The High-Functioning Alcoholic

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

Denzel Washington as High-Functioning Alcoholic in "Flight"

I have always said that the story of the high-functioning alcoholic (HFA) is not typically told in books, movies and television because it is often boring and not always dramatic. Well, the movie “Flight” starring Denzel Washington has brought thrill, suspense and truth to this topic. Read More

Another person you might explore

Another highly functional alcoholic you might want to study or interview is Vicent Furnier, the rock stra better known as Alice Cooper.

He's been clean and sober for decades now, but will readily admit that he was killing himself with booze for a long time. And yet, he was very productive during his years as a drunk, and he never missed a concert or a practice during that time.

Alice's stage show has always been very elaborate, and he usually employs all kinds of dangerous-looking stage props (like guillotines), magic tricks (many dreamed up by James Randi), and special effects that COULD actually be deadly if the tricks aren't executed perfectly.

Not long ago, Alice was showing off many of his stage props to the hosts of "That Metal SHow," and he said, with a mixture of pride and astonishment, "You know what's REALLY scary? I used to do all of this DRUNK."

Winston Churchill

Want to write about a really challenging case of HFA? Churchill. All he did was save the world from Nazism, have a long and wonderful marriage, be a great father, and a terrific writer to boot. Lived a long life, too.

And he drank like an absolute fish.

Denzel's character is a straw man. Look how he lived. Churchill? Now, there's a challenge for you.

HFAs and the movie Flight

I thought the movie focused more negatively on alcoholism than it did drug abuse. Somehow drug abuse was glorified and not in need of treatment (at least by Whip's high functioning character) but alcohol was the evil taboo enitity behind all ