The High-Functioning Alcoholic

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

The Challenges of Dealing with an Alcoholic Loved One

Everyone knows of a family that has struggled to cope with a loved one who is alcoholic. Friends and observers may try to understand the experience of the family and may watch, sometimes with judgment, as family members try to navigate this stressful situation. Read More

My mother was beat up more

My mother was beat up more than once while I was in the womb. My first memory is of a Christmas Eve when my drunk, violent Father left my mother black and blue with blood spilling from her mouth on the kitchen floor. The cycle of violence was one I knew of long before I found out it had a name.

Fear, you say? Really? Fear? Fear so bad I peed my pants at the thought of trying to help my Mother, or when running for help to stop my Father from killing my Mom before my eyes. Fear? Yes, fear at seeing my Father standing in the doorway waiting for me to return from getting help. The next day I could see what happened but could not remember what happened after my Father grabbed me.

Fear, religion, shame, guilt, etc., all played a role.

Decades later I can gauge how well I am doing by my nightmares. If I see my Dad coming into the house, boxing my Mom into a corner and beating her while I helplessly watched for as long as he had the energy, I know all is not well in my life.

Then again we are in the graces of an all-loving god, right?

Hi. Do you know if alcoholism

Hi. Do you know if alcoholism is a cause of bladder cancer? A close (male) friend who is a beer drinking HFA was just diagnosed and was not a smoker and has no family history. He obviously had the thought that it was a possible cause but quickly dismissed the idea.

Respone to "'hi. Do you know if alcoholism"

I am not a medical professional, but research does indicate that alcohol can increase the chances of developing various forms of cancer. However, there are so many factors that determine the cause of cancer in individuals. It is important that those diagnosed with any form of cancer are honest with their physicians about how much they drink and then they can receive the appropriate care.

I've known too many high-functioning alcoholics

This is such an important subject. I've seen this problem up close and personal, and the consequences are too often devastating. It's amazing how an HFA can project an image of "having it all together" and yet at home, it's a majorly different story.
It's frightening to me, to think of all the people in high positions, whose judgement is clouded by their abuse of alcohol.
I've known bosses, doctors and counselors who have a major problem, but continue to function and fool people at their jobs. Scary.
I think there should be a public education push on this subject. Thanks for this blog. It's high-time this subject gets the attention it deserves.

I don't understand

I have been dating a 57 year old man for about 8 months. He entered rehab when we first were dating because I had shared my past with an alcoholic step dad. When I confronted him one evening when I thought he was drunk he was very evasive. He said that he doesn't want to lose me and bought a breathalyzer for me to keep so I can have him test when I have a doubt of his sobriety. Last night I had a strong suspicion so got the thing out. He said to just ask and so I did. He pointed at the counter and there was an empty wine bottle.
He said that he had nothing to hide. Hmmmm..... So I said that I was going home and left. What I don't understand is why he left the bottle out when in the past I am sure that he was drinking there wasn't any evidence left out. I care for him deeply but am not sure how to handle this.

Trying to understand alcoholic behavior

I feel for you. From my own experience, I have found that being around an alcoholic/addict, whether they are drinking/ drugging, or not, can be very confusing. If your boyfriend isn't working a recovery program, he is probably still "muddled in his mind."

It sounds like he is playing mind games with you.(Normal people don't do what he's doing). This is serious stuff, and can be very detrimental to you mental health. --You mention your past with an alcoholic stepdad. Have you gotten any help for yourself in trying to understand alcoholism and how it affects people around the alcoholic?

If not, you need to start getting educated now. I suggest Children of Alcoholics (COA) groups, Al-Anon, etc. Get some literature and start reading,so that you can begin wrapping your mind about the complexity of this illness that affects body, mind and soul.

You say you care deeply for this man. You must also care enough for yourself to become educated and try to protect yourself with knowledge of what's wrong with him. If you don't do this, and you end up breaking up with him, guess what? You're likely to attract another alcoholic, and the merry-go-round goes around and around and around....
There's a saying heard in AA. "Alcoholics don't have relationships, they take hostages." I wish you good luck.

