Functional Alcoholics Do Not Hit Rock Bottom
· High Functioning Alcoholics Rarely Seek Help on Their Own ·
In This Article:
“Alcohol Use Disorder” or AUD (also called alcoholism) is a chronic disease that affects the brain.
An estimated 16 million people in the U.S. have AUD.
What is a Functional Alcoholic?
High Functioning Alcoholics are masters of deception. Friends, co-workers and extended family may see ‘just an average person’.
Living in denial of their alcohol abuse and pointing to their career successes – high functioning alcoholics usually perform very well at work. But in private, alcoholic behaviors are fully active.
By any definition – functional alcoholics are true alcoholics. However, functional alcoholics do not fit the popular stereotype of a ‘down and out drunk’.
The health effects of consuming large daily amounts of alcohol are extremely damaging – even when the effects are not immediately obvious. And eventually, health and work performance will decline.
∙ Functional alcoholics excel in their work life and are usually well-respected by peers.
∙ Functional alcoholics go to work every day.
∙ Alcohol consumption is an accepted ‘stress relief’ activity in most workplaces.
∙ Functional alcoholics often feel ‘entitled’ to drink heavily due to career stress; and career success.
∙ High Functioning Alcoholics rarely seek help or rehab treatment on their own. They see no problems in their life or with their relationships.
Alcoholism is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake – and a negative emotional state when not using.
Alcohol use disorder often causes other problems that are avoided by drinking; creating an ongoing negative cycle.
Alcoholism affects everyone involved with the alcoholic – including the family.
Alcoholic Functional Subtype: 19.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics; high functioning. Typically middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families. About one-third have a multigenerational family history of alcoholism, about one-quarter had major depressive illness sometime in their lives, and nearly 50 percent were smokers.NIH Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes
Recognizing Functional Alcoholics
As masters of deception (self and others), functional alcoholics can be difficult to identify.
Below, some common elements to assist in recognizing functional alcoholics and behaviors.
• To the outside world, they appear to be managing life well.
• Masters of Deception; often manipulative and charmingly persuasive.
• Do not fit the ‘down and out’ alcoholic stereotype.
• Has a well-paid job or profession.
• Often well-respected by co-workers.
• Skilled at living a compartmentalized ‘double’ life (separating professional and drinking lives).
• Are usually in a relationship and often have children.
• At home, will isolate and drink; blaming the family for their drinking.
• Deny their drinking and/or get angry when asked about it.
• DUI arrests
• If a first-time DUI offense, will explain away their responsibility.
• Unlikely to seek help for alcoholism – they are not ‘alcoholics’.
• Feel entitled to drink because of their career success.
Impaired Professionals Evaluation and Treatment
Functional alcoholics working in a professional capacity are called impaired professionals. Professional impairment occurs when something in the professional’s life interferes with their ability to perform their job to the best of their ability. This includes self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, addictions of any kind, maladaptive coping skills, trauma and more.
Impaired professionals are often found in high stress professions. Due to the large amount of work stress – high functioning alcoholics begin to feel ‘entitled’ to drink heavily. Or job stress may be so overwhelming to the individual that alcohol is used as a crutch. However, the health effects of consuming large daily amounts of alcohol will catch up with the individual – sooner or later.
Any intense work environment with high stress and pressure to perform is at risk for development of alcohol use disorder.
Family, Friends, and Co-workers as Enablers
Friends, co-workers and extended family members may make excuses for the behavior they observe and spin it so that it sounds reasonable.
• “He still drinks like he did in college, but he goes to work every day.”
• “She can drink more than anyone I know, but she never seems drunk.”
• “He’s a happy drunk.”
• “She doesn’t drink at work, and it’s not my business what she does on her own time.”
Functional Alcoholic Myths
- Alcoholics have poor attendance at work.
Functional alcoholics go to work every day, with few exceptions.
- Alcoholics drink every day.
Functional alcoholics can stop drinking. But they do not enjoy sobriety and will start again asap.
- Alcoholics are mostly old men.
Functional alcoholics can be any age and gender.
- Alcoholics are unable to do well in their careers.
Functional alcoholics excel in their work life and are usually well-respected by peers.
High Functioning Alcoholics can often be found working as licensed professionals; including medicine, law, CPA’s, pilots and others.
- Alcoholics are usually homeless.
Functional alcoholics are usually well-paid and have very nice homes and cars.
- Alcoholics are single.
Functional alcoholics are usually married or in a long term relationship; often have children.
- Alcoholics always drink in the morning.
Functional alcoholics can easily go an entire day without drinking – until the evening hours.
- Alcoholics are either happy or belligerent and like to drink with friends.
Functional alcoholics are absent from family life. At home, they isolate and drink.
- Alcoholics drink because they are depressed and sad.
Functional alcoholics feel ‘entitled’ to drink due to career stress and success.
- Alcoholics blame the world for their drinking.
Functional alcoholics often blame their family and career for their drinking.
Bay Area High Functioning Alcoholic Rehab
High Functioning Alcoholics rarely seek help on their own. They see no problems in their career, life or with their relationships.
Interventions may be the only possibility to reach a functional addict or alcoholic – and get them into treatment.
If you are in a relationship with a functional alcoholic or functional addict – you need to take steps to protect yourself. Family recovery programs are essential to ongoing well-being for the family of alcoholics. If there are children involved, they must be protected.
A functional alcoholic or functional addict parent may not physically neglect or abuse their child. However, emotional neglect will occur and leave significant scars. See The Hidden Trauma of Having a ‘Functional’ Alcoholic Parent
Family Members Experience Trauma
Families of functional alcoholics experience significant emotional trauma. It is difficult living with an alcoholic.
But with a functional alcoholic, family members must also deal with significant cognitive dissonance.
The Cognitive Dissonance of Interacting with High Functioning Alcoholics
Family members – who have usually bought into the common ‘alcoholic stereotype’ – question the evidence of their own eyes and experience.
Eventually, some family members living with a functional alcoholic may question their own sanity.
No explanation seems to ‘fit’ what is happening. Friends and extended family do not experience the same person as family members see at home.
And the alcoholic always has a ready and very persuasive explanation for their drinking.
Need Help with Alcohol or Substance Abuse?
If you or your family are experiencing the effects of addiction – it is time to take the necessary steps to get help.
Dual Diagnosis is also known as ‘co-occurring disorders’ in substance use disorders (SUD) treatment.
If PTSD or any form of mental illness is also involved (depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and more) – it is critical to make certain the recovery center you choose has Dual Diagnosis treatment.
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