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A high functioning alcoholic is typically someone who has a drinking problem, but is generally able to function in their day-to-day lives. They may be able to maintain a good level of performance at work, remain well-groomed, have healthy relationships and enjoy an active social life. Often, the only people who spot their unhealthy drinking habits are those closest to them, and even then, the signs can be very subtle.

Living with a functioning alcoholic can be stressful and worrying. In this blog, we outline high functioning alcoholic symptoms to be aware of and provide tips on how you can help someone to get the support they need.

High functioning alcoholism - the symptoms to be aware of

The symptoms of a functioning alcoholic can often be very difficult to spot. While they may seem OK to the outside world, there are a range of high functioning alcoholic symptoms to be aware of:

  • Regularly drinking alcohol in an excessive manner, without appearing to be drunk
  • Only attending social events where they are able to consume alcohol
  • Being unable to socialise without alcohol and needing alcohol to feel confident or relaxed in social settings
  • Justifying or finding excuses to have a drink e.g. as a reward after a stressful day at work or a celebration that it’s finally the weekend
  • Buying expensive alcohol to try and ‘prove’ that they don’t have a drinking problem
  • Seeming to be irritable and restless if they haven’t had a drink for a couple of days
  • Being defensive about their drinking behaviour
  • Being secretive about their activities, whereabouts or drinking habits
  • Being flippant and making jokes about their drinking habits
  • Struggling to remember things they did when under the influence of alcohol
  • Storing alcohol in strange places such as in their car
  • Promising to cut back on their drinking but being unable to

How to talk to a high functioning alcoholic

If you think that someone you know may be a functioning alcoholic, it’s important to talk to them about your concerns and encourage them to get help. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a time and place that is private and where you’re unlikely to be interrupted. You could suggest going for a drive or a walk together, or just having a coffee at home when no-one else is around. It’s also important that you speak to the person when they’re not under the influence of alcohol, so they’re more likely to listen to you, remember what you say, and take you seriously
  • Focus the conversation on you instead of them by using phrases like “I am worried about you” instead of “you are drinking a lot lately.” By placing the emphasis on your own concerns, the person is less likely to feel ‘attacked’ or criticised and therefore may be more likely to open up to you
  • Make sure that you are compassionate, patient and non-judgemental, even if you’re met with denial. In reality, the person may already know that they drink too much and may have even tried and failed to stop drinking on their own. By approaching the subject gently, the person is more likely to want to talk to you and hear what you have to say
  • If you are met with denial, sensitively explain to the person the impact that their drinking is having on other people, to help to put this into perspective for them. They may not even realise that anyone else has noticed their behaviours and this could be the wake-up call that they need

Treatment for high functioning alcoholics at Manor Clinic, Southampton

The most crucial step that a functioning alcoholic can take is to get professional help, and it’s important that you are there to support them on this journey.

Offer to go with them to an appointment with their GP where they'll be able to discuss their concerns and worries. Alternatively, you can contact Manor Clinic directly to talk through the high quality treatment that we can offer to a high functioning alcoholic.

Our Addiction Treatment Programme provides:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • Medically assisted withdrawal detoxification for your loved one’s alcohol addiction, if this is required
  • Structured group therapy
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for life
  • Free family support for life

We are also able to provide advice and support on staging an intervention to help people enter treatment.

With evidence-based treatment at a specialist rehab centre, high functioning alcoholics can reduce their drinking, develop an understanding of the causes and triggers for their unhealthy behaviours, and take steps towards a healthy, fulfilling and sober future.

This blog was reviewed by Jacqui Newbold, (FDAP Accredited, NVQ 2,3 & 4 in Care/Mental health, Level 3 counselling, Advance level 4 in counselling), Addictions and Aftercare Manager at Manor Clinic.

Finding the right rehab clinic for you is imperative. For more information on our alcohol rehab and alcohol detox services click here. Our specialist, Hampshire-based team of clinicians and counsellors, will help you to get your life back on track. 

Coronavirus information

While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog.

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