Physical Dependency On Alcohol

Physical dependency
Photo by SimonSkafar/

When people hear the words “junkie” or “alcoholic,” often the image that comes to mind is one of a dirty, downtrodden bum passed out on the street or a strung-out zombie stumbling in a haze while the rest of the world whizzes by. We envision filth, sickliness, and degradation as their attributes and write these “junkies” off as having nothing to contribute to society and no place in this world. While in some cases this sadly is the reality, many people deep in the throes of addiction and alcoholism hide in plain sight amongst the “productive” members of society, blasting those stereotypes right out of the water.

The businessman rushing off to a meeting in his Armani suit, the cashier who greets you with a smile at your local grocery, and even the teacher dolling out math homework to your child could be silently suffering in the perils of drug and alcohol addiction while society is none the wiser. The case of the “functional” addict or alcoholic is a prevalent and dismal one. For the people who live it, life can become a never-ending cycle of personal torment, a constant effort to survive under a secret cloak of shame and entrapment. In a world that expects you to “put your best face forward,” this charade cannot last long for the addict/alcoholic who is so consumed he can barely discern what side of his head his face is on.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identifies a subset of alcoholism known as the High Functioning Alcoholic (HFA), which constitutes approximately 32% of the alcoholic population. The defining characteristic of an HFA is they can function with apparent normalcy in society while intoxicated. They are often capable of upholding a career, family, and social life despite being under the influence, giving an outward appearance of stability. This allows the problem to go unnoticed by others as well as gives the alcoholic a basis to justify or downplay the severity of their problem. The stark reality is, despite the outward appearance, the person is failing in one or more of these areas and is forced to live in a constant battle against succumbing to the destruction drug and alcohol abuse inevitably bring.

Living as an HFA can be an absolute nightmare. As the level and frequency of alcohol consumption increases, so does the depth and severity of mental and physical dependence. The alcoholic must then handle and mask the burdening manifestations of dependence while also training themselves to function “normally” despite them.

The difficult manifestations of alcohol dependence and withdrawal include:

  • Shaking and tremors
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fogginess and hallucinations
  • Restlessness, anxiety and agitation
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Insomnia

Living with these symptoms adds increased stress and difficulty to even the most menial of everyday tasks. The undertone of daily life for an alcoholic consists of either drinking, being sick, or being hungover, so everything else encountered in life becomes viewed through one of those conditions. Long-term sustainability in this distressed state is highly unlikely. It may take years, but inevitably the untreated alcoholic will ultimately collapse beneath the weight of dependence as the ability to function becomes increasingly impaired.

In addition to the physical issues associated with alcohol abuse, the HFA has the added mental stress of concealment, justification, and minimization of the extent of their alcohol consumption. Planning one’s life and schedule around the consumption, procurement, secrecy, and ill-effects of alcohol can become a full-time job and one which becomes increasingly difficult with time. One of the main motivators is the HFA believes they cannot function without alcohol and that it enhances their ability to make it through daily life. Their entire focus of each day revolves around when, how, and how much they will be able to drink.

For example, the morning may start off with a long pour of the bottle, just enough to fight off the shakes, so they will be able to make it to work and function “normally.” All morning, the person will fantasize about going out for their lunch break where they can down a drink or pick up a bottle to hide in their desk to nurse throughout the day. Then they stress about whether there is enough booze at home to last through the night, will there be time to stop at the liquor store on the way home, and most importantly, how can they hide they have been drinking all day. The mind becomes completely consumed, and all other tasks and responsibilities become secondary.

Below are some other indicative behaviors associated with high-functioning alcoholism:

  • Requiring alcohol to relax or get relief from stress
  • Revolving planning and scheduling around alcohol
  • Needing to drink before work or other obligatory events
  • Periodic memory lapses or blackout events while drinking
  • Drinking while alone or in secret
  • Justifying drinking as a reward or rationalizing consumption
  • Periods of sobriety characterized by irritability, restlessness, agitation, and mood swings
  • Drinking and engaging in potentially hazardous behaviors such as driving or operating machinery while intoxicated
  • Setting drinking limits and never being able to stick to them

The ability to function and maintain oneself outwardly in society in no way minimizes the devastating effects of alcoholism. It merely makes them harder to detect. Regardless of the circumstances, one fact remains true... alcoholism is progressive and degenerative, and it is only a matter of time before the consequences become so consuming that functionality becomes impossible. Fortunately, for those afflicted, help is available, and there is hope for a life free of the chains of substance abuse.




Aaron has been writing drug education articles and documenting the success of the Narconon program for over two years.