Your life and career are on track, but you like to unwind with a few drinks, so there’s no way you could be an alcoholic, is there?
You come home at the end of a long hard day at work, eager to pour some wine even though this morning you promised you wouldn’t. But you tell yourself you will only have one glass, after all you deserve it after the day you have had. Except one glass doesn’t cut it anymore and before you know it, you’ve had the whole bottle. Could you be a high-functioning alcoholic? It’s a possibility.
A functioning alcoholic is a term for someone who is alcohol dependent, even though they have a job that pays well, a family, a home, friends and social bonds. According to Sarah Benton, the author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic, a functional alcoholic might not act the way you would expect. They appear to be responsible and productive because they work every day. They can even be high achieving or powerful. In fact, their success might lead people to overlook their drinking.
High functioning alcoholics often go undetected because they do not fit the stereotype of the “skid-row” alcoholic. The fact that people can be successful at work –get through life without any major disasters because of their drinking – makes it easy for them to deny their problem. According to Cameron Brown from The Cabin Chiang Mai rehab in Thailand, “Being high-functioning means that the individual may not need to face the consequences of their drinking so they are never exposed to themselves as a socially unacceptable drinker”. He says that because they often have the financial means to keep them out of trouble – for example, money for solicitors to contest drink-driving charges. They may also have a well-meaning PA who covers them at work when they are sick with a hangover and often can be apart of a culture, which encourages alcohol as a reward for hard work so drinking looks justified.
However, drinking in this way or drinking any amount greater than the health guidelines recommend – takes a hidden toll on your health. Numerous studies have shown that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, along with cancer of the mouth, throat, bowel and liver. There are also the social problems associated with drinking. Alcohol dependence takes a substantial toll on relationships. It can be very difficult to have a close, meaningful relationship with someone who may be physically present but not mentally really there, or when you have to compete with alcohol for his or her attention.
So what are the signs?
Counting drinks isn’t the only way to tell if you or someone you are care about needs help. According to the World Health Organization, if within the last year if you’ve met three or more of the below around the same time, you might be alcohol dependent:
You loose control over drinking. You plan not to drink then you do, or you plan to stop after one or two but keep going.
You have increased tolerance so need more alcohol to get the same effect.
Alcohol has become a higher priority than other activities.
You have a strong desire or compulsion to drink.
You continue to drink; despite an awareness of the harm it’s causing you.
You experience a degree of withdrawal if you don’t have alcohol – irritability or trouble sleeping is common – or you drink to prevent withdrawal.
Alcoholism isn’t a simple problem to have, and it isn’t easy to treat. Ultimately, however, alcoholism is a choice and can be overcome with the right attitude and support, which can make all the difference.