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I had a big problem with alcohol. Once referred to as alcoholism, the term is no longer widely used and is now referred to as alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse. Any word that describes an unhealthy relationship with alcohol described MY relationship with alcohol. But how did I know I was a high functioning alcoholic? What even, is a high functioning alcoholic?
A high functioning alcoholic is a person who appears to be fine from the outside, successful at what they do, seems capable of maintaining social and family bonds and appears to function normally, despite his or her abuse of alcohol.
One major sign that I was a high functioning alcoholic was that I was able to still work and take care of my children and family duties…. I still exercised regularly, I woke up (very hungover) early to begin the day with my young children as they are early risers, and I still was able to keep up with teaching my Pilates classes in the evenings…BUT I still had a severe problem with my alcohol consumption. I found ways every single night to get sloppy, scary drunk. I found ways to sneak shots of alcohol during fun day trips with my family so that I could relax and enjoy myself. Many mornings I would promise myself that I would never get that drunk again, only to hit the bottle even harder that same evening.
Here are the signs of a high functioning alcoholism that I identified with:
1. I Joked About How Much I Drank or Needed to Drink
2. I Drank Heavily Every Single Night
3. I Got Black Out Drunk (On Several Occasions)
4. Drinking More Than I Intended To
5. Using Alcohol to Relax or Feel Confident
6. DUI or Other Legal Problems
Let’s dive in a bit more into how each of these signs confirmed for me that I was indeed a high functioning alcoholic:
I Joked About How Much I Drank or Needed to Drink
I joked around A LOT about needing alcohol to deal with raising my 4 little ones. Being a mom is hard work and it seemed socially acceptable to joke around about needing some mommy juice to relax after a hard day of constant diaper changes and neverending temper tantrums…but this only helped to mask my alcohol abuse. Someone might joke around about needing a drink after a particularly tough day, whereas I actually meant it, every single time. With 4 kids all 4 and under by the time my youngest was born, I felt like I earned that alcohol every single day. Making jokes about needing heavy alcohol sedation was my actual truth.
I Drank Heavily Every Single Night
The aforementioned jokes about needing alcohol to survive my days turned into action every single night. I got sloppy drunk, usually consuming 8 or more drinks each evening. It was nothing to me to down multiple double shots, many times throughout the evening, and then chase those shots with a double rum and coke. I drank heavily and chalked it up to having a high tolerance to alcohol, which meant I needed to drink heavily to feel the effects of it.
I Got Black Out Drunk (On Several Occasions)
I can think of several times where I would randomly wake up (in my house, thankfully) after blacking out…in the dogs’ bed, on the living room floor, in the bathroom, sometimes I would also randomly wake up in my bed but unsure of how I got there or what transpired the fews hours before.
And then, my anxiety would kick in…
What time is it? How long have I been asleep here? Are the kids okay?
Then, the shame would show up….How did I drink this much (again!!) that I blacked out? Why do I keep doing this to myself and to my family?
Drinking More Than I Intended To
As I talk about in this post here, my many attempts at moderating my drinking were total failures and I always ended up drinking way more than I planned to. Once I started drinking, I found it impossible to stop, and this cycle repeated itself every single day. Each day I would attempt to set a limit for what or how much I was going to drink that evening, and each night I blow through those limits. Moderation never, ever worked for me.
Using Alcohol to Relax or Feel Confident
I am a shy, Type A introvert and alcohol was a way to relax and feel confident, especially in social situations. I used alcohol as a crutch to make small talk easier or to at least feel like a normal person and less quirky. Drinking alcohol helped me feel like I could mask my social awkwardness and appear more cool and confident. It got to a point where as long as I was able to have a drink, I was okay with whatever social situation I needed to endure. Once we had kids, drinking nightly at home was my way to relax after a long day of adulting and momming.
DUI or Other Legal Problems
Thankfully, I’ve never gotten a DUI…however I came pretty close two separate times during college. After a night of drinking, I was pulled over two separate evenings, both by state troopers (YIKES) and narrowly avoided getting charged with a DUI. You would think I would have learned my lesson the first time, but nope…I was definitely lucky. I think because I was a high functioning alcoholic with a huge tolerance that I was able to speak clearly and coherently with both officers and perform the alcohol sobriety tests, but I knew how much I had to drink. Way too much to be behind the wheel. Period. I am grateful that I never hurt anyone physically with my terrible decisions to drink and drive.
Another college incident that revolved around day drinking and a lost bet DID, however send me to the drunk tank for the evening. While the surrounding story was funny at the time, and did not involve driving, I DO NOT recommend going to jail! It cost me a fine and I also was penalized one strike from my university, which had a Three Strikes Policy. Strikes were given to any student who ran into trouble with the law, no matter how minor. After three strikes, the school had the right to expel you. This terrified me, since I had earned my first strike in the spring of Junior year and still had Senior year to complete. I thought to myself, what other foolishness could possibly happen between that incident and graduation that would cause me to get kicked out of school? I was scared of the possibilities, but did I ever slow down on my drinking then? Nope!
There were several more signs of a high functioning alcoholic, but these were the overwhelming ones that really caused me to realize I did indeed identify as one. Did any of these signs resonate with you?
P.S. If you are curious about getting sober, or just want some direction on where to begin your sobriety journey, I highly recommend reading This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. This book was key in helping me get and stay sober!