How to Stage an Intervention for a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Friday, January 15, 2021
stage an intervention for a high-functioning alcoholic

In America, our society has created many stereotypes about alcoholism. Movies, TV shows, and even cartoons depict people with this substance use disorder as chaotic, struggling, and stumbling. In reality, an alcoholic may look very different.

Most people who struggle to control their drinking seem entirely normal. To confirm this, we need look no further than the current statistics: today, thirty percent of U.S. adults are estimated to have a problem with alcohol. These individuals are going to work, raising families, and navigating relationships just like the rest of us – however, they still need help. Today, we’ll guide you through the process of staging an intervention for a high-functioning alcoholic. 

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Alcohol is the most widely used (and abused) mind-altering substance around the world. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (also called the NIAAA), in a given year, over 26% of U.S. adults reported binge drinking at least once per month. Binge drinking is just one subtype of problem drinking: a pattern of addictive behavior that can lead to a substance use disorder. The more a person binge drinks or drinks heavily, the more likely they are to develop a problem – even if they seem completely fine on the surface.

Like all disorders, addiction exists on a spectrum. This chronic, progressive disease tends to get worse over time. When a person has developed a dependence on alcohol but is still able to function in daily life, he is considered a high-functioning alcoholic.

Functioning alcoholics battle constant cravings, problem drinking, or heavy drinking, but still manage to get through their day-to-day tasks. They maintain employment, complete school, and have fulfilling relationships. However, despite their outward appearance, they do not “have it all together.” Someone in this situation is often entrenched in deep denial about their problem. Until they experience some sort of breaking point – a DUI, health issue, or job loss – they are unlikely to seek help on their own.

Look for the Signs

Before you decide to stage an intervention, we encourage you to evaluate your loved one for the telltale signs of high-functioning alcoholism. While they may not display all the clinical criteria for a substance use disorder, many early symptoms may still be present. If any of these bulleted items remind you of your friend or family member, it’s time to take the next step.

Early signs of alcoholism include…

  • Difficulty controlling their drinking
  • High tolerance for alcohol (being able to drink a lot at one time)
  • Saying they will stop drinking (and being unable to do so)
  • Always wanting to go out or drink while staying in
  • Behaving very differently while intoxicated
  • Drinking at inappropriate times
  • Changes to mood, attitude, or speech
  • Regularly blacking out
  • Changes to eating or sleeping patterns
  • Using alcohol to unwind or reward themselves
  • Calling in sick or skipping social events
  • Drinking to build confidence in social settings
  • Joking about a potential drinking problem
  • Hiding alcohol or otherwise concealing how much they drink

Don’t Wait for Rock Bottom

You may be familiar with the old adage that you should let an alcoholic “hit rock bottom” before seeking help. In reality, we are called to help people well before this point. If you see someone beginning to struggle, do not wait until things get worse. Treatment is often most effective when obtained early in the cycle of addiction.

Staging an Intervention

Because a person in the early stages of alcoholism tends to hide their problem (and exist in a state of denial), it is important for loved ones to intervene. This process can be uncomfortable, but it is incredibly valuable and can even save a life.

First, speak with the rest of the family and decide who you would like to be a part of the intervention. While some people may be close to your loved one, those who will cast blame or react dramatically should be excluded from this occasion. Ensure that everyone involved knows that the tone of the conversation should be concerned and not explosive.

Next, plan what you will say and how it will be said. Each person should get a turn to speak, but try to keep everyone’s contributions relatively short. Interventions should not drag on for hours; the goal is to inspire your loved one to address their problem immediately.

After you have practiced, choose a time and date to stage the intervention. Be sure to pick a time when your loved one is sober; early morning is usually best. In the time before the conversation takes place, research treatment centers, iron out your financial options, and speak with admissions professionals from each facility. This will ensure that you have a plan for what your family member will do afterwards.

Finally, it’s time to intervene. As we’ve stated, a high-functioning alcoholic may be in deep denial about their problem. Don’t be upset if you have to repeat your concerns, or if things don’t go exactly according to the schedule you made. Instead, stay flexible and help everyone to list their grievances and provide the ultimatum. You can then help them to get to treatment.

While many interventions are successful, other people require multiple conversations before they finally agree to get help. Regardless of the outcome, set boundaries and support your loved one. Your continued involvement in their lives can guide them to treatment at another point in the future.

Christian Addiction Treatment for Alcoholism

At Celebrate Hope, our team of addiction specialists is prepared to help your family to walk with Christ and find recovery along the way. Through a combination of cutting-edge treatments and Biblically rooted counseling, we have helped hundreds of people to break the cycle of addiction. Please contact us today for more information about our faith-based treatment programs for alcoholism

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