The 4 Stages of Alcoholism for High-Functioning Addicts

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The term ‘functional alcoholic’ is typically used to describe someone who is dependent on alcohol but able to function in society. In fact, these individuals are likely to be well-educated with a family and successful career. This makes it hard for friends and family to recognize the problem. Too often, we assume that only people who are jobless, isolated and depressed are alcoholics. But this just isn’t true.

Being a functional alcohol is a problem for many reasons. When you are dependent on alcohol, it still has a way of controlling you. Maybe it doesn’t come between you and your responsibilities today, but it could in the future. Plus, regular alcohol use can lead to physical problems and put you at risk for addiction later in life.

As with any substance abuse problem, alcohol dependency doesn’t make you ‘bad.’ But it does mean that you could benefit from a drug and alcohol rehab in Scottsdale AZ. This way, you can understand your reasons for drinking and better ways to cope with stress and low self-esteem.

Signs of a Functional Alcoholic

If you are drinking more than you should, you may be wondering if you’re a social drinker or someone who is more dependent. Below are some possible signs of being a high functioning alcoholic.

  • Eating less so you can drink more
  • Not being able to stop drinking once you start
  • Participating in pre-drinking before going out
  • Attempting to hide your drinking from others
  • Becoming defensive about your alcohol use
  • Choosing events where alcohol is served

Stages of Alcoholism

No one becomes an addict overnight. Addiction is a progressive disease that gets worse over time. With this in mind, it’s helpful to recognize the stages of alcoholism and where functional alcoholism fits into the picture. Some people always remain in this stage but many don’t. The sad reality is that once you are dependent on alcohol, you can develop an addiction at any point.

Here are the four stages of alcoholism for the functional alcoholic.

Stage #1. Occasional alcohol abuse and binge drinking.

The first stage typically covers experimentation. This is the time when you’re not as familiar with alcohol so you begin testing your limits. At this point in time, the alcohol feels good and hasn’t caused many problems, if any. Therefore, most people have a favorable viewpoint towards drinking.

Even though you might feel like you’re drinking for fun, most of the time, there’s an underlying reason. People in this stage usually drink to self-medicate and get rid of negative thoughts and feelings. You may be fine taking care of your responsibilities, but you’ll probably need more and more alcohol to reach intoxication.

Stage #2. Increased drinking as a coping mechanism.

The next stage in alcoholism is when the mental obsession for drinking starts. Many people drink to relax and unwind, but those struggling with alcohol abuse often do so to relieve stress and forget about their day.

Unfortunately, when you drink to combat stress, you erase all of your other coping mechanisms. Healthy coping skills like journaling, meditation or exercise become less effective while alcohol becomes more effective (or so you think). You may not be physically dependent on alcohol just yet, but you are likely psychologically dependent.

Stage #3. Consequences start to happen.

In this stage, you’re bound to experience some consequences from your drinking. Your friends and family might start to show concern for how much you drink, though you’ll probably deny it and tell them you’re just taking the edge off.

Another sign that you’re in this stage is when you try to set boundaries for yourself. In your heart, you may be aware that you’re drinking more than you’d like, but you’re not ready to give it up. So, you set boundaries like only having three drinks in a night or only drinking on the weekends. However, you’re rarely able to stick to these rules because the alcohol does begin consuming you at this point.

Although the consequences of problem drinking vary among individuals, some of the common consequences that occur are:

  • Legal problems
  • Social isolation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Trouble in relationships
  • Decreased work productivity

Stage #4. Noticeable changes in your physical appearance and health.

Once you hit this stage, your body isn’t what it used to be. You may have flushed skin and a distended belly. There are also things happening inside the body, such as increased blood pressure and liver damage.

In this stage, people tend to drink regularly to avoid withdrawal effects. However, they’re often ‘functioning’ because they’re still going to work, paying their bills and taking care of other responsibilities. But if you look closely, you’ll probably notice that your work performance has decreased and you have a hard time being present with your family.

Do Functional Alcoholics Need Treatment, Too?

You never have to wait to hit rock bottom to seek treatment for a drug or alcohol problem. This is a harmful myth that can cause people to delay essential treatment. Addiction treatment centers have evolved over the years and offer many different levels of treatment.

For example, Acceptance Recovery Center offers intervention, detox services, outpatient treatment and sober living houses. You can choose the proper level of care based on your needs and the severity of your addiction. Some people benefit from outpatient therapy several days a week while others need extended treatment and a safe, sober living environment.

Bottom line – don’t wait to get help. With the proper intervention early on, you can stop the cycle of alcoholism, understand your motivations for drinking and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Contact Acceptance Recovery Center to learn more about our extended care substance abuse treatment in Scottsdale, AZ. We can help at any point in your recovery journey!