Skip links
functioning alcoholics

Breaking the Cycle: Intervention Strategies for Functioning Alcoholics

A functional alcoholic is a person who can balance the daily rigours of life while consuming a lot of alcohol. A functional alcoholic usually has a good education, job, and family. It’s hard to notice that such a person has an underlying alcohol problem.

According to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s 2023 quarterly report, they sold over 200 million units of alcoholic beverages between June and October. Spirits accounted for 36% of the sales, while beer accounted for 30%. As such, there’s a huge alcohol problem that we have yet to notice.

Functioning alcoholics need help to break free before the situation gets worse. We’ll be sharing confirmed intervention strategies for functioning alcoholics in this guide. Keep reading to get the best strategy for your loved one.

What Are The Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism?

You can’t fix a problem that you can’t see. Before knowing how to help a high-functioning alcoholic, you must be able to identify them. Here are some of the subtle signs to look out for;

Normal Lives

A functioning alcoholic has every aspect of their life functioning a little well. That’s why it’s tough to notice their alcohol problems.

The medical world has placed much focus on alcohol use disorder patients. This focus has made us believe that you don’t have alcohol problems until it’s affecting your life directly.

Functioning alcoholics find a way to continue living their everyday lives despite their alcohol dependence. But it doesn’t mean they’re performing optimally.

Hiding Alcohol

An obvious sign of a functioning alcoholic is concealing their habit. Mostly, they’re aware that their alcohol intake is too high. So, they prefer to hide any traces of alcohol. Some of the practices they employ include;

  • Hiding bottles and cups after drinking.
  • Pouring alcohol into bottles of other drinks.
  • Brushing teeth right after drinking or taking a mint pill.

One of the best intervention strategies for this category of functioning alcoholics is to find what they’re concealing. Check under their beds, inside the wastebasket, and randomly taste what they’re drinking.

Once you find any alcohol traces, try to have a conversation with your loved one. They’re hiding it because they know it’s not a good habit. So, quick and consistent counselling can help them.

Alcohol Jokes

Functional alcoholics are usually active despite being under the influence of alcohol most of the time. They’ll love to make jokes about how they drink too much and have an alcohol problem.

You may not see through the jokes if you’re not observant. Sometimes, these jokes may come in a bid to shrug off an alcohol problem discussion with you.

Drinking Alone

Drinking alone isn’t an enjoyable activity. A 2016 study proves that friends and peers influence alcohol usage. So most alcoholics like to drink with their friends.

When you find someone drinking alone frequently, they’re a functioning alcoholic. It means they must always be high on alcohol.

Drinking at Odd Hours

One of the best signs of high-functioning alcoholism is the timing of the drinking. Drinking should be a leisure activity.

If you notice your loved one drinking early in the morning or before going to bed at night, then it’s an addiction. They need alcohol addiction treatment immediately.

drinking at odd hours

Increased Alcohol Tolerance

Like any other drug, alcohol is addictive. The more you consume it, the more your body accepts and grows used to it. Alongside this, your tolerance for the substance will increase.

High alcohol tolerance often leads to two drinking conditions, according to the Center for Disease Control;

  • Binge drinking: This type of drinking is when a woman consumes about four drinks in one sitting, and a man finishes five under the same conditions.
  • Heavy drinking: This situation means the woman drinks more than eight drinks in a week, while a man drinks over fifteen.

These drinking habits mean that the person is well on the way to having an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

If you notice your loved one’s alcohol intake is increasing, you need to speak to them fast. In addition, if they start taking beverages with higher alcohol in them, they need help.

Strong Alcohol Cravings

High-functioning alcoholics will experience withdrawal symptoms when they can’t get alcohol for a while. You can confirm if your loved one has alcoholism by controlling their alcohol intake over a few days. And try to monitor them for a few days for withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms to look out for are;

  • Unexplainable sweating
  • Itching
  • Shaking
  • General fever

Anyone who experiences these signs already has a substance use disorder. You’ll need to apply intervention strategies for functioning alcoholics quickly.

Denial and Defensiveness

High-functioning alcoholics hate getting caught drinking. So, when you accuse them of drinking, they tend to deny it blatantly.

For example, let’s assume you find a bottle of alcohol in their wastebasket. The functioning alcoholic would never admit that they drank the bottle. Instead, they may even get aggressively defensive while trying to deny it.

