“Why did I drink? What need was there for it? I was happy. Was it because I was TOO happy? I was strong. Was because I was TOO strong? Did I possess too much vitality? I don’t know why I drank.”
~ Jack London
There is no such thing as a “typical” alcoholic – they look just like everybody else. Even an individual who seems to be a success – a great job, a beautiful home, new cars, a loving family, an interesting social life –can struggle with alcohol abuse. Addiction does not respect boundaries of income, social class, or race.
Here is an inescapable fact – so-called “success” doesn’t matter to addiction. It is a cunning, baffling, and progressive illness that will only worsen over time if it is not arrested.
The High-Functioning Alcoholic Subtype
In 2007, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism– a division of the National Institutes of Health –discovered that there are five distinct subtypes of alcoholism.
The “functional” subtype accounts for roughly one out of every five alcoholics in America. Some of the findings include:
- The typical functional alcoholic is middle-aged, college-educated, professionally employed, and has a stable family situation.
- Approximately 33% of functional alcoholics come from a family where alcoholism is multi-generational.
- Around one out of every four functional alcoholics will experience a major depression at some point in their life.
High-Functioning Alcoholics Deny, Dismiss, and Deflect
One of the chief characteristics of addiction is a denial. Functional alcoholics point to their success and stability as “proof” that they don’t have a problem. In reality, they have become so adept at feeding their ongoing addiction in secret and then covering up any consequences that most people would think that everything is all right.
One of the functional alcoholic’s tools in trade is the ability to give perfectly reasonable – even plausible – excuses each time they have an incident because of alcohol. They learn how to minimize and deny every concern:
- “Me – a drunk? I make too much money.”
- “I ran off the road because I fell asleep.”
- “So I blew off some steam and had a few – no big deal!”
- “I can quit any time I want to.”
An addict – by definition – is unable to control their consumption. An alcoholic – even a “high-functioning” one –simply cannot drink with impunity. There is no such thing as “controlled” drinking for an alcoholic.
One thing is for certain – addiction always catches up with the addict. An individual can only drive drunk, miss work, forget about personal obligations, neglect their health, and tempt fate in all the ways that only alcoholics can just so many times before they implode.
So how can you help someone who is a high-functioning alcoholic?
Tip #1—Educate Yourself about the Disease of Addiction
The first and most important thing that you have to understand is that – like any addiction – alcoholism is a disease. If you going to help, there are some things that you need to know:
- Alcoholism is not a choice or weakness. The person cannot get better by willpower alone.
- Alcoholism is progressive. Unless the disease is arrested, it WILL get worse.
- Alcoholism is incurable. To manage the disease, the person needs to make fundamental lifestyle changes.
Tip #2 – Watch for the Tell-Tale Signs of a Problem with Alcohol
- “Needing” alcohol to function socially
- Drinking alone
- Drinking more than intended/Inability to stop drinking
- Drinking in secret
- Difficulty concentrating
- Covering up consequences
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Money problems
- Shakiness when alcohol is unavailable
- Family members and coworkers are concerned
Tip #3 – Don’t Become Codependent and Stop Enabling Their Behavior
Almost invariably, the people around alcoholics become codependent – they change their lives to fit around the alcoholic’s. They neglect their own responsibilities and well-being to take care of, cover for, and clean up after the alcoholic. In a way they become just as sick as the alcoholic.
This misguided support also allows the alcoholic’s disease to worsen. When an alcoholic has someone helping to protect them from the consequences of their actions, there is nothing to motivate them to seek help.
If this is you…STOP. You are doing both you and the other person a disservice.
Go to counseling if you need to. If your life has been negatively affected by alcohol, you could even get much-needed support from12-Step fellowship groups such as Al-Anon.
Tip #4—Early Intervention Helps
An intervention is when those closest to the alcoholic come together and have a pointed conversation – a caring confrontation – intended at compelling the alcoholic into seeking treatment.
Each person in attendance plainly states how the alcoholic’s drinking has negatively affected THEIR lives. Boundaries are established and the alcoholic is informed about what consequences will occur if they reject the offer of help.
Because of the emotions involved, it is best to have a professional interventionist directing the process. When conducted properly, interventions are extremely effective –an estimated 90% of confront substance abusers seek treatment.
Tip #5 – Respect Their Efforts at Sobriety
When a person is in successful recovery, they will make several lifestyle changes to support their sobriety. They will not be able to go to the same places or act in the same ways as they did before. You can help make the transition easier in numerous ways:
- Stand by them – Offer them your continued companionship and support.
- If you drink, refrain from doing so around them.
- Seek them out – Recovery can be lonely.
- Invite them out for sober activities – movies, dinner, coffee, etc.
- Go to 12-Step meetings with them.
- Be patient with them –They are learning a new way to live.
Recovering from any addiction is not easy, but with professional help and a strong personal support system, it is possible. If you know someone with a drinking problem, don’t delay. Intervene today so they can get the help they need.