Nine years ago I was a completely different person to the successful entrepreneur I am today. Looking at me, you’d never guess that I was trapped in the iron grip of alcoholism and basically ruining my life, destroying my career and causing pain to those I loved. It was a shock to my family when they realized they were dealing with a high functioning alcoholic.
You see, on the outside, I was the fun guy at parties that always wanted to have a good time and encourage others around me to do the same. If I was getting wasted, so was everyone else. I was the life and soul of the party…the generous guy who always ordered rounds of shots for everyone.
The sad truth is that was my way of masking my alcoholism. I thought if everyone else was enjoying themselves they wouldn’t notice that I was completely off the rails and spiraling out of control.
A high functioning alcoholic appears to lead a normal life, hold down a steady job and function like everyone else. That is what makes us so hard to identify. Unless you are looking for the warning signs you may never know.
My drinking got to a point where I couldn’t hide my problem anymore and my shameful addictions were revealed to everyone when I ended up in prison on drug-related charges.
That was both my lowest point in life and my saving grace because after I left prison, I relapsed…hard, and had to go into rehab. That was when the fun lovin’ party animal Andy was exposed as an addict. It crushed my family, especially my Mom. She wished she had taken more notice of the warning signs and blamed herself. Identifying a high functioning alcoholic is damn near impossible if you don’t know what to look for.
I discovered a lot of the causes of my addiction and how I was behaving as a high functioning alcoholic when I started the process of alcohol detox. It was my first step to accepting my problem and I learned so much from my therapist. He taught me about the tell-tale signs I didn’t even realize I had been showing as a cry for help all those years as an addict.
In this article, I want to share the 5 signs that will tell you when you are dealing with a high functioning alcoholic. What I have to share right now could be vital in getting that person or yourself some much-needed help.
1 Hiding Behind Humor
If the Andy of nine years ago is remembered for saying anything it would have to have been the classic quote “Rehab is for quitters!” That was my catchphrase that always got the crowd laughing.
I’d usually be yelling that in someone’s face if they refused the 8th shot I was trying to palm off on them after downing 12 myself. If you couldn’t keep up you were a loser. I’d do anything to push the focus onto anyone else away from what I was doing. People thought I was just being hilarious…but subconsciously, I had realized that if I made a joke out of drinking no one would ever start questioning me about my habits.
Humor makes light of everything and so even when I was falling apart inside…on the outside, I was a clown. It hid my pain and excused my heavy drinking. If you suspect someone close to you might be a high functioning alcoholic, pay attention when they are in social situations. Do they constantly joke about drinking or poke fun at themselves or others?
I would also tell stories about my drunken antics like they were something to be proud of and boast about how much I could drink. Disguising a drinking problem with humor is a classic diversion tactic that high functioning alcoholics know works well. So keep a close eye on that the next time you socialize with them.
2. Memory of A Goldfish
I can’t count the number of times I woke up in the morning with a pounding headache wondering how the hell I’d gotten home the night before. I would rarely totally blackout unconscious but at some point when I had drunk way past the limit my brain would switch off and I’d go on autopilot.
It’s terrifying to wake up with no recollection of what you did or where you had been, especially when you meet up with your friends who start telling you all the crazy things you did while on autopilot. The conversations you don’t remember having, that girl you gave your number to, and who knows what else.
I began to get called out when people would mention things we had supposedly talked about in the bar. When they’d say “Don’t you remember? I’d laugh and say of course I remember saying that while lying through my teeth. Some of my friends got wise and tricked me odd times with false stories and I’d play along like a chump not realizing they were on to me.
Those blackouts began to affect my memory for everyday stuff too. I got really forgetful and kept forgetting important meetings and dates that had a negative effect on my whole life. This is another sign that someone might be a high functioning alcoholic, especially if you bring up conversations you’ve had and they don’t remember.
3. One Drink Doesn’t Exist
“Just one drink” was never in my vocabulary. If I knew that it was literally only one drink with friends at lunch, I’d make sure I had a good amount from the bottle kept in my drawer before going to the restaurant.
I was usually able to take longer lunches being the boss and so that always meant a few extra drinks and very little food in my case. My “liquid lunches” kept me going through the day till I got to another bar or home to drink.
This is another sign that you are dealing with a high functioning alcoholic, someone who is probably a few drinks ahead of anyone else and always eager to get another round going, even if everyone else hasn’t finished their drinks.
When I look back on how I was back then, I can’t believe how unhealthy I was. I hardly ate a thing and I never touched a meal that didn’t come out of a packet or takeout box. Part of my alcohol detox was to learn how to eat right and take better care of myself through exercise.
The first few weeks without a drink were the hardest for me, but after 30 days of quitting alcohol, I could already see the change in my health, my appearance, and my mood.
Now that phrase “just one drink” is firmly in my vocabulary as a reminder that all it takes is one drink to undo all the hard work I have done to stay clean.
4. Putting Themselves and Others At Risk of Injury
Because of my heavy drinking, I made some mistakes that I still regret to this day. I was very fortunate that nothing life-threatening ever happened because of my reckless behavior, but I did have more than one stupid accident where I injured myself on multiple occasions.
As a high functioning alcoholic my judgment and spatial awareness were just not sound enough to act safely sometimes. I wouldn’t always think my actions thorough well enough and wind up regretting it with minor injuries.
Simple things like burning my hands on hot pans or leaving the stove on almost burning down my apartment after a night of heavy drinking. The risks can affect others around you too.
For example, a high functioning alcoholic can endanger the lives of others if they choose to drive or perform a task where safety is dependent on their actions.
Imagine a construction worker operating machinery or someone driving to pick up their kids from school.
A typical warning sign of a high functioning alcoholic is that they often have silly accidents at home or may have come close to something more serious. The clumsiness and impulsive behavior of a high functioning alcoholic can be extremely dangerous for them and the people around them.
Helping a high functioning alcoholic become aware that they are a risk to others could be a vital wakeup call they need to hear to get help.
5. Mood Swings and Unusual Behavior
When I got close to hitting rock bottom I was changing into a completely different person. Fun Andy seemed to have disappeared after the two years behind bars. This was unfortunate for my friends and family who suffered the worst of my moods.
I have never been a violent person and generosity was my middle name. When I relapsed after getting out of jail deep depression would consume me and I was constantly in a bad mood. I have to admit I was aggressive sometimes but I would immediately feel ashamed. So ashamed I’d drop into a dark hole for days and not want to see or talk to anyone.
My family was worried about me and I was hurting them with my behavior. They tried tough love with me but it just made me feel more isolated from the world. When you are in the grips of alcoholism your emotions become unpredictable.
Notice unusual mood changes in the person you think might be a high functioning alcoholic. Are they acting out of character? Not all high functioning alcoholics will show signs of depression and withdrawal. Alcohol affects people in different ways but you will see noticeable changes in a person’s mood and behavior. This could explain sudden outbursts of anger or aggression or someone who is usually shy suddenly becoming extremely sociable and talkative.
We, humans, tend to be creatures of habit and rarely change our core behavior for no reason. If you suspect someone close to you is a high functioning alcoholic, this sign is a huge indicator you might be dealing with someone who is hiding an addiction.
Recognizing the signs is vitally important to getting them the right help they need. Don’t be an enabler and pass it off as a phase they are going through, or trivialize it in a way that they deal with stress. There will be an underlying problem that drives them to alcohol and finding that out will help them onto a path to successful recovery.
They need your unconditional love and support and starting off with these signs to identify their issues can be the best start they need.
What advice would you give to people who are concerned that a loved one is a high functioning alcoholic? We would love to hear from you so we welcome helpful comments from our readers in the section below.