The High-Functioning Alcoholic

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

Mothers Can be High-Functioning Alcoholics Too!

Why are people shocked that mothers can be alcoholic?

On Tuesday, October 27th I was interviewed on THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW on an episode dedicated to Mothers, drunk driving and high-functioning alcoholics.  Please visit Oprah.com for resources that I wrote as well as my book excerpt at: http://www.oprah.com/dated/oprahshow/oprahshow-20091022-diane-sch...

The most shocking aspect about the mother drunk driving tragedies recently in the news, such as the Diane Schuler Taconic Parkway crash and deaths of 8, is the public's surprise that mothers can have alcohol problems. Specifically, one NY Times parenting blog about this issue was titled "How could a Mother Drive Drunk?" http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/two-quick-updates-o... Considering that type of judgment, my question is how can fathers, teachers, executives, politicians, physicians and honors students drive drunk? I do not personally have enough facts about the case to know whether or not Diane Schuler was an alcoholic, however that news story has prompted an important dialogue about mothers and alcoholism. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune titled "Mom. Businesswoman. Alcoholic" by Colleen Mastony addressed this topic. "Heather", now sober, who was interviewed for the story "asked the Tribune to withhold her last name because of the stigma associated with alcoholism" http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-heatheroct11,0,4327578. While it is understandable that Heather would remain anonymous, it is symbolic of the core issue- the shame and stigma that mothers feel in admitting that they are alcoholic.

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It is as though the image of the "mother" and that of the "alcoholic" seem contradictory. However, alcoholism does not discriminate and there are mothers who are able to fulfill their roles as mothers (in the literal sense), and even as professionals-therefore being high functioning. Those around them may not believe that these individuals could be alcoholic, because their outside life may appear "perfect". However, just as mothers are afflicted with cancer, diabetes, depression, etc. they also may also suffer from alcoholism. As long as moral judgments are cast upon these individuals, they will continue to drink in private, drink and drive and put their life or the lives of their children in danger physically and emotionally.

Research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicates that there are over 2.5 million female alcoholics and that one-third of women report regular drinking consumption. In addition, research has indicated that there has been a 28.8% increase in in the number of women arrested for DUI's in the past decade and a surprising 7.5% decrease in the number of males arrested for DUIs-so why is the public so surprised that mothers can be alcoholic? Many experience shame around their drinking, feelings of being "failures" as mothers and unfortunately even embarrassment about being sober. The stigma of being an alcoholic is a barrier for many women getting help in the first place, but also prevents others from admitting that they are in recovery. What will it take for these individuals to feel a sense of pride in getting help for their alcoholism? Something needs to change- we are all human and are all dealt a certain hands in this lifetime. For those of us who are alcoholic, it is important to feel that we can live in our truth without judgment and to be able to reach out for help. Otherwise, mothers and women everywhere will continue to live a double life, refuse to take responsibility for their alcoholism and hide behind a façade of perfection in the hope that others will not discover the truth about them.

It is through the courage of sober alcoholic mothers such as Rachael Brownell, author of "Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore," (available on Amazon.com) who came forward in her memoir about alcoholism and recovery that lessening of the stigma may begin. Brownell's book about her first year of sobriety while being a mother as well as her blog www.redsy.com have recently caught the eye of the media and she is becoming a beacon of hope for alcoholic mothers everywhere www.rachaelbrownell.com. Stefanie Wilder Taylor is another mother author who wrote "Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay" and while her book may not acknowledge her drinking problem, she is candid in her blog "Baby on Bored" about the fact that she has now been sober for over 5 months http://babyonbored.blogspot.com/.

May mother authors/bloggers such as Brownell and Taylor continue to prompt an important dialogue among communities of mothers about this issue so that others feel comfortable in coming forward to get help without feeling shame nor being judged.

For alcoholism resources and for more information on high-functioning alcoholics please visit 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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