Before I became sober, I knew I had a problem but did my best to avoid confronting it. I knew my entire world would change and for years the thought of the upheaval was more frightening than the unhealthy behaviours I had. These days as I walk the streets I know that high functioning alcoholics are all around me; they’re walking past me on the sidewalk, working at their jobs, taking their kids to school and doing their best to hide the signs of their alcoholism from others and themselves.
A high functioning alcoholic doesn’t fit within the stereotype of a “Drunk” on a day to day basis. They go to work or school, interact with their family and friends, manage a household and usually fulfill their responsibilities so how could they be an alcoholic? Often, the families of the high functioning alcoholic are in denial right along with the person, in fact I still have friends who openly tell me they don’t think I am an alcoholic because I was successful in life from their perspective.
Alcoholism is defined by many parameters depending on whom you ask. The short of it is alcoholism is when a person has an unhealthy dependance on alcohol (physically or psychologically) and it’s affecting their lives in a negative manner. I’ve written about my experience with my article What’s An Alcoholic, please know this is only my own perspective but it lends to the conversation.
Symptoms of a High Functioning Alcoholic
High functioning alcoholics are adept at ignoring the signs that they have a problem, they’ve probably been leading double lives in order to keep the waters calm. These are some signs that you might want to consider if you think you may have a problem or someone in your life does.
- Peers become others who enjoy alcohol. Often the high functioning alcoholic’s group of friends will change, they choose to surround themselves with people who drink alcohol on a regular basis and alcohol is always a factor of the events. Back in my drinking days, I prided myself of the fact that I didn’t drink during the day but if one paid attention, it was quickly clear that any social event I attended had alcohol right in the centre of it.
- Alcohol on the mind. Some high functioning alcoholics will obsess over the next drink, counting the hours, worrying if they have enough to last the night and doing the math on how much they can drink before appearing drunk.
- One is never enough. This person has an inability to drink a single alcoholic beverage, you’ll often see them refuse entirely but if you pay attention you’ll see that they are just waiting until they can get home and finish a bottle. If they do have a drink, chances are they won’t stop until the night is done. This person is the master of hiding their problem, you may not see obvious signs of drunkenness as he/she is masking the signs but each drink will simply make them want more.
- Alcohol is a constant. For these people alcohol is a main feature in their lives. For them, it is impossible to imagine a life without it and if you’re a friend, you’ll notice they always have it around.
- Shame after drunk. Because they work so hard at crafting the image of capability and hiding their dependance on alcohol, when they have drunken behaviours the HFA will be overwhelmed by shame. They will not stop drinking, chances are they will work harder at controlling the behaviour.
- Compartmentalizing Life. As the master of hiding things, the HFA separates their drinking life from their work, family and other lives in order to feel better about themselves.
- Tried to quit. At some point most HFA have tried to put down the bottle, only to find they return to it with gusto.
- Blackouts and memory loss. As the HFA progresses, he/she may find the instances of blackouts and memory loss increase. This is a sign of the progression of the disease.
Getting Treatment for a High Functioning Alcoholic
If you are someone who is reading this for yourself, I know that you’ve been hiding from yourself for a long time and it would be so much easier to close this and move on in your pattern as it is. Please don’t! Please just for a moment get honest with yourself, ask yourself if this pattern is truly what you want in life.
There is NO shame in changing your life for the positive, that perceived shame stopped me from getting sober for a long time and I wish I’d bit the bullet and began much earlier. Reach out and find a treatment centre, physician or a 12 Step program in your area…honestly just take that first step and trust that things will improve.
Thank you so much to Inspire Malibu for asking me to write this article for my readers. Inspire Malibu is a treatment centre which uses state-of-the-art treatment program combines the latest scientific research with proven, evidence-based therapies to address both alcohol and substance abuse successfully.
Kelly young says
Thank you so much reading your experiences has helped me more the. You know
I have an aunt that was hooked on pretty much everything. She is Sober now but she is a dry drunk. Very hateful angry all the time and she is hard to be around.
