What comes to mind when you hear the world ‘alcohol’? More likely than not, a specific stereotype enters your mind’s eye: an office worker who adds whiskey to their coffee in the morning, a parent who drinks a twelve pack of beer every night, a college student who comes to class drunk at least a couple times each week. But what about a successful media executive and devoted mother?
This is how Diane Schuler’s life and death shows that functional addiction can quickly turn into a tragedy.
Alcoholism Does Not Always Look the Same
This last description depicts Diane Schuler, a functional alcoholic who killed eight people almost a decade ago. While the tragedy occurred several years ago, the hard-hitting truth of the situation remains relevant to this day.
The truth is, it is not always easy to pick out alcoholism when it is present. While some of these stereotypes may hold true in some situations, it is dangerous to assume that alcoholism is always obvious and always has the same warning signs.
One-third of alcoholics are women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Functional alcoholism (and high-functioning addiction of any kind) is a particularly dangerous subset of a substance use disorder. The danger is even found in the name: even if those struggling with alcoholism or addiction appear functional to those around them, they are far from it. The effects of alcohol abuse remain the same, no matter how good someone is at hiding them.
What is Functional Alcoholism?
As the name implies, functional alcoholism (otherwise called high-functioning alcoholism) is when someone is struggling with alcohol dependence without showing outside signs of addiction.
Many people who struggle with substance use disorders show it in relatively obvious ways. They may change their social behaviors, drink heavily at social gatherings, make riskier decisions, or become withdrawn. But this is not always the case.
In some cases, people struggling with alcoholism are particularly good at hiding the symptoms of addiction. This is where functional addiction begins to form. In terms of psychological or physical impact, there is no difference between alcoholism and functional alcoholism. The difference is in how someone behaves while they struggle with alcoholism.
A functional alcoholic will seem to have his life together, even as addiction begins to take a toll.
In addition to causing personal mental and physical health issues, functional addiction is also where a hidden life can give way to tragedy, as in the case of Diane Schuler.
What Happened With Diane Schuler?
In 2009, Diane Schuler caused an accident on the Taconic State Parkway in New York, killing eight people. Schuler had entered the highway on an exit rampway and drove two miles in the wrong lane. Eventually, she collided with an SUV, killing the four children she had in the car with her, the three adults in the other car, and herself.
The story of Diane Schuler is a sobering account of how dangerous the hidden life of functional addiction can be. When toxicology reports were released, it was found that Schuler had a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 percent – more than twice the legal limit for a DUI. It was also clear that the driver and mom had used marijuana at least an hour before her death.
Diane Schuler’s Secret Life of Addiction
Despite these high levels, nobody knew that Schuler was an alcoholic before her death in this tragic accident. By all accounts, she was a good employee, a loving mother, and a happy member of the family.
But the tragedy changed that perception. Some aspects of Diane Schuler’s story may remain a mystery – including how she was able to ingest so much alcohol in such a short period of time. Out of everything, the part of the story that remains most clear is how good people can be at hiding addiction – and just how dangerous that can be.
Warning Signs for Functional Addiction
Alcoholism is usually associated with a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. The tricky part with functional addiction, though, is that these symptoms are rarely present.
Sometimes, the only way to tell if high-functioning alcoholism is an issue is to look at the level of alcohol consumption.
Moderate alcohol consumption for women is considered 1 drink per day.
Moderate alcohol consumption for men is considered 2 drinks per day.
Denial is one of the most common responses to alcoholism, so it can be difficult to tell if a substance use disorder is present. Using this level of drinking as a hard and fast rule is one of the best ways to avoid alcohol abuse.
Avoiding the Tragedy of Functional Addiction
The key to avoiding a tragedy like the story of Diane Schuler is to lift the stigma of addiction and alcoholism.
“We have a double standard for women. In some areas behavior that is permissible for men is absolutely unacceptable for women. This means that when a woman feels uncertain about her drinking, she goes underground.”
~ Marty Mann, the first woman to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous
Instead of a double standard, we should focus on getting help to anyone and everyone who struggles with alcohol dependence. If you have any questions about the help that is available to you, feel free to contact us today.