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8 Signs You Have a High-Functioning Alcoholic Spouse

High-functioning alcoholism can be difficult to understand, diagnose, and even treat. The high-functioning alcohol presents as outwardly successful and capable. Others may not be aware of their drinking habits, and even if they have noticed their alcohol consumption, it's often dismissed due to their ambitious nature. However, this reality can be tricky for spouses to navigate. On the one hand, you might feel justified in being concerned for your partner's well-being. But, on the other hand, you might fear that you're overreacting.

Main Signs That You Have a High-Functioning Wife or Husband

Alcohol use disorder is diagnosed on a spectrum with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. It's estimated that about 29.5 million American adults (about 1 in 10 people) meet the criteria for this condition. While addiction is often stigmatized and generalized, the truth is that alcoholism doesn't have a defined look. People struggling with alcohol come in all ages, sizes, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some drink every night; others can go weeks without drinking only to binge mercilessly when they do drink.

Here are the main signs that someone is a high-functioning alcoholic:

They Have a High Tolerance For Alcohol

When someone abuses alcohol, their body becomes tolerant of the consumed amount. Over time, they need more to achieve the desired effect. Functional tolerance can happen in high-functioning alcoholics. This looks like your husband or wife drinking large amounts of alcohol without appearing to be stereotypically intoxicated.

They Are Extremely Defensive About Their Drinking Habits

When someone doesn't have a problem with alcohol, they tend to be more honest about their drinking patterns. There's nothing to really hide (unless they are talking to someone who's overtly judgmental). But high-functioning alcoholics often experience great shame about their drinking, and they will become defensive at even the slightest hint of negative feedback.

They Drink As Part of Their Job

Social drinking can be highly reinforced and normalized in certain occupations, which can perpetuate alcohol problems. In addition, certain career sectors including law, real estate, finance, educational services, hospitality, and healthcare, have higher rates of alcohol abuse than the national average. When everyone around your spouse is drinking, they may be less inclined to think their habits are concerning.

They Prioritize Other Parts of Health or Wellness

Sometimes high-functioning alcoholics take great pride in their physical well-being and may focus extensively on nutrition or physical well-being. They might also be preoccupied with their appearance. These characteristics may clash with the stereotypical notion of what it means to have an addiction, making their habits less noticeable to themselves or others.

They Criticize or Judge Other People's Substance Use

It's common for people with addiction issues to project blame or anger onto other people instead of turning inward. They may compare themselves to "sicker" alcoholics as a way to justify their own behaviors. This is rarely a conscious or malicious action- instead, it's a way to maintain a sense of emotional distance from their


They Drink Alone Most of the Time

Many high-functioning alcoholics can appear to drink normally in public. Other people may have no idea they have a problem. But the real addiction emerges once they're in private and away from external judgment. In the comfort of their own home, they drink excessively and may be reckless and careless with their habits.

They Keep Telling You They'll Quit

Your high-functioning alcoholic wife or husband may not identify with having a problem. Instead, they are convinced they can stop drinking at any time. They also tell themselves (and others) that now just isn't the right time to quit. Sometimes they can keep their promise to stop for an extended period of time, but they chronically relapse because something always happens that causes them to go back on their word.

They Refuse to Seek Help

Unfortunately, high-functioning alcoholics are often resistant to asking for professional support. They often worry about being judged or shamed, and they sometimes convince themselves that they should be able to manage their problem on their own. As a result, they may struggle much longer and more intensely than those with more outward addiction problems.

Help for High-Functioning Alcoholics and Their Loved Ones

Addiction is complex, multifaceted, and progressive. People can remain high-functioning for many years, but chronic alcohol use will take a toll either emotionally, physically, or both. It's simply a matter of time.

Individuals need support on their recovery journeys, and loved ones also need support in knowing how to take care of themselves and avoid enabling behaviors. At Resurface Group, we offer comprehensive treatment services for all substance use and mental health issues. Our virtual IOP program offers individualized, discreet care for clients throughout California.

Regardless of your specific circumstances, we are here to help, and we are in-network with many insurance plans. Contact us today to learn more about our unique programs.

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