I always thought that I wasn’t an alcoholic because I didn’t drink every day. My true turning point before getting sober was realizing that even though I wasn’t drinking every day, I was thinking about it 24/7. Should I drink tonight? Should I have drank last weekend? Should I order another drink? Should I have ordered the drink I’m drinking now? Should I cut my drinking down? Should I stop drinking? Do I have a drinking problem?
I was OBSESSED with alcohol, just like you say in this post. So even though I wasn’t physically drunk all the time like I thought an alcoholic had to be, I was mentally obsessed with drinking, and for that reason (and many others) I am an alcoholic.
Thank you so much for this post.
Enjoyed this post/outiline of the HFA. I still seek out sobriety. I know I was/very high functioning. I could go weeks/months, but without thinking about it. The only point I didnt relate to. But stopping at one was always very difficult.p, and “needing” it at every social dinner I had or went to!
Thanks so much for sharing Julie! Great post.
Thank you so much for this. Possibly the most common sign I see personally is people for whom alcohol has become a “way of life”. It’s the first thing they do when they get home from work and the last thing they do before bed. There are people I know who I honestly can’t remember seeing in the evenings or weekends without a bottle of a beer or a glass of wine in their hands. And you’re right – these people often “flock together” – avoiding alcohol myself in such situations can be a major operation!
Bryan Ellis says
This article is awesome. Very well explained. This help me identify the difference between regular alcoholics from high functioning alcoholics. It doesn’t show physically but in emotional aspect. There is a battle inside them that no one can notice. In the end, No one can help them to overcome this except themselves and accept that they need addiction treatment. I also realized that not all people who you think are okay were actually okay but sometimes they are just hiding things from others to be able to show that they don’t have problems. My message to those individuals who are struggling alone, stop hiding from yourself and be brave enough to seek help in order to have a happier life. No one wants live a life having dependency to alcohol.
Preston Smith says
Absolutely loved reading this. It has everything I was looking forward to and this is nothing better than being sober. I have an uncle for whom alcohol has become a way of life and he finds it extremely difficult to avoid it. I think this is the ideal piece of advice he is looking for and hopefully he will agree to rehab in the coming days before he over complicates things. Thanks again for inspiring people and keep up the good work.
jamie hall says
thank you for this article this has been my mom in the past with both alcohol and drug use, though as of late she seems to slip up more and more not sure how others outside the family perceive her but within the family its obvious
Shelley N says
Great article. very well done. We had a fellow at work who was a high functioning alcoholic until it finally started to impact his work life (went down to the city that held our company’s head office for a meeting and I guess got loaded the night before and never showed up for the meeting). Suddenly people from our head office are calling wondering if he made his flight the day before etc since he was a no show. It certainly brought it front and centre. Most people were shocked that he was an alcoholic. sadly never kicked it.
I was married to a high functioning alcoholic for 20 years. No one knew. I didn’t know. That’s how well he hid it. I knew he drank and got drunk sometimes on the weekends, but I had no idea he was pouring vodka into his morning OJ. Once our marriage fell apart he got sober hoping to heal all the damage. I was to angry at the time for years of deception and lies. He had basically drunk and spent our lives into oblivion and bankruptcy. By the time I was ready to heal our marriage he already was set to start a new life with a Russian mail-order-bride. That showed me there was no happily ever after down that path as his choices were inauthentic. It turns out he also stopped going to AA after a year. I don’t think he passed Step Three as he has never approached me as recommended in Step Nine. Instead he was a sober alcoholic. The drinking stopped, but the behavior slowly returned. Now my concern is my daughter. We have talked about his past and how she needs to be vigilant about ensuring he doesn’t drink again, (If he does I will seek full custody.) and how it could affect her choices as she grows up. (He started drinking at 15 and she is 14.) I pray for her sake he stays sober, but I fear things may blow up in his home once his bride has her anchor baby.