The 4 Stages of Alcoholism for the Functioning Alcoholic

A person who is termed a “functioning alcoholic” doesn’t fit the perceived stereotype. They often hold positions of power or responsibility, do well in business or are high achievers in their chosen field.

Most likely due to the media representation of alcoholism, people tend to think of a person who is down-and-out or clearly showing signs of intoxication on a regular basis. However, a functioning alcoholic is in just as much need of outpatient alcohol treatment in a residential treatment center as any other person with substance use disorder.

Some people feel that if an individual is able to hold down a successful job although they enjoy a drink that they don’t have a problem with alcohol. The people who refer to themselves as functioning alcoholics are very likely to have bought into this idea and are in denial about the extent of their problem.

Ultimately alcohol use disorder is an illness that doesn’t discriminate which means people from all backgrounds can develop its symptoms, even those who are seemingly in control of their lives. The fact is that a person with alcohol use disorder has lost control of their ability to resist cravings no matter what appearances suggest.

Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

There are a few signs that indicate that an individual may have a problem with alcohol including:

  • Increasingly opting for a “liquid lunch” over food
  • Responding defensively or angrily when their drinking is mentioned
  • They are unable to recall what happened while intoxicated
  • Setting drinking limits but never sticking to them
  • Participating in pre-drinks before evenings out and social events
  • Joking about being an alcoholic
  • Attempting to conceal their drinking from others
  • Hiding bottles of alcohol in strange places at home and work
  • Drinking in the mornings, through the day and often alone

Alcoholism is a progressive illness that develops over time. For this reason, it takes time for it to be treated effectively. That said, the chances of living a full and sober life in recovery are significantly improved if a person attends outpatient alcohol treatment.

Elevate residential treatment centers use holistic and evidence-based therapies to identify the root causes of alcohol abuse. We believe that simply treating the symptoms of alcohol use disorder in the way conventional residential treatment centers do, fails to address the issues causing the illness to develop in the first place.

There are four common stages individuals go through when they are developing alcohol use disorder or becoming a functioning alcoholic:

Stage 1: Occasional Alcohol Abuse and Binge Drinking

Individuals initially may be experimenting with alcohol and familiarizing themselves with different drinks. This often leads to binge drinking behavior because people are more likely to test their limits with an unknown substance than one they have used before.

This stage is characterized by an individual’s motivation to drink purely to get drunk. This can often accompany a period of stress, grief, depression or a co-existing mental health disorder that leads to the person self-medicating with alcohol to escape negative thoughts and feelings.

People are not usually drinking every day when in this stage of alcoholism and are able to complete daily duties and responsibilities without their developing problem being detected.

Attending an alcohol recovery program at this early stage of developing the illness is highly likely to yield long-term results.

Stage 2: Increased Drinking As a Coping Mechanism

As alcoholism develops, a person becomes progressively more preoccupied with the next drink. If an individual has started using alcohol as a way of decompressing after work, they may soon find themselves becoming reliant on it to relax or even get a decent night’s sleep.

People using alcohol to self-medicate depression or anxiety are likely to exacerbate their symptoms further as a consequence. This is because they will use alcohol as a way of stopping negative thoughts and feelings but when they become sober; they come flooding back in a more dramatic way.

Stage 3: The Consequences of Problem Drinking Start to Show

If an individual continues to abuse alcohol, others will eventually be able to identify they have a problem. By the time a person reaches stage three, they are very likely to be aware of their problems and may even be thinking of ways of cutting down or quitting drinking altogether. However, despite thinking along these lines, it is highly unlikely that attending an alcohol recovery program will be a consideration.

When a person is setting boundaries for themselves, although they may have recognized the problem, they will be unlikely to be able to get better without specialist help. The signs of people in this stage are that they tell others they will only drink a certain amount and then stop or they will stick to one type of drink rather than mixing them. Being vocal about these boundaries shows that problems with alcohol are playing on the person’s mind.

Stage 4: Noticeable Physical and Psychological Changes

A person in stage four of developing alcoholism will show noticeable changes in their physical appearance. Looking at themselves in the mirror, they may not even be able to recognize the person before them. Some of the more common changes include a flushed complexion and a distended stomach often referred to as a “beer belly”.

Although they may not already be aware, alcohol is starting to affect their bodies internally also. The physical side effects of alcoholism include heightened blood pressure and liver damage. In the morning following a night of drinking, they are likely to wake with shaking hands, heartburn and nausea. These symptoms get progressively worse unless the individual seeks specialist attention in an Elevate residential treatment center.

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