Thank you for your response.

Thank you for your response. I have had counseling and my counselor has given me some books about alcoholism and said the same thing about educating myself. He is in the VA program on a weekly basis. In reading about the HFA I believe that he is one of these. Your comment about hostages is very interesting and a bit frightening. I have been considering a group to join. Thank you for your insights. It is very helpful.

trying to understand alcoholic behavior

Thank you Charlene for you quote. "alcoholics don't have relationships; they take hostages". I am struggling. My husband is a very highly respected surgeon; he is very highly functional and very financially successful. After two years of tying to get him sober through AA and private counseling, I have decided to divorce him. It is so painful because I love him. (we have been married 28 years and have 3 children). To make matters worse, he will not hit bottom. He found a beautifuly girl 25 years younger to be his drinking and sexual companion. I'm sure she loves the security and he loves the freedom to drink. Our children and I are hurt by all of this. I question my decisions and my future. My mantra is only that "I didn't cause this, I can't cure this, and I can't control him or his drinking". My advise to the girl with the alcoholic boyfriend--run. It will only cause you pain and suffering. Guaranteed.

Response to "trying to understand alcoholic behavior"

I hope that you have received the support that you need in this situation including therapy with an addiction specialist and even attending Al-anon meetings. It also sounds like you have made choices in your life that will ultimately allow you to heal. If you live in your truth and take action, then your future will work out exactly as it is meant to.

Understanding and dealing with alcoholic behavior

Dear anon,
I'm glad you found that quote helpful. I can relate to what you are going through. My ex (a 19-year marriage and 2 children) left us for a much younger woman (a friend of mine).

I had started going to Al-Anon several years before. This angered my drinking and drugging husband. I know that had a lot to do with his leaving.

But you know what? Going to Al-Anon and Open AA meetings helped restore me to sanity, and helped me begin to understand my ex's increasingly bizarre behavior.

I suggest you read Toby Rice Drews work, as well as Doug Thorburn.
Drews knows that wives of alcoholics too often find another alcoholic after the ex departs. We make good targets for them, and their charm, when we're grief-stricken and lonely. (I speak from experience).

Today I'm happily remarried to a sane, sober man. That didn't happen by accident. I've worked hard on myself, and continue to learn about alcoholism and addiction. There is so much to learn!

I wish you the best. You are stronger than you think you are, and deserve better than you're getting from your sick husband. (Trust me, he and the young chippie won't work out for long). Keep the faith. It can get better. You're better off without him. I'm living proof!

My daughter is a speech

My daughter is a speech language pathologist, is highly respected in her professional community, but her private life is being gutted by her alcoholism. Her husband has left her, her 15 year-old son has left her (and lives with his father) and her 12 year-old daughter wants to leave too. My daughter gets drunk and passes out every evening, and has done so for many years. I am heartsick. She is definitely a high-functioning alcoholic.

I am so glad I found your blog!

Response to "My daughter is a speech"

I hope that you are able to get the support that you may need in coping with your daughter's alcoholism. I would suggest that you find a therapist who is an addiction specialist for your own support as well as attend Al-anon meetings. Setting limits and boundaries is important for your own mental health and in appropriately supporting your daughter. Feel free to email me at for additional resources.

How do I leave?

my alcoholic husband of 7 years? I have some money of my own. But if I divorce, I lose my health benefits. Anyone out there have any suggestions, I would be grateful. I will go back to work if I need. I am 58 years old.

I think the phrase "Alcoholics Don't Have Relationships, they take Hostages" really hit home for me.

Please help. Thank you.