Alcohol Praises

A functional alcoholic will never see anything terrible about alcohol. Instead, they’ll explain how alcohol has helped them become good and better. This trait is an early sign so that you can manage the situation.

Drinking Before Major Activity

Most functioning alcoholics don’t know that they depend on the substance for almost every activity. They need alcohol for them to work, sleep, have a good time, and other everyday activities.

If you have a loved one that needs some alcohol before any activity, they need help.

Zero Alcohol Discipline

The most apparent sign of functioning alcoholics that need intervention strategies is indiscipline. Anybody who can’t say I want to have one drink and stop at that drink has a huge problem.

Such alcoholics may not drink every time. But they must binge drink and get drunk every time they do. This type of alcoholism may not affect their daily lives immediately, but soon it will.

Related Article: Alcohol: A Complex Interplay of Stimulant and Depressant Effects in Addiction

zero alcohol discipline

How to Help Functioning Alcoholics

According to a 2023 CTV news report, up to 40% of Canadians older than fifteen take about six alcoholic beverages per week.

This figure has prompted the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) to release new guidelines for alcohol intake. In this report, they recommended only two alcoholic beverages per week.

So, if your loved one takes more than two drinks per week, try these intervention strategies for functioning alcoholics.

Intervene Early

Take time to observe the person you suspect to be a functioning alcoholic until you’re sure. They may get angry if you happen to make wrong accusations.

But at the same time, you need to intervene early. Alcohol is an addictive substance. As such, the more you consume it, the more you become tolerant.

In turn, they’ll need higher doses of alcohol before they get to their normal state. These high doses will affect their health shortly. Eventually, their business, career, and other functioning parts of their life will halt.

Speak to An Expert First

You must admit that you’re not an expert when it comes to treating addiction. The best person to advise you is an expert.

Ideally, you should make the expert and the affected person get to know each other. But, that single act may put them off.

Addiction treatment experts know the best intervention strategies for functioning alcoholics. They understand how best you can approach the affected person without offending them.

Get Closer and Have Conversations

A functioning alcoholic wouldn’t listen to you about a change if you’re not close to them. Their lives are still normal, so it’s hard for them to see the bad habits.

You must build a relationship with the affected person until they’re comfortable. Don’t always force the conversation to be about alcohol. Let the person be very accessible to express themselves around you.

Note that getting close may tempt you to become a drinking buddy to the person. Remember that you’re trying to help a high-functioning alcoholic, not encourage them.

Explain the Risks and Consequences

Functioning alcoholics become vulnerable when they can trust you. Soon, you’ll have a conversation about alcohol and why they drink it.

Be attentive and listen to the alcoholic more before you can talk. So you’ll understand their pain point and make them feel accepted.

After listening, explain the risks and consequences involved in taking alcohol. Show them it’s already affecting their business and relationships, but they’re trying to manage it.

Form and Intervention Team

Forming a team is a dangerous intervention for functioning alcoholics. You may lose their trust because it seems like you reported them. So, ensure you make them aware before you do it.

The team you form should include the following;

  • Another loved one they love and trust.
  • A counsellor to help your conviction
  • An addiction treatment expert

Hire Experts for Treatment

After convincing your alcoholic to get treatment, ensure they get the best treatment option. There are two types of addiction treatment;

  • Inpatient: This category is in extreme cases of alcohol use disorder. Here, the person exhibits extreme withdrawal symptoms and needs to stay in the hospital.
  • Outpatient: This type is for less critical cases. The patient stays at home and visits the hospital on appointment. Medications like antabuse, acamprosate, and naltrexone will curb the withdrawal symptoms.

Related Article: Finding the Right Alcohol Addiction Rehab Center: Factors to Consider

hire experts for treatment

Convincing Alcoholics to Get Treatment: Lead with Love

Intervention strategies for functioning alcoholics will only work if you’re patient and doing it right. Never underestimate the need for expert advisory when you want to help a loved one.

Make them feel loved while trying to help them. The experts must also understand their addiction history before treatment starts.

If you have a loved one who’s a high-functioning alcoholic, you need the best team to assist you. At Addiction Rehab Toronto, we understand the complexities and coin custom strategies depending on the patient.

Book an appointment with us to discuss alcohol addiction intervention strategies for your loved one.

Leave a comment