Alcoholics Leading a Double Life – Not as Thrilling as a Spy Movie
Functional Alcoholics – Masters of Deception
High Functioning Alcoholics are masters of deception. Friends, co-workers and extended family may see ‘just an average person’. High functioning alcoholics live in denial and point to their career successes. But in private, the alcoholic behavior pattern is fully active.
By any definition – functional alcoholics are true alcoholics. It is true that high functioning alcoholics do not fit the popular stereotype of a ‘down and out drunk’. However the health effects of consuming large daily amounts of alcohol will catch up with the individual – sooner or later.
“Our findings with regard to alcoholic subtypes should help dispel the popular notion of the ‘typical alcoholic,’” notes author Howard B. Moss, M.D., NIAAA Associate Director for Clinical and Translational Research. “We find that young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in this country, and nearly 20 percent of alcoholics are high functioning and well-educated with good incomes.”
Family Members Experience Trauma
Families of functional alcoholics experience significant emotional trauma. It is very difficult living with an alcoholic; alcoholism affects the whole family.
But with 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 ‘typical 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.
Functional alcoholic subtype: 19.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics. Typically well-educated, with stable jobs and families. About one-third have a multi-generational family history of alcoholism, about one-quarter had major depressive illness sometime in their lives, and nearly 50 percent were smokers.
Common Traits and Behaviors of Functional Alcoholics
As masters of deception (self and others), functional alcoholics can be difficult to identify. Below, some markers to assist in spotting functional alcoholics.
• To the outside world, they appear to be managing life well.
• Does not fit the ‘down and out’ alcoholic stereotype.
• Have a well-paid job or profession; often well-respected by co-workers.
• Masters of deception; often manipulative and charmingly persuasive.
• 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 arrest; but if a first-time 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.
High Functioning Alcoholics and Common Stereotypes About Alcoholism
- 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; 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 blame their family and career for their drinking.
How to Spot a Functional Alcoholic – and Get Help
Functional alcoholics rarely seek help on their own.
They see no problems in their life – or with their relationships.
If you are in a relationship with a functional alcoholic – 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 parent may not physically neglect or abuse their child – but emotional neglect can occur and leave significant scars.
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.”
High Functioning Alcoholics – Where to Get Help
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