High Functioning Alcoholics – How to Help an HFA

HFAs. Only Lucky for so Long

High Functioning Alcoholics are successful  in daily life and manage to find a way of covering up their substance dependency. These people are described as ‘high functioning’ because they are able to carry out their commitments, social roles, and routines while also fighting a dependence on alcohol. These folks can uphold ordinary relationships with their family, colleagues and co-workers without allowing their alcohol addiction to become too obvious.

Side note on Alcoholics:

In 2007 the NIAAA funded a study that on 9% of alcoholics lose their jobs and families and generally live like hobos. Considering that about 1 in 13 people in America are alcoholic and that only 9 percent of them completely fall apart like our old, misleading stereotype suggests. Very few people are utterly destroyed by alcohol but almost all alcoholics are eventually very damaged by it.

Ernest Hemingway - High Functioning Alcoholic
http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway Ernest Hemingway – war hero, adventurer, Nobel Prize Winner

Frequently, high-functioning alcoholics are successful and have a variety of achievements to their credit, whether it is in education and learning, their job or with their friends and family. They don’t fit into the general perception of a drug addict because their lives are fairly traditional.

Due to their more comfortable salary, community connections, position of power and incredible good fortune, several high-functioning substance abusers/addicts have avoided the outcomes which befall other drug addicts. These people are not out of work or being threatened with divorce proceedings. These individuals keep their professional lives separate from their drinking lives.






Functional Alcoholic Excuses:

“If I can maintain my career and also family, I do not have an issue.”

Because of their outward successes and absence of tangible losses, functional addicts may really feel they do not necessarily have a drug or alcohol issue. Nevertheless, in their most thoughtful moments, these people may be concerned about their inability to control their drug abuse, they may obsess with regard to their next drink and/or high, and also endure blackouts, hangovers or other health complications due to their alcohol or drug problem.

“Other people around me abuse drugs and alcohol just as much, if not more, than me.”

It is commonplace for functional alcoholics to surround themselves with people who ingest and/or imbibe substances heavily. Associating with similarly situated drug users enables them to truly feel ‘normal’ and remain in denial. For some professionals, in particular lawyers, reporters and also businessmen, a workplace atmosphere which makes excuses for overindulgence allows them to rationalize their alcohol consumption or, alternatively, substance abuse as simply being ‘part of the job.’

“I do not drink/use enough to become a drug addict.”

Numerous functioning alcoholics will not drink or use drugs on a daily basis. Rather, these people might engage in binges or alternatively drink heavily only at night and on weekends. Since these individuals wield some degree of restraint, these individuals preserve the delusion that they are in command.

Sadly, alcohol addiction is not based on the number of alcoholic beverages or the volume of drugs used, or maybe how frequently the drug use occurs. It really is what occurs while drunk or high. Highly functional alcoholics may exceed their limits, ingest to the level of blacking out, or obsessively think about their upcoming chance to get intoxicated. These are all signs of alcohol dependence or addiction.

“I work my butt off, I deserve to have some enjoyment.”

“Work hard, play hard”

are both well-known mantras among high functioning alcoholics and drug addicts. As other people honor their achievements by enjoying a exceptional dinner or possibly a shopping spree, HFA’s use alcohol and other substances as a reward for a job well done. These individuals justify this reward by assuring themselves that their substance abuse affects themselves and nobody else.

“I’m not an alcoholic if I drink expensive bottles of wine or liquor.”

Several addicts use whatever substance is within their reach in an effort to get loaded; for example, a prescription painkiller addict may use heroin if they are not able to obtain their substance of preference. Many functional alcoholics believe themselves ‘above’ dependence, mainly because these individuals only drink the best wines or liquors and won’t be happy with anything less.

“I never have time for alcohol and drug rehab.”

Even though a high functioning alcoholic or addict appreciates that they have a chemical or substance problem, they will most likely delay treatment until  they’ve ruined everything worth having. If these folks possess a high position at work, like a corporate executive, medical doctor or lawyer, they will frequently assert that they have too many responsibilities to take time off for drug rehab. As intelligent, powerful people, high-functioning addicts could at the same time genuinely feel they will somehow be able to cure their own difficulties, or even that seeking out assistance is a sign of weakness that could possibly sabotage their professional reputation.

This makes high functioning alcoholics difficult to evaluate and treat, especially because many of them probably will not admit they are chemically dependent. They prefer to go undiagnosed rather than deal with withdrawal discomforts, talk therapy meetings and group gatherings.


Ulysses Grant High Functioning Alcoholic
Commanding general then President USA.
Widely believed to have been an alcoholic the whole time.

 Repairing HFAs:

One practical strategy for dealing with high functioning alcoholics is ‘drink tracking.’ Drink tracking lets HFAs create boundaries on their alcohol consumption. They define a ‘consumption quota’ for the week, such as only consuming alcohol on weekends or holidays. Creating this sort of allowance system has been proven beneficial as a means to aid HFAs to stop drinking. This can be the most practical way to help a successful functioning alcoholic stop concealing an alcohol dependency problem.  It is hard to deny that you drank too much if you have consumed an entire bottle of whiskey.  Most people recognize that as too much.





Normal Drunks and HFA’s – Same Shame

For all of their differences, high functioning alcoholics and drug addicts share most of the same feelings of shame as less affluent addicts/users. Regardless of appearing to have everything, functional drug addicts suffer the equivalent  embarrassment which troubles almost all alcoholics. There are decisions and actions these people aren’t proud of and deceptions that power their loneliness, in conjunction with the load of complications that go along with leading a double life.

Much like other drunks, high functioning alcoholics pose a serious threat to themselves and others. Whether the negative effects occur gradually over many years or, possibly, all of a sudden as the outcome of a driving while intoxicated arrest, health scare or loss of employment or intimate relationship, it’s simply a time issue until their lives grow to be uncontrollable. Not everybody hits, or even has to hit, rock bottom before finding support. Since it may take tens of years for a high-functioning user/addict to genuinely feel the complete weight of his or her’s illness, it’s even more critical for family members and close friends to intervene. Just as a person with diabetes or even a heart dysfunction seeks out medical care early on and also carries on combating the condition as long as it takes to get well, high functioning alcohol dependent perople require support as they bring their secret addictions out into the open and get the therapy they need to achieve completely new levels of achievement.

See High Functioning Alcoholic on Pyschology Today.

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