There is no easy path when

There is no easy path when dealing with a high-functining alcoholic husband especially if you have children together. The divorce process was emotionally painful because I loved the sober man so much, and the effects of my ex-husband's continued drinking on the children and me did not evaporate with the final divorce decree. Furthermore, my financial woes have increased dramatically. Finding a job after being a mother for 20 years isn't easy. In short, do not expect divorce to make your husband hit bottom and move into recovery. Divorce is painful, and you may still suffer to a lesser degree the consequences of your ex-husband's drinking. You may not be financially better. On the positive side, I do not have the daily worries about my husband's actions on our family. We were in a tailspin with potential disaster at every turn. He was unconsciously pulling us all into his vortex. My suggestion: start getting prepared before you divorce. Also, make a notebook of why you are unhappy for future reference. Time tends to erase the bad memories, and it will be important to remember what brought you to this end. I've only been divorced for a few months; despite the difficult divorce and change in finances, I believe my outlook will continue to improve with time.

Response to "How Do I Leave?"

There is hope for your situation and I may be able to offer specific suggestions of therapists in your area if you email me at Additionally, I would suggest that you attend Al-Anon meeting for support and healing.

"Alcoholics Don't Have Relationships, they take Hostages"

Wow those are powerful words and describe what I'm feeling now. Who wrote that?

Leaving an alcoholic husband

I understand your difficulty. I've been where you are, and here's my take: If you stay in your present situation, your own health and sanity will undoubtedly deteriorate. It takes a lot of courage to leave, but it is better to make the break (it was for me in the long run.)

And there will be many challenges ahead.--You must learn all you can about alcoholism and its effects on the family. Al-Anon and Open AA meetings helped me immensely. I also highly suggest reading the books by Toby Rice Drews as well as anything by Doug Thorburn.

Those who have been partners of alcoholics (co-alcoholics) are very vulnerable to getting into another alcoholic relationship. (I got involved with a dry drunk. Miserable experience.)

It's scary to be without health insurance, but you'll find a way to make things work. Stay strong and EDUCATE yourself for your own protection. Life can be better when you get away from the craziness of an alcoholic relationship, but you've got to do the work on your own self. I made it, and so can you! Good luck...I care.

my husband

My husband has been an addict since I can remember and to start it wasn't alcohol, it was pills, weed, anything you can think of. I finally got fed up and moved in with my mother. Well, now he has moved with us and is done with all the other things, but has moved on to alcohol and it is terrible. Tonight has set my tolerance over the top and I don't know if I can deal with this anymore. We have two beautiful children together and I am due today with our third child. Tonight, is his birthday and I wanted to take him out to do something, so we went to a comedy show. It started out okay, but the more he drank the louder he got and a few times was asked to be quiet. Then, by the fifth shot he was practically climbing on stage trying to fight the comedian. I was embarrassed the whole time. We were escorted out of the building and then him and his friend since grade school started fighting in the parking lot. His wife and I managed to get them both in the car. The whole time I was driving they were both shouting at each other while im trying to drive and they got into a fight in the car, which almost caused me to wreck. He is passed out right now and I am so furious with him, I want to go upstairs and dump out all his liquor. I don't know what to do anymore. I feel like my children and I deserve so much better. Just needed to vent. ):

"my husband"

You do not have to live as a victim of addiction- you can take action in order to make changes in your life. However, I would suggest that you receive support in this process from Al-Anon, a therapist, loved ones and if necessary legally. Please feel free to email me for possible referral suggestions at and indicate your location.

