Appearances can be (very) deceiving.

The popular perception of an alcoholic is often that of a disheveled bum on the street with a bottle of cheap wine in a paper bag as he begs for spare change to buy another bottle…or maybe it’s that of a woman sitting at a bar all day nursing cocktails as she rails against an ex-husband behind on his alimony payments…or maybe it’s more like the wife-beating drunk on TV cop shows with a long rap sheet of DUIs who drinks six-packs of beer for breakfast.

These are the cliché images that often come to mind when we say “alcoholic.”

While they can indeed describe some people whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol addiction, the vast majority of those with a drinking problem have careers, families, friends, apparent success…and an uncanny ability to deny their own alcoholism.

girl alcoholic

Not all alcoholics look like they have a problem.

These individuals frequently defy the common alcoholic stereotype to the point where they’ve convinced themselves and those around them that they “function” quite well in spite of their enjoyment of “good times and a couple of drinks.”

These drinkers often enjoy great professional success, seem to have it all going for them, and have what may appear to be wonderful relationships with family and friends.  But all this apparent can disguise a drinking problem and continue to convince the the addict that the drinking is “under control.” Over time, the alcohol abuse will catch up to and overwhelm the drinker and all attempts to self-deceive through consistent denial.

Heavy drinking behaviors—“functional” or not—eventually take a toll, often surfacing in a calamitous event. DUIs, arrests, divorce, financial ruin.

drinking driver

Eventually…things begin to unravel

Because these drinkers only rarely acknowledge their drinking problem, often using excuses like “I only drink on weekends,” or “I only drink red wine,” they’re very good at hiding behind the thin veil of “control.”

Often family,  friends , employees,  and co-workers are complicit and codependent in this subterfuge, helping their loved one to avoid the consequences of alcohol abuse by paying legal fees, maintaining a supply of alcohol at home to “supervise” any drinking, filling in for missed work, or making excuses for the alcoholic’s behavior. Often, they fear the alcoholic’s wrath for threatening the drinking pattern or they simply hope it will get better on its own. They often want to shield their loved one or friend from the negative consequences that alcohol addiction brings or the stigma of calling the person an alcoholic. Hence, things on the surface may seem “fine”.

But things are far from “fine”.

If you drink more than occasionally, suspect that you may have an alcohol dependency, or know someone whom you suspect has a drinking problem, be aware of some of the signs of  “high functioning” alcoholics:

  • They have a drink with every meal…and often eat lightly as they replace food with alcohol.
  • One drink is never enough, regardless of the setting. Some alcoholics even finish your drink for you.
  • They fail to remember “the night before” when they were having all that fun…or creating all that trouble.
  • They have more than enough reasons to drink: job stress, marital issues, other life pressures.
  • Talking about drinking always becomes a joke (a classic denial device).
  • They cloak their drinking. A bottle in their desk drawer. A drink in the morning before anyone else is up…or late at night when everyone’s asleep.
  • They quit drinking…often. Once they “prove” they can quit, they go back to drinking.

If any of these signs of “high functioning” alcohol use sound familiar, it’s time to admit there’s a problem.  Denial only works for so long…and then the bottom drops out.

If it’s a friend, family member, employee, or co-worker you’re worried about, admitting that a problem exists is the first step on the road to a rewarding, sober lifestyle.  The only real help you can give the alcoholic is to avoid the many pitfalls of codependency and get them the help they need…the help that is waiting for you at Recovery Road Medical Center.

There’s no reason to wait. Give us a call and let’s talk it over at (805) 962-7800.