Drug and substance abuse in the US is a major problem, and without any way to stop it, it will rage on for many more years. This problem claims countless lives each year, destroying the once-perfect lives of users and the people close to them that are deeply affected by the losses. When asked about drug abuse, however, most people will name one of the more well-known illicit drugs that are always capturing headlines, but there are far more opportunities for abuse.
One of the most frequently abused substances isn’t even illegal, and once you hit the right age you can buy it just about anywhere in the country, it’s alcohol. Not only is alcohol one of the most commonly abused drugs in the country, but to make sure it stays there we have an overwhelming alcohol-centered culture that makes it an almost indispensable part of so many American holidays and occasions. When someone turns 21, for example, on their first day of being able to legally drink they often go out and get incredibly intoxicated.
This has led to a growing problem with alcoholism in the US, with many people being unable to function without consuming some form of alcohol. We all know the stereotypical drunk that cannot function at all and just wastes the whole day drinking, but there is another type of alcoholic that is far more dangerous. Someone that has high-functioning alcoholism is out there, day after day, drinking and conducting their life like nothing is wrong when in reality they are putting us all in danger.
What Are Some of The Warning Signs That Someone Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
Those living with high-functioning alcoholism are frequently very adept at hiding their alcohol use and resulting struggles from those that are close to them. In some cases, not only are they able to hide it from employers and coworkers, but they can hide it from loved ones, family, and even those in the same household.
Even though each case of high-functioning alcoholism is going to be unique, there are often some signs and similarities that the cases will have in common. If you suspect someone close to you is high-functioning alcoholism, there are some signs to look for in your friends and family that may indicate they are living with high-functioning alcoholism. These signs include:
- Hiding alcohol or obfuscating the amount of alcohol being consumed, often denying heavy or frequent drinking and becoming upset or even angry when someone confronts them about potential high-functioning alcoholism
- Constantly drinking to relax, unwind, or otherwise feel confident and “themselves”
- Drinking in the morning can be a strong indicator of high-functioning alcoholism since the individual will often begin experiencing withdrawals, which can include tremors or “the shakes”
- Drinking alone is a strong sign that someone may be high-functioning alcoholism, particularly if it happens routinely
- Having drinking cause difficulties in the individual’s life, which causes friends or family to lie or make excuses for them
- Beginning to lose close friends, as well as having attendance issues at school or work
- Constantly joking about having alcoholism, being an alcoholic, or drinking too much
- Developing gaps in memory while drinking
- Drinking when they do not want to or didn’t intend to
There are additional criteria and guidelines outlined by the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, as well. They set criteria used for helping to diagnose a substance use disorder, as well as how to gauge the disorder’s severity. The more conditions that are met, the more serious the substance use disorder has become.
Side-Effects & Risks Of High-Functioning Alcoholism
Those who suspect someone close to them may be a high-functioning alcoholic should be on the lookout for the behavioral changes that are often indicative of someone becoming an alcoholic. These signs start at just getting careless about their appearance, but it can soon advance to neglecting personal hygiene and suffering dropping performance at school or work.
In addition to all of the behavioral and psychological damage that high-functioning alcoholism causes, there are also some serious physical ramifications as well. high-functioning alcoholism has a powerful, negative effect on overall health, and that means there is considerable risk for many long-term ailments and conditions that high-functioning alcoholism may cause or contribute to.
One of the most obvious is liver damage, which happens because alcohol is seen as a poison or toxin by your body, and is therefore filtered out by your liver. Over time filtering and metabolizing large quantities of alcohol is going to take its toll on the liver, which can result in several conditions. For some long-time drinkers, there are problems associated with a fatty build-up in the liver, which is exacerbated by alcohol use. Cirrhosis of the liver is common in long-time alcoholics, as is necrosis in the liver cells, which is where the liver tissue dies while still connected.
Another significant risk factor for someone with high-functioning alcoholism is going to be damage to the cardiovascular system. Alcohol thins the blood and boosts the chances for blood clots, as well as increases the presence of cholesterol and fats. Over time, this represents a vastly increased risk of fatal heart disease to those with high-functioning alcoholism over those who drink less.
High-functioning alcoholism is also known for causing significant problems with, and damage to, the communication pathways in the body. This disruption in bodily communication is why alcohol causes such large reductions in coordination and movement precision. This means alcoholics will have a harder time doing things like speaking, remembering new things, making decisions, and moving their bodies effectively.
Very heavy, long-term drinking is also known to cause psychological and mental problems, as well as physical brain damage. This results in chronic conditions like depression, as well as degenerative conditions like dementia setting in. Nerve damage is also common due to long-term changes in blood flow and nervous system damage. These problems can stick around for a long time during recovery, and in some severe cases, they may not ever heal to their previous full capacity.
Long-time problems with drinking have been shown to increase the development of epilepsy so that more drinking causes a higher risk of seizures. There is also a problem where during withdrawals, the individual’s potential for seizure can skyrocket. This is why cases of high-functioning alcoholism should only be treated with professional help, in a location where there is medical personnel.
Over long periods of alcohol abuse, someone with high-functioning alcoholism is at greater risk for developing anemia. Anemia is a condition where the body lacks red blood cells, which means there is a low-oxygen condition and a lot of weakness and fatigue. Alcohol damages the body’s ability to manufacture red and white blood cells, which can lead to ulcers, inflammation, infections, and more. Drinking also makes eating less frequent, further worsening other problems that occur.
A set of major risks and side-effects of high-functioning alcoholism are the devastating effects that the drinking has on the digestive system of the individual. It is a poison, and it’s technically caustic, so it causes considerable inflammation and damage to the stomach lining. This will initially manifest as heartburn or nausea, but over time it can worsen and cause more serious problems to develop. Some serious cases see ulceration of the tissue in the gut, stomach, and even the esophagus, this makes it harder for your body to get what it needs from the little food that the user does eat.
Alcohol is notorious for disrupting sleep and damaging the normal sleep cycle. It acts as a temporary sedative, but that effect quickly wears off, leaving a restless and often uncomfortable sleep. For those that have been drinking for a long time, this often means waking up to drink in the middle of the sleep cycle.
What To Do If You Or Someone You Love Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic
If you or someone close to you is a high-functioning alcoholic, the most important thing to remember is that help is available for those who want it. If someone close to you is having a problem with alcoholism, it’s best not to confront them from a place of anger, but rather from a place of comfort and support. Once you’re ready, reach out privately to a local addiction professional, to start creating your personalized treatment plan.
Getting help for high-functioning alcoholism is vital for the success of the recovery since the individual has been drinking substantial amounts of alcohol for a significant period. Since their body will have grown so accustomed to the addition of lots of alcohol to the system, trying to force it to operate without that alcohol will make it go into a form of shock. The entire process can be difficult, uncomfortable, and scary, and by using a professional facility with medical supervision, the recovery will have the best chances possible to be a long and successful one.