The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Understanding this Hidden Class of Alcoholics from a Professional and Personal View

Summertime: Wedding Season, Vacations- Meaningful Times or Excuse to Drink?

Heavy drinking during the summertime.

"It's the summer, why not have a good time and get drunk?"

"I'm on vacation, who cares how much I drink?"

"It's a wedding, let's celebrate, where's the alcohol?"

These are just a few of the excuses that many high-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) and even social drinkers may use when it comes to drinking heavily during the summertime, at 4th of July parties, weddings, cook-outs, sporting events, outside concerts and beach parties. In our culture "celebrations" are often intertwined with drinking alcohol. For normal drinkers this may not pose a problem, however for HFAs this may be a time when their drinking either stands out or they simply blend in with the crowd. Many HFAs report that any occasion can be an excuse to drink and that it is easy to blame their belligerence on the event. Because social drinkers may drink more than usual during these summertime festivities, HFAs may feel that they can "let go" and drink the way that they really want to drink without holding back. For those HFAs that typically may have tried to hide their drinking or drank privately at home before or after an event, this may be an opportunity to feel that they will fit in with these heavy drinking scenes. However, many HFAs still end up humiliating themselves drunk  and may vow once again that they will never drink that much again. Those in denial of the HFAs problem may also blame the event or the "open bar" at the wedding as the reason the HFA drank too much. In fact, some feel that a wedding is not considered a quality wedding unless there is an open bar. The irony is that the more alcohol is served, the less that the guests focus on the event and the more "forgettable" the occasion becomes.

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The question remains, why do so many people believe that alcohol enhances these types of events? The implication is that a special event such as a wedding is not enough in its own right- that alcohol will "make it better". In a sense, the presence of excessive drinking can take away from the meaning of the event and lead those in attendance to become more focused on when they can get their next drink instead of the reason that they are there. We live in a culture where "more" is better and what we have is never enough- alcohol fits into that philosophy perfectly. One social drinker I recently spoke with has observed that some guests at weddings she has attended are hoping that the ceremony will finish quickly so that they can get to the reception and start drinking. She went on to explain that alcohol seems to be present at most social occasions, in the summertime in particular, and that people often use it to break the ice socially or to enhance the concert, vacation, beach party, sporting event, etc.

In addition, we live in a technological age where computers and text messaging have become the norm in terms of communication. Therefore, it is concerning that when given the opportunity for face-to-face interactions, many avoid the discomfort of talking socially to someone whom they don't know by having a few drinks. Social events can be opportunities to connect with others, meet people, and to enjoy the moment, but when excesive drinking is placed in the equation those possibilities may be lost. The truth is that one way to gain confidence socially is to avoid drinking, sit with the discomfort and practice talking to a stranger.  My point is not that people should never drink, but I am suggesting that individuals become mindful of the role that alcohol plays for them in their life and on these occassions.  It is easy for some to fall into heavy drinking patterns and a reliance on alcohol in social settings, particularly during this time of year.

For those trying to cut back on their drinking or for sober alcoholics, the summertime and the many celebrations that accompany it can be triggers. Many sober HFAs will report that the warm weather, the outdoor bars, family gatherings, vacations, the beach, sporting events, etc. can bring back memories of "the good ole' days". However, the memory of HFAs is much like Teflon, all of the negative experiences seem to slide away and they are left with a romanticized version of their drinking days and a craving to drink again. As I discuss in my book "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic", it is really important for sober HFAs to stay connected to their recovery program, attend therapy, ask for help and receive treatment for co-existing conditions (anxiety, depression, etc.).  It is possible to re-program their association with these triggering occasions by replacing their drunken memories with new sober experiences. They will begin to gain confidence in their social skills and to realize that their sober life is abundant with enjoyment and meaning- but now they can actually be in the moment and fully remember it.

More information on the topic of high-functioning alcoholics is available in my new book release "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional View and Personal Insights" by Praeger Publisers (www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com)

Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C., LPC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights.

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