I've hit bottom before my companion

Before my mother passed in 2011, she told me she had hoped I find a good man that would be supportive, work with me through the good and bad times and be a companion for me. I had been divorced for several years and basically wasn't looking...I was just tired of being disappointed. But...I did meet a man. He is handsome, retired, very skilled and talented and has so much goodness in him. We dated long-distance for a while; he came to town on the Amtrak because he had lost his license due to a DWI. He explained the situation of why he got the DWI and "had learned my lesson".. or at least I believed him when he said he had learned it.He eventually moved in and this month marks 1 year together; he's an alcoholic and I had no idea it was this bad. I've thrown him out and had a cab drive him to his hometown (which cost about $200), I went with him to get treatment, he went on Thursdays for a while...and then stopped while working on renovating his homeplace to put up for sale. Yesterday I get home from work....he's drunk on the couch. It makes no difference if he drinks 2 or a case...he cannot tolerate alcohol. I didn't sleep last night; I don't know if it was anger or worry..but I know I am so sleep at work right now. This morning, I threw cold water in his face and told him to make preparations to move out. Go back home and do whatever it is that makes you happy because I am far more deserving than this kind of life. I don't need his money; I don't need his possessions (in fact, mine are better). I don't know what I need, but I know I feel empty and sick at how this relationship has died. "Alcoholics take hostages"...I can't let that happen; but I wish I knew how to effectively open this man's eyes and change his ways.

response to "I've hit bottom before my companion"

I think that the title of your post answers your question and suggests that you know what you need to do, but need to take some action. You are in charge of your life and not changing another person...

I'm trying

I'm trying to maintain myself. In the past 10 days I have called police twice to get help with my son. The first call was to have him admitted to a phyc. facility because he was talking about ending it all and he was really drunk. The second call, 8 days later was to tell police that he was driving drunk. He was already charged with drunk driving a few years ago. I prayed for the safety of all. He got to his house before police could arrest him.

I'm exhausted. The phone calls, his friends stopping by all worried about him, the ex-girlfriend's threats, the lack of concern of other family members. I am turning off my phone to stop the mid-night and later calls. I fear for my son. This stress makes me ill. I would really like some suggestions on ways I can step back and breathe. Thanks

Response to "I'm Trying"

It sounds like you are putting more energy into your sons health and well-being than he is and therefore you are exhausted. It is also time that you consider taking care of yourself and receiving support- as you are NOT along in this situation. Many parents are having to find ways to cope, set limits, protect and discover new ways to love their children with addictions. Al-Anon is always available for for more specific therapy suggestions for you please feel free to email me at and indicate your location. You may also want to view the Website as there is an audiobook that may be relevant for you as well as the book "Get Your Loved One Sober" by Rober Meyers.

DWI, one of many troubles

Family members and friends of someone with a drinking problem can go through a lot being on the sidelines of this addiction. It can be a lot of stress and worry on a person. Al-Anon is a great option for people in this situation. This group can offer support and information. Al-Anon is like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) except it's for the family members and friends of a problem drinker. Google Al-Anon meetings for your area.

One of the problems that can come with substance abuse is a DWI. To learn about the DWI related laws in North Carolina and to learn more about addiction you can check out our website at:

We provide DWI assessments and substance abuse counseling to Gaston County and surrounding communities. We would also be glad to help you find the help you need.

Tourettes and Alcohol

I have a cousin who is not only an alcoholic, but also suffers from tourettes syndrome. It's really difficult to see him so close to rock bottom, but my family and I feel helpless. We believe he drinks to calm his ticks, but instead of ticking he becomes beligerent. Recently, he slashed his father's tires for refusing to give him money for alcohol. He does not have a steady home and I want to help him, but it's so difficult to talk to someone who does not want to listen. He is constantly cursing and shouting in front of my 3 year old sister when he stays with us and I feel like that's completely unfair for her. He is very unclean and has even peed in my car while I was driving him. I'm not sure if his problems go far deeper than alcohol, but my family and I need to figure out a way to get through to him before it's too late.

