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Some people think of alcoholics as unemployable or unstable individuals, but many of the 18 million Americans who abuse alcohol hold steady jobs and lead seemingly productive lives. These people may believe that their alcohol use is not a cause for concern because it doesn’t affect their daily life at the moment. Unfortunately, the consequences of chronic alcohol abuse take time to manifest, which is why many high-functioning alcoholics don’t seek treatment until irreversible damage has already been done.

The Tolls of Alcohol Abuse

drinkingModerate alcohol consumption is safe for most adults, but alcohol abuse can elevate a person’s risks for cancers, organ failure, mental illness and accidental injury. Pregnant women who drink can also cause permanent harm to their children. Alcohol is addictive, so alcoholics must drink greater quantities to achieve the same feeling over time, and they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking.

Binge drinking, which means consuming more than four drinks for men or three drinks for women in a two hour period, can be equally dangerous. Although this type of alcohol abuse doesn’t typically result in physical dependence, it can still lead to relationship problems, legal troubles and health issues. Fortunately, many people who struggle with alcohol abuse recover, and there are several treatment options ranging from counseling to medication to inpatient rehab.

The Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

High-functioning alcoholics often have difficulty controlling the amount they consume once they’ve started drinking. They may obsess over their next opportunity to drink, or they may want to start drinking before going out to a bar or a party. Saying that they are going to limit their alcohol intake and failing to do so is also a common sign of high-functioning alcoholics. Because they often don’t view their drinking as a problem and have no desire to quit, they can become very defensive if someone suggests that they stop drinking.

Talking to a High-Functioning Alcoholic About Treatment

addictionDon’t try to start a conversation about cutting back on drinking while the person is already under the influence. A much better time is when they are feeling hungover or regretful after a night of heavy drinking. Begin by telling your loved one how their drinking is affecting you and the other people who care about them. Express your concern for their physical health, and point out any dangerous behaviors you’ve noticed; however, it is imperative that you remain compassionate without sounding judgmental.

Your first attempt is likely to be met with resistance, but don’t give up. Keep bringing up your concerns in a calm, collected manner while emphasizing that you love the individual and want to help them. Once the person is receptive to what you have to say, encourage them to talk to their healthcare provider, or help them schedule an appointment with a therapist who specializes in addiction to determine the best direction for treatment. While they wait for their appointment, offer to accompany them to an “open” meeting of a peer support group for alcoholics in your area.

Helping a High-Functioning Alcoholic Friend or Family Member

stop3Substance abuse affects not only the individual user, but their friends and family suffer as well. Relatives of alcoholics sometimes neglect their own mental health because they are too consumed with worrying about their loved one. Confiding in other friends, family members or a support group can reduce the burden. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety due to someone else’s drinking, consider talking to a professional therapist to learn some coping strategies. Always keep in mind that your loved one is responsible for their own health, and you can never control someone else’s behavior.

Nonetheless, your words and actions do matter. Clinical research suggests that familial support can drastically improve an alcoholic’s chances of recovery. There are many community groups where friends and relatives of alcoholics can learn how to better take care of themselves and their loved ones.

Making significant lifestyle changes takes a long time. As disheartening as it sounds, many alcoholics must undergo treatment multiple times before they successfully stop drinking; nonetheless, that is exactly why unwavering support from family and friends can make a big difference in whether or not someone continues to abuse alcohol. While it’s understandable for relatives to become discouraged when an alcoholic relapses, they too often neglect to acknowledge when the patient is making efforts to curb their drinking, so stay focused on your loved one’s progress and anticipate their failings. With persistence and proper treatment, alcoholics can get better.