarious, but behind closed doors they simply want to be and drink alone. When they’re not engaged in their “social responsibilities” such as work or parties, they spend their time holed up in a bar, or quietly drinking at their home. A high functioning alcoholic may specifically forbid people from being in their home because they do not want to expose their drinking habits to the world.
They Drink For Every Situation
Whether it’s a night out or just a small office get together at lunch, this person uses any occasion as an excuse to get loaded. This type of drinking typically starts as an accompaniment to any social situation and quickly blossoms into a drink for any situation at all, from waking up to calming down and going to sleep. Some may see alcoholism as drinking too much in general, but in reality it can start with moderate drinking at inappropriate times.
They Have Split Personality
For many alcoholics, drinking is a means of moderating their emotions and feelings to avoid the negative ones. For a high functioning alcoholic, they may be inebriated sometimes, or they may be sober other times. This results in what appears to be a split personality, where either they are up or down. This kind of roller coaster of emotional management can take its toll in the long run because gradually the highs and lows will become more pronounced.
They Suffer Withdrawal Symptoms
High functioning alcoholics tend to have things together while they’re drunk, but as soon as the substance starts to wear off they find themselves undergoing withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, increased irritability, and tiredness. For severe alcoholics, withdrawal can be dangerous and painful enough so as to be life threatening. For high functioning alcoholics, withdrawal can be painful and unpleasant enough that they experience symptoms such as anxiety and hostility
Help For Being in a Relationship With a High-Functioning Alcoholic
Addressing a drinking problem is never easy. You’ll need to choose a time when you are both sober and at relative peace. Above all, aim to have a conversation that is not fueled by anger or emotion, but that openly and honestly conveys your feelings about your partner’s drinking.
When confronted with the emotional pain a spouse is experiencing, a person suffering from alcohol use disorder may deny the problem, lash out, blame their spouse, or engage in other combative behavior. During this time, it is important to stay focused on the problem, and keep it short and simple. Keep in mind that this is about healing the relationship, not ending it. Some possible ways to start include:
“I love you very much. Is it okay if we talk about something difficult and you hear me out?”
“I’m worried about your health and wellbeing. Your drinking frightens me and I just want you to be okay. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Would you consider seeking professional help? It would put me at ease and I would be there to support you every step of the way.”
Of course, these are only general ways to start the conversation. The best way to approach this conversation generally comes from your own personal relationship and perhaps with help from your closest friends and family members. The first time you bring up the subject, your spouse may deny that a problem exists or rationalize it. Listen with compassion and thank your partner for hearing you regardless.
Support Them in Cutting Back
If your spouse agrees to address their drinking problem, you can help support them by staying sober when you go out together or promising to do fun activities with them in place of drinking. Offer encouragement and love and applaud them for making this difficult decision to become more healthy. At first, it may be difficult. They may grow agitated, grumpy, or depressed, but given enough time of cutting back and hopefully achieving sobriety, they will emerge happier and healthier.
Consider an Intervention
If your spouse refuses to acknowledge a problem or continues to deny getting help, it may be worth considering the professional assistance of certified interventionists. In the world of recovery, an intervention is a carefully planned process by which friends and family members of an addict may confront that person about their addiction. The most successful interventions usually involve a large amount of forethought and careful planning towards structure, what people plan to say, and the next steps following the intervention.
To begin, talk with friends and family members about staging an intervention and gather input from all concerned parties. You can seek out a professional intervention specialist online, or you can consult with online resources and guides such as our “What is an Intervention” page. It helps to talk about specific examples of behaviors that are problematic and the consequences that affect you and others around your spouse.
It also helps to offer specific treatment options for them to get started on. Getting an addict to agree to enter treatment is a crucial moment and you do not want to give them time to reconsider or to drink again. Having treatment lined up and ready to go ensures that they immediately start to get the help they need to get better.
Finding Health and Happiness
Ultimately, being in a relationship with an alcoholic is a physically and emotionally draining experience. You have to remember that ultimately it is not your burden to carry. Alcoholism is an insidious disease that can pull a person apart. However, it’s not something that you can control or cure, and it’s certainly not something that you can cause.
When in a relationship with a high functioning alcoholic, you need to think of your own health and wellbeing above all else. Support groups such as 12-step programs can help people navigate these relationships. These groups give people affected by someone else’s alcoholism a safe environment to talk about the impact that the person has on their life. Group members include peers who provide comfort and advice to one another.
For those that need help now, there are addiction treatment centers that specialize in getting people clean, helping them gain clarity into their mental state, restructure their lives, and give them continued support on the road to recovery and happiness. Recovering from alcoholism can be tough but the individuals at Landmark Recovery are here to help you lived the life you dreamed. To learn more about our inpatient rehab program, as well as the services and care we offer, call one of our dedicated admissions consultants today.