One of the major misconceptions surrounding alcoholism is that alcoholics are always obvious. While some people make no effort to hide their drinking from friends and family, others are accustomed to hiding their problematic behaviors every day, and several others do not realize they have alcohol dependency issues.
Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the concept of “high-functioning alcoholism.” This term describes a person who drinks excessively without allowing the drinking to interfere with daily life and work, at least at first.
Eventually, such a person will need to enter alcohol detox. California residents should know the signs of high-functioning alcoholism.
The Cycle of Alcohol Dependency
People are creatures of habit who typically appreciate routine, and high-functioning alcoholism develops out of routine. For example, a person with a stressful but lucrative job may push himself or herself incredibly hard through the work week and then blow off steam by drinking excessively on the weekends.
Over time, that individual will come to expect and look forward to this “reward” every weekend. The person may be able to maintain productivity at work and have fun within social encounters, but every alcohol habit inevitably worsens. Eventually, this person would not be able to maintain the same routine and would start drinking more.
Some people manage to maintain more extreme cycles, such as coming home and drinking to excess after work until late at night. They wake up with perhaps a few hangover symptoms and then do it over and over again. Eventually, tolerance will build and the individual will need to drink more and more to reach the desired state. This, in turn, will lead to more intense hangovers and withdrawal, which will make it more difficult to get to work every day.
Self-Medicating for Stress
While some high-functioning alcoholics develop cycles of addiction based on a sense of reward, others use alcohol to manage the stress they experience at work. Many people who work in dangerous or stressful work environments often take their stress from work home with them.
Individuals at risk include:
- Police officers
- Others in highly demanding positions
Alcohol can provide an escape that quickly develops into a dependency. Once a person begins self-medicating with alcohol, it becomes very difficult to break the cycle without entering an alcohol and drug rehab program.
Self-medicating with alcohol can also worsen some mental health conditions. A person who experiences trauma or witnesses traumatic events needs proper psychological care and therapy to recover. If he or she simply uses alcohol to bury those difficult memories, the effects will worsen over time and make it more difficult for the person to cope.
Regardless of why a person decides to self-medicate, the results will be the same. Chemical dependency takes time to form in the body, so most people who develop alcohol dependency do not realize a problem exists until the dependency reaches a critical level.
The pleasurable feelings alcohol produces can also cause some people to mistakenly believe that alcohol “cures” their stress. This opens the door for a dependency to develop over time and the negative effects of the alcohol abuse to worsen. Daily job-related stress can lead to daily self-medication with alcohol, a very dangerous cycle of addiction that may progress rapidly.
High-Functioning Alcoholism and Work
High-functioning alcoholism may stave off financial and other problems for people with alcohol dependencies, but such a routine is not viable for long. Alcohol abuse invariably leads to increased tolerance, which in turn means the person must consume more and more alcohol for the desired effect.
A high-functioning alcoholic will learn that managing alcohol addiction and a career, without allowing one to interfere with the other, is a whole new job in itself. Juggling the two sides of one’s life will eventually lead to the realization that the person is only going through the motions of maintaining a career to keep drinking.
When alcohol becomes the incentive for work, the quality of that work will inevitably suffer. This can create serious problems and jeopardize a high-functioning alcoholic’s career.
Postponing Recovery for the Job
Alcohol abuse will sometimes continue to interfere with a person’s work life even after he or she acknowledges the problem. Many people who work in demanding, high-stress industries and positions feel as though their work is too important to take time off for an alcohol recovery program.
When facing the idea of entering alcohol detox treatment, some people will use work as an excuse not to go. They will claim that it’s a bad time, or they’ll start alcohol treatment when the slow season starts, or once a project is completed.
However, these excuses are rarely valid, and most employers would prefer their employees take the time they need to enter alcoholic rehab centers than to push deeper into dangerous cycles of dependency.
Some people in this position may attempt to self-detox to avoid embarrassment at work, but this is incredibly dangerous. The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol dependency are sometimes extreme or even fatal. It’s essential for any high-functioning alcoholic to acknowledge that treatment is an immediate necessity, and the excuses for waiting are entirely in their own head.
Many recovered alcoholics, who finally took the first step in seeking alcoholism addiction treatment, found that it was much easier than they initially expected. Taking the first step is the hardest part, but recovery is possible.