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.