For Families of Addicts


What is a functioning alcoholic?Alcoholism can take many forms. While some people end up on the streets or incarcerated as a consequence of their addiction, many others continue to lead outwardly successful lives while struggling with their inner demons.

About High Functioning Alcoholism

Someone with high functioning alcoholism is able to hold down a job, socialize with friends, and maintain intimate personal relationships while demonstrating a pattern of dysfunctional drinking behavior. High functioning alcoholics still suffer from an addiction, but it’s harder to see evidence of the problem unless you’re looking very closely.

A functioning alcoholic may be able to hide the signs of a drinking problem by restricting drinking only to certain times or in certain situations. However, many functioning alcoholics are successful in hiding the signs of their addiction because they have someone in their life who is unconsciously encouraging or enabling the addiction by allowing them to avoid the consequences of their behavior. For example, this person may loan them money when they’ve overspent on alcohol or make excuses on their behalf when they’re too hungover to go to work or attend a social engagement.

High functioning alcoholics are more common than you might expect. Studies estimate that nearly 20 percent  of alcoholics meet these criteria. Of these functioning alcoholics, about 1 in 3 have a multigenerational family history of substance abuse.

High functioning alcoholics are often intelligent, hardworking, and educated people who are actively involved in the community. They may be your coworker, your next-door neighbor, or your best friend.

Problems Associated with High Functioning Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over time, tolerance to alcohol increases. This leads to increased consumption, eventually to the point where a high functioning alcoholic starts to experience the adverse lifestyle consequences we all traditionally associate with alcoholism.

In cases where a high functioning alcoholic works in a professional role responsible for the safety and welfare of others, the consequences of substance abuse could be disastrous. For example:

  • A doctor could make a mistake that harms a patient.
  • A lawyer’s mistake could land his client in jail.
  • A CEO’s poor business decisions could put the entire company in jeopardy.

It’s also worth pointing out that even someone who drinks excessively while maintaining the outward trappings of a successful life is still causing a great deal of physical damage. Some of the many health problems associated with alcoholism include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Mouth, throat, liver, breast, and/or colorectal cancer
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Gout
  • Seizures
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Nerve damage

Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

Traditionally, substance abuse disorders are defined by having alcohol-related problems with your personal relationships, career, finances, and/or the law. However, identifying a high functioning alcoholic requires taking a closer look at drinking-related behaviors.

Signs a person may need substance abuse treatment include:

  • Engaging in binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women or five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men
  • Relying on alcohol to feel powerful, confident, and in control
  • Drinking to handle mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in the mornings
  • Frequently finding yourself drinking more than you intended to
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Saying things you didn’t mean while you were drinking
  • Having trouble remembering the details of what happens when you were drinking
  • Being secretive or defensive about alcohol use

Dealing with Denial

Denial is the most common challenge associated with getting a high functioning alcoholic to seek treatment. These individuals honestly believe their alcohol use is under control. Since they’re not unemployed or in trouble with the law, they don’t feel they meet the same standard as the alcoholics portrayed in popular culture. In many cases, they think only someone who has hit “rock bottom” meets the criteria for alcoholism.

Staging an intervention is one tactic that may be effective in getting a high functioning alcoholic to seek treatment. An intervention is a structured meeting where friends and family present their concerns to the person who is abusing alcohol or drugs, offer treatment options, and state the consequences for refusing treatment. For example, a wife may share that she is worried about her husband’s alcohol-related health problems and concerned that the children have noticed their father is absent from social events when he’s been drinking. As a consequence, she might state that she wants a separation if her husband doesn’t seek treatment.

Interventions are not 100 percent effective, but a well-planned intervention using the services of a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist could be just the push your loved one needs to get help.

By Dana Hinders

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rock singerWhen you’re struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, having sober role models to look up to can help you stay motivated on the path to recovery. If you’re in need of celebrity inspiration, these 7 recovering substance abusers prove that great things are possible when you’re willing to commit yourself to getting the help you need.

1. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr.’s story is one of the most incredible Hollywood comebacks. After being one of the most popular actors in the late 1980s and 1990s, he became virtually unemployable due to his struggles with drugs and alcohol. He was arrested multiple times, served a year in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, and lost most of his fortune.

Downey has been sober since 2003, relying on a combination of 12-step programs, yoga, meditation, and therapy to stay clean. His role as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially landed him back on top as an A-list Hollywood celeb.

2. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey was raised in poverty by a single teenage mother, but rose above her early struggles to build a massive media empire and become a notable activist/philanthropist. Her influence is so substantial that she’s often referred to as one of the world’s most powerful women.

Winfrey’s struggle with addiction occurred in her 20s, when a man she was dating introduced her to crack cocaine. She kept her substance abuse disorder a secret until spontaneously offering up the information in a 1995 show featuring mothers battling drug addiction. Today, she continues to remind those in recovery that a better future is always possible.

3. Matthew Perry

Best known for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends, Matthew Perry has struggled with addiction to opioids, amphetamines, and alcohol. He attended several different rehab programs in the late 1990s and early 2000s in search of a lasting recovery.

Since getting clean, Perry has channeled his influence into helping others who struggle with addiction. In 2011, he lobbied on Capitol Hill as a celebrity spokesperson for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. In May 2013, he received a Champion of Recovery award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for creating Perry House, a sober living home located in his former home in Malibu, California.

