To the outside world, your husband seems like a fun guy. He has a solid career, loves you and the kids and is the life of the party in social situations. But if people could see what he is like in the privacy of your home, they may form a different opinion. He comes home from work each night and gets a beer or a glass of whiskey before doing anything else. Every occasion, no matter how big or small, calls for alcohol. Even worse, when your husband isn’t drinking, your home life is filled with emotional unpredictability—you don’t know what moods he will be cycling through so you often feel on edge. If this sounds like the scenario in your marriage, you are probably living with a high-functioning alcoholic.
What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?
The National Institutes of Health has determined that a functioning alcoholic is a specific subtype of alcoholism. In fact, researchers from this division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculated that functioning alcoholics make up almost 20% of the alcoholic population.
The agency defines a functional alcoholic as “typically middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families. About one-third have a multigenerational family history of alcoholism, about one-quarter had major depressive illness sometime in their lives and nearly 50 percent were smokers.”
High-functioning alcoholism can carry an especially heavy burden because it is easy for someone with this type of alcohol use disorder to live in denial that there is a problem. After all, they think that they are still able to drink while handling their daily responsibilities. But they are not able to see the toll drinking is taking on their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, and continued alcohol abuse can’t go on forever without causing serious physical, emotional and mental damage. Unfortunately, because they don’t believe their drinking is an issue, high-functioning alcoholics may not seek out the help they need.
If you are wondering if your husband is a high-functioning alcoholic, there are certain warning signs to look for. These include using alcohol for stress relief or as a coping mechanism; hiding bottles of alcohol or lying to cover up how much they drink; the inability to stop with just one drink; cravings for alcohol; suffering from withdrawal when the drinking stops; and an increasing tolerance and dependence on alcohol.
High-Functioning Alcoholics & Relationships
Life as a high-functioning alcohol can be stressful, with the need to present a good facade to outsiders, the over-reliance on alcohol to self-medicate and bury the deep-seated issues that need to be worked on and the increasingly tiring toll it takes in every area of a person’s life. That stress, inevitably, bleeds into relationships, which can cause cracks and fissures that will rupture if not addressed in a healthy way. Fights over the alcohol abuse may ensue; if the alcoholic loses control when they are drunk, there is an increased risk of domestic violence.
Arguments and fighting aren’t the only issues at play when you are married to a high-functioning alcoholic. Some women may follow the lead of the alcoholic husband in denial, and also pretend that nothing is wrong. There may be the temptation to enable, which could mean buying liquor to keep in the house (and let the alcohol abuse continue) or drinking with the alcoholic spouse (to help normalize the behavior). While these things may be done to try and preserve the status quo, it can keep the high-functioning alcoholic trapped in destructive behaviors and unable to seek meaningful help for the issues that are at the root of the drinking problem.
As the spouse of a high-functioning alcoholic, life can be stressful for you, too. Emotionally, your household may tend to be in chaos most days. You may be dealing with your husband’s mood swings, or lies, or excuses—every day can be a series of ups and downs, and you never know what to expect. That means you are always on your guard, and that can be exhausting. You may also be spending a lot of energy covering for him; perhaps you need to take care of the household finances or make excuses if he has to miss family functions or other important events because of his drinking. If you have children, you may be worried about their welfare and safety if, say, your husband has been drinking before driving them to their soccer games. You may also fear that your children are at higher risk of alcoholism later in life if they are exposed to the example being set by the high-functioning alcoholic parent.
What can be even more excruciating is that a high-functioning alcoholic appears for all intents and purposes to be “normal.” Because of that, you may hesitate to reach out for help or talk about the problem, thinking perhaps people won’t believe you or it could cause even more problems in your marriage. You may begin to feel isolated and alone, and that can be detrimental to your overall health. That sense of loneliness can be compounded if your high-functioning alcoholic husband withdraws emotionally or is overbearing and controlling—unable to communicate with your partner, you may start to feel hopeless. That is a signal that you, and your husband, need the hope that alcohol rehabilitation treatment can bring.
How to Approach the High-Functioning Alcoholic in Your Life
If you see the warning signs of alcoholism, and if communication hasn’t broken down entirely, you may want to take an honest, compassionate and direct approach with your spouse. When he is sober, tell him that you are concerned about his drinking and the impact it is having on your family, and encourage him to seek treatment at a qualified rehab facility. It may be a source of enlightenment to him just how far-reaching his alcohol abuse has become. However, if your husband is in denial about the extent of his drinking, then he may not be ready or willing to consider seeking treatment.
If that is the case, you need to look at what you have control over—you cannot force your partner to go to rehab if he doesn’t want to, but you can look at your own behaviors and see how to make your home life sustainable, if possible.
If you are enabling the alcohol abuse, you need to stop taking those actions immediately. Do not bring alcohol into the house, do not encourage drinking as a way to relax or enjoy a social occasion and do not drink with your spouse.
You can also ask your husband to try and control his alcohol intake; if he can’t stay within his set limits, then that could illuminate for him just how much his alcohol use disorder has seeped into his everyday life. In the meantime, you may want to consider joining a support group for loved ones of alcoholics. There, you can get the outlet you need to talk about what is going on at home and make connections with people who have experiences similar to yours. It can be a haven of acceptance and understanding for you, and give you the encouragement you need to work through your marriage.
It is realistic, however, to realize you may reach a breaking point in your marriage to a high-functioning alcoholic. It will be up to you to set the boundaries of what you feel is acceptable behavior and what isn’t; to do this, it may be helpful to see a counselor or therapist who can guide you through the process and give you the tools to clearly communicate those limits to your spouse. You are not responsible for your partner’s drinking problem, but you are responsible for making sure your behavior isn’t contributing to it. And of course, if there is any violence or domestic abuse in the home, leave immediately and go to a shelter or other safe place.
If your husband does make the decision to pursue treatment for high-functioning alcoholism, it is an important step, but there is still hard work ahead for both of you. It’s important to understand what treatment will require of your partner; you may need to make financial arrangements if your husband needs inpatient detox and care, or call in family members to help with the kids while your spouse is at the recovery facility. You will also want to commit to family counseling and support groups, which can help rebuild any frayong bonds of trust between the two of you. When you are both committed to the work involved in recovery from alcoholism, it can be the beginning of a transformation in your lives, and in your marriage.
If you are looking for a treatment facility for your spouse, contact Casa Palmera today. Our compassionate and caring team of experienced professionals can answer any questions and walk with you and your partner on the road to alcohol addiction recovery. Our holistic treatment program offers the tools your husband needs to examine the issues behind his drinking and move forward in a more positive and healthy way, and we encourage family members to actively support these recovery efforts. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.