How to Overcome Being a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Last Updated on October 3, 2023

Millions of Americans can drink socially without encountering too many negative consequences, other than the occasional hangover and acting like a fool on the rare occasions they imbibe too much. Some, however, consider drinking so much a part of their life that they automatically think of ordering a drink when in a social situation or unwinding after a day at work or school. While they haven’t crossed the line into full-scale alcohol addiction, they may be well on their way. They may, in fact, be high-functioning alcoholics.

According to a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are five subtypes of alcoholism, one of which is the functional subtype1, comprising 19.5 percent of alcoholics in the United States. These are typically middle-aged individuals who are well-educated, have stable jobs and families. Within this subtype, nearly one-third have a family history of alcoholism that spans several generations, and some 25 percent had a major depressive illness at some point. About 50 percent were smokers.

Despite the frequency and enjoyment, high-functioning alcoholics get from drinking, however, there inevitably comes a time when all the troubles they’ve been able to avoid is at an end. Problems mount and consequences escalate in number, magnitude, and effect. When and if a high-functioning alcoholic seeks to overcome this dependency on alcohol, it’s going to take determination, commitment and a willingness to get treatment.

Looking for treatment for you or a loved one?
Nova Recovery Center can help!
Call (512) 605-2955 today to learn about our outpatient and inpatient options.

How to recognize a high-functioning alcoholic

Classic signs of alcoholism2 may be missing or disguised in the high-functioning alcoholic. They don’t look or act falling-down drunk. They’re able to hold down their jobs, perform family duties, get along with others and behave, for the most part, normally.

What’s hidden from others in public, however, comes out in private as the high-functioning alcoholic feels compelled to down several drinks in succession, drinks to take the edge off, has a drink first thing in the morning, and other signs of developing alcoholism.

When out with others, the high-functioning alcoholic can disguise his or her drinking by sneaking drinks, having three drinks to a single drink that others in their presence consume, often signaling the bartender to quickly refill a drink when a friend or companion excuses him or herself to go to the rest room.

How to overcome alcoholism

Admitting the problem is the first step. Self-denial on the part of the high-functioning alcoholic may go on for years before the increasingly negative consequences and their association with excessive drinking finally sink in and the individual finally admits to a problem with alcohol. This is a critical first step to overcoming high-functioning alcoholism.

Asking for help is the second step. After admitting to self and others that a problem exists with excessive drinking, the self-functioning alcoholic must ask for help. It’s not possible to overcome alcoholism on their own at this point as they’ve long passed the time when they could successfully quit drinking. Screening and brief3 intervention may be necessary if the high-functioning alcoholic admits (or not) to the problem yet refuses to get help in the form of treatment.

When asking for help, it’s important for loved ones and family members, as well as friends, to be supportive and encouraging. Overcoming alcoholism is not an easy task and this is a tough time for the high-functioning alcoholic. It is a period when he or she is somewhat ambivalent about quitting drinking. After all, it’s been so much a part of their life for so long that the thought of being unable to drink fills them with fear. There’s also a huge void to fill once they no longer spend so much of their day drinking, thinking about drinking, overcoming the effects of drinking and starting the process all over.

Detox is the third step. Getting all the alcohol out of their system is the third step in overcoming alcoholism. This involves a process called detoxification, or detox4, a medically-monitored procedure for the removal of alcohol and/or drugs from the system. Under 24-hour supervision by medical professionals, the high-functioning alcoholic may receive prescription medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and make the alcohol detox more comfortable.

The high-functioning alcoholic may be more hesitant to enroll in a detox program out of fear of social judgment, loss of employment, or lack of privacy. However, an executive detox program is tailored to meet the physical and professional needs of individuals with established careers. These types of detox programs provide high-end medical detox with enhanced privacy and ultimate levels of discretion, so professionals can complete detox without fear of co-workers or employees finding out. Many executive detox programs also offer unlimited access to a personal cell phone and computer while detoxing, so professionals can stay connected while they work to achieve sobriety.

Choosing the right treatment program is the fourth step. Choices for treatment to overcome alcoholism include alcohol treatment centers that are either inpatient or residential rehab centers or outpatient treatment facilities5. Making the decision to go into treatment must be followed by selecting the treatment center that’s most appropriate to help the high-functioning alcoholic reach their goal of ongoing sobriety.

Sticking with treatment is critical

Merely entering treatment isn’t all there is to overcoming alcoholism. It’s important to stick with treatment6 to maximize the likelihood of success, defined as being well-equipped and confident of being able to live alcohol-free. Quitting treatment early is associated with a high rate of relapse. That’s because the individual lacks sufficient coping skills to be able to withstand the alcohol cravings and urges that are bound to occur. In addition, it’s too easy to return to former people, places and things associated with drinking without the benefit of a solid foundation in recovery.

Looking for treatment for you or a loved one?
Nova Recovery Center can help!
Call (512) 605-2955 today to learn about our outpatient and inpatient options.

Commit to 12-Step or self-help groups

Following completion of treatment, for the high-functioning alcoholic in recovery to maintain sobriety, participation in 12-step or self-help groups is necessary. Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)7 is the oldest and most widely-recognized 12-step group and has millions of members worldwide. There’s strength in the 12-step community where each member is committed to helping fellow members achieve and maintain their sobriety as well as their own. Getting a sponsor and beginning work on the steps is an integral part of effective recovery.

Long-term alcohol rehab for the high-functioning alcoholic

Although it may seem like a daunting and endless journey, it is possible to overcome alcoholism for good. If you are an alcoholic searching for treatment, long-term alcohol rehab in Austin can provide the structure, support, and tools you need to recover from addiction and life a fulfilling life of sobriety. Please call Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our alcohol rehab in Austin, Texas and treatment options, including discreet executive detox for professionals. The caring professionals at our Austin recovery center are here to help you.



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