4. Drew Barrymore

As a popular child actress in a family of Hollywood legends, Drew Barrymore grew up with easy access to addictive substances. She was drinking at 11, using marijuana at 12, and snorting cocaine at 13. By 14, she entered rehab for the first time.

Barrymore has been sober since her late teen years, crediting her recovery to the network of supportive friends she built for herself after becoming legally emancipated at 15. Since getting clean, she’s branched out beyond acting to become a producer, director, author, and cosmetics entrepreneur.

5. Russell Brand

Actor and comedian Russell Brand has been sober since 2002, crediting transcendental meditation and the Focus 12 drug treatment program with helping him to stay clean. In addition to serving as a sponsor for others in recovery, he’s helped bring awareness to the struggles of addiction with the two documentaries: End the Drugs War and Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery.

Since getting clean, Brand has turned his attention towards political activism and building a family. He married Scottish lifestyle blogger Laura Gallacher in July 2016 and their daughter Mabel was born later that year.

6. Jamie Lee Curtis

Prescription painkiller addiction continues to rise, affecting many people who would never consider touching illegal drugs. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis developed her addiction to painkillers after a cosmetic surgery when she was 35, eventually mixing the pills with alcohol.

Curtis says her addiction developed as a way to self-medicate her depression, but she was inspired to seek treatment after seeing how her substance abuse was affecting her young daughter. She’s been clean for several years and continues to urge those who are struggling with mental health issues to seek therapy.

8. Keith Urban

Country music star Keith Urban has battled drug addiction since the early 1990s. Urban credits his wife, Nicole Kidman, with helping him to finally kick the habit. After witnessing his behavior spiraling out of control in 2006, Kidman staged an intervention.

Since getting sober, Urban has released 14 number one hit songs and served as a celebrity judge on the hit reality singing competition American Idol. He also become a father of two daughters, born in 2008 and 2010.

By Dana Hinders

 

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Codependent coupleCodependency is a common response to the challenges associated with loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, even though the behaviors associated with codependency can seem positive on the surface, they will eventually have the negative effect of continuing to enable your loved one’s addiction.

Understanding Codependency

The term codependent refers to an excessive psychological or emotional reliance on another person to meet one’s own needs. Someone who suffers from a codependent personality will likely agree with the following statements:

  • I enjoy acting as a caretaker.
  • I seek out people who are in crisis so I can “rescue” them.
  • Pleasing people makes me happy.
  • Setting firm boundaries in a relationship is hard for me.
  • My moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of everyone around me.
  • I find it difficult to accurately describe my feelings to others.
  • I always want to be in control.
  • I have a hard time trusting other people.
  • I’d rather be in a broken or abusive relationship than be alone.

Codependency is often thought to be caused by low self-esteem, although it is a common response to the trauma associated with loving someone who suffers from addiction. Addicts are notorious for their unpredictable behavior, which can make those closest to them fight harder to maintain a sense of order and control over their environment.

The term codependency was first applied to the spouses of addicts, but codependent relationships can take many forms. Parents, children, and friends of substance abusers can all find themselves trapped in a cycle of codependency.

Enabling Addiction

Codependency is essentially a “helping” relationship taken to the extreme. Wanting to be kind to others is admirable. However, your actions do more harm than good if you’re unable to set clear boundaries.

For example:

  • You justify a loved one drinking or using drugs by saying the addict has had a stressful day or needs to relax.
  • You make excuses when the addict can’t come to social functions because he or she is under the influence.
  • You apologize to others on behalf of the person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • You loan money when financial problems are caused by drugs or alcohol.

All of these behaviors prevent your loved one from experiencing the full consequences of his or her addiction. When someone is always around to pick up the pieces, a substance abuser is able to stay in denial about the extent of his or her problem. When he or she is allowed to be irresponsible, self-destructive, and cruel to others without fear of reprisal, there is no incentive to seek treatment.

How to Stop the Cycle

Codependency creates a vicious cycle that harms both partners. Move towards a healthier relationship by keeping in mind the following tips:

  • Educate yourself. ¬†Reading about codependency and attending support groups for the friends and family of addicts can help gather insight into the reasons behind your behavior and how your actions are harming your relationship.
  • Treat co-occurring disorders. People who suffer from codependency often have accompanying mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Treating these issues is essential to stopping codependent behavior. Medication and therapy may be necessary.
  • Establish boundaries. Setting clear boundaries for yourself will help you overcome the urge to enable addiction-related behaviors from your loved one. For example, you may decide that you’ll no longer answer text messages sent while you’re at work, that you will decline to spend time around your loved one when it’s obvious that he or she has been using, or that you’ll no apologize to others when your loved one acts inappropriately.
  • Spend time alone. When you’re in a codependent relationship, your sense of self starts to become intertwined with the other person’s mood, thoughts, and feelings. Breaking the cycle require you to establish an independent identity. This may mean taking up a new solo hobby or pursing a special interest that you’ve previously ignored due to the time demands associated with caring for your addicted friend or family member. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s something you enjoy doing by yourself.

At first, these actions might feel like they are selfish and unfair to your loved one. However, you won’t be in any position to support your friend or family member through addiction recovery unless you actively make time to address your own mental health needs. In the long term, breaking the cycle of codependency is the kindest and most compassionate way to get your loved one the help he or she needs.

By Dana Hinders

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