What is a functioning alcoholic? Many are under the impression that alcoholics are easy to recognize.  They assume that the average alcoholic just wanders about the streets while muttering to themselves with a bottle grasped in hand. That they can’t hold down a job; can’t pay the rent or the mortgage; and are completely unreliable.

Unfortunately, this depiction is not only untrue, but is much more complicated than most realize. Some alcoholics have developed an array of coping techniques and strategies which enable them to function in society, sometimes even function exceptionally well.

A High Functioning Alcoholic

The giveaway is in the name. Alcoholics at a high-functioning level seem to get along just fine. They hold down a job, support their family, and even pay the bills on time.

There are a multitude of stories of the CEO or the surgeon/lawyer/teacher who is an alcoholic, but still functions at a very high level. In the CEOs case, perhaps alcohol even plays a big part of the social aspect of the job. Many CEOs regularly entertain clients at dinners where the liquor or wine flows throughout the entire meal, and the night culminates with a glass of brandy.

Situations like this make it very common to find that the line, which separates social drinking and alcohol abuse, has become quite blurry.

But drinking is fun…

Getting together with friends or colleagues for a drink or two could be fun. Everyone wants to relax a bit, right? This type of social drinking sounds harmless, but alcohol, like any other addictive substance, changes the way the brain works. There are signs to keep watch for which indicate that drinking has progressed from being fun, to being a problem.

Consuming alcohol to cope

Using alcohol to deal with certain situations is a red-flag that you may have a problem. Perhaps you’re nervous about a presentation that you’re giving at work, or maybe you dread attending a large social gathering. If you’re relying on having a drink to give you the bravado you need, or to calm your nerves, it may be a warning signal that there’s a bigger issue.

It’s not about getting bombed

Over time, water can wear away the surface of a stone, and alcohol does the same thing to your body. You don’t need to get annihilated every day or even every weekend to be an alcoholic – it’s much more insidious. You might never feel fall-down drunk, but a few alcoholic beverages every day adds up to a mild drinking issue at least, and can put you at a higher risk for stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and other illnesses.

Binge drinking, but less often, isn’t better

This brings us back to the warning signals. Even if you don’t drink daily, but your idea of a great night out is to get so intoxicated that functioning the following day is problematic, you very well may have an addiction to alcohol.  People abuse alcohol in diverse ways, but, in many cases, with similar outcomes.

How do you feel?

Your own feelings are a great barometer to indicate problems. Do you ever feel the need to hide your drinking? Can you remember everything that happened the night before? Do you hide alcohol in inconspicuous places around the house? Are you regularly ashamed of your drinking? How you feel about your relationship with alcohol is an effective way to reveal if there is cause for concern.

Risks, other than the obvious

Let’s assume for a moment that things aren’t so bleak. You’re not engaging in any horrific behaviors; you just like to have a few cocktails to relax. It’s not a problem, is it?

Although your drinking isn’t triggering blackouts or causing you to miss work, it may simply be time to give thought to some of the other side effects of regularly consuming too much alcohol. Heavy drinking can put you at higher risk for cancer and heart disease, and a study has recently linked alcohol abuse to breast cancer. Not to mention the effects it has on your liver.

Get Help Soon

If you think you may have an issue with alcohol, talking about it with a doctor or qualified therapist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an alcoholic. It may just mean that you’re someone who has the sense to realize there might be a problem ahead, and that you’re willing to do some healthy self-examination before the issue becomes an even larger problem.