Informing Family

My boyfriend of 4 years (we live together) is a HFA and I have reached the point where I can no longer hide his addiction to alcohol. This past weekend I came back from a business trip to find him passed out on floor. I initially thought he had drank himself to death and I have never been so freaked out. I immediately contacted his sister (who lives out of state) to let her know of the situation and to ask advice as to what my next steps should be. She contacted the rest of their immediate family and a plan was put in place to try to get him into a treatment program the following day. We are fortunate enough to live near one of the most prominent treatment facilities in the country and his family immediately called and made all financial arrangements so that would not hinder his receiving help. He has refused to go (he is 51 so we can not take him against his will). He has stated that he realizes he has been drinking to excess for far too long and now needs to do something about it but will do it on his own. He is now angry with me for involving his family and says I should have kept this between him and myself. I am trying to remain firm in my stance as to why I contacted his family and I am hoping someone can offer assistance as to how to respond to this line of thinking by an alcoholic who does need treatment. I have told him that he is only allowed to stay living with me if he stays sober. Probably not the right answer; I've read enough to know that is probably enabling him at some level. This is so stessful. Any words of advice are most appreciated!

AL-ANON - I would strongly

AL-ANON - I would strongly suggest you start attending as it will give you the strength and support to cope with this problem. Good luck, is a long road.

My Son

After witnessing another episode of watching my HFA adult son, binge drink and lapse into beer unconsciousness, I started to attend Al-Anon. He had ADHD as a child and feel he still has it and uses the alcohol to self-medicate, which he has done since he was a teen-ager. Over the course of the years, we have talked about his alcohol use and he has agreed it is something he has to watch out for. The statement, that the alcoholic takes hostages really applies. He has married an enabler, with a long family history of alcohol addiction in relatives. He has a great job, nice house, loving father, but binge drinks in his Man's Room while his wife goes up to hers...that is their way of "functioning" as a family. Although we are close, I have been his "target" for years and after Al-Anon, found the courage to realize the 3 C's - Can't control it, didn't cause it (a big one which he subtly likes to reinforce) and can't cure it. His sister and father (who is also a beer alcoholic) don't want to get involved as she wants a relationship with him and is afraid of losing him, his "hammer" that he holds over us. His Dad feels he has a real connection as they both get along now with beers in hand. I lovingly confronted him so am now on the outskirts and told I live in a fantasy world, have always been a lousy mother, have "issues" and will die a lonely, old woman who likes to cause things (his words and mantra) has been 9 months since he has talked to me. Sad but as a parent, I could not stand by any longer and watch my child do this. I would strongly recommend Al-Anon as you are not alone, and other mother's stories are is hard though. Signed, a loving mother.

I totally understand and sympathize

Submitted by Anonymous on December 10, 2013 - 4:26pm.
My son says he is a binge drinker. His girlfriend left in May and took their child (a child he never wanted). He fell apart alone in the big empty rental he can't afford. His girlfriend (a meth user) went to rehab for mental not drug help. I had conversations with him on how he was going to end his life. When the cops knocked on our door they released him to me but I couldn't keep him there. He walked in one door and out the other. I called 911 and tried to have him committed. He went by ambulance to the hospital but they set him free the next day. I couldn't believe it. I filled out all the paper work and they let him go! 9 days later I called 911 again. I wanted them to catch him driving while under the influence. I don't want to see someone else get hurt because he is hurting. By the time the cops got to his house he had left his car so they just talked to him. That's it... Now his girlfriend is back, baby and all. The mom is in withdrawal and my son is tapped out financially. I can't help him even if I could. My stress level is so high I have illnesses I need to tend to for myself. All I can do is try to see my granddaughter. She is 2 1/2 and beautiful. I love her. I tried to find an al-anon meeting close to me during the day but I have not found one. God bless you for your courage and smarts. Happy Holidays and hang in there.

Totally Sympathesize

Thanks for your heart goes out to you and do recognize the signs of a mother watching her son with an addiction. Although it is hard, YOU have to change...put the brakes on and Please, please, if you cannot find an Al-Anon meeting near you, go to a church group/pastor and they will help you. You need to lovingly it for yourself and your grandchild. Please remember the 3 C's - Can't cure it, didn't cause it and can't control it. It is a tough road when it is your adult child but you need to take care of yourself to...It will always be a hold in your heart but you will learn to refocus on other positive things. God bless you and sending you healing energies.

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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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