When someone thinks of an alcoholic they may imagine someone with messed up clothes, bad hair, no job, and maybe no place to live. This is often far from the case. Contrary to this stereotype, alcoholics are often very intelligent and successful, but have a drinking problem they cannot control. The term “functioning alcoholic” was coined to describe someone who is addicted to alcohol, but can keep a job, keep their families intact, and take care of most of their responsibilities.
COVID-19 threw a wrench in the plans for many high-functioning alcoholics. Typically these individuals have routines where the boundaries between work and home are sharply defined. One would never see them come into the office intoxicated or hung over. But when the office suddenly becomes your home, and it’s stocked with liquor at all hours of the day? Those boundaries are no longer so easy to maintain.
Quarantine has revealed the fundamental problem with the idea of a high-functioning alcoholic. The problem still exists, no matter how hidden or well-dressed up it is. And when steady routines are compromised by life or extraordinary circumstances, that fundamental problem threatens to bleed into the rest of the person’s life. Here are a 5 common misconceptions high-functioning alcoholics often feel about themselves:
“I don’t need treatment.”
One of the most common misconceptions about functioning alcoholics is that they don’t need treatment. Because they are taking care of their responsibilities it is not always obvious how badly they are in need of help. This need becomes much more dire in emergencies such as the COVID-19 quarantine, as their normal built-in stability has been taken away.
“I just drink to relax after work.”
Why do they have a drink every day after work? Functioning alcoholics sometimes suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety without realizing it. A stressful lifestyle might distract them from their personal issues, and when they get home they feel justified to drink because their day was hectic. However, they are only putting off their unresolved issues. This becomes less of an excuse when there is less of a defined point of “after work.”
“I can limit myself if needed.”
If you or someone you know is a functioning alcoholic, you may say that because you don’t drink during the week or because you only drink wine or beer that it is under control . However, these “limitations” are exactly what makes a person a functioning alcoholic because he or she is able to manage the abuse through these self-imposed rules. By presenting boundaries to outsiders, they make it seem like they have a handle on their situation when in reality they break their own rules when they are out of the public eye. Functioning alcoholics will often avoid social events or family gatherings so others do not see their real habits. This is yet another aspect of their lives that they can effectively control.
“I’ll know when I need help.”
Sure, many functioning alcoholics are educated and successful people. However, they may either be too ashamed of their habits or blind to the alcoholism to ask for help. Their pride can make it nearly impossible to talk to them about their alcoholism because they are usually deep in denial by that time and cannot be convinced of anything. Many people will naturally take offense to someone trying to tell them what they need to do, especially when they feel that they have everything under control.
“I don’t behave like an alcoholic when I don’t have a drink.”
The arbitrary line between drunk and sober for an alcoholic means little. Though some low-functioning alcoholics may not be as adept at hiding their drug-seeking behaviors, it’s not the urgency with which sober alcoholics seek refuge that defines being an alcoholic. It’s the need to seek refuge in alcohol at all. And not just the need–but the real dependency. There is no one defined way to act like an alcoholic, so to speak. The symptoms manifest differently in all individuals.
If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, our counselors are available 24/7 by phone: 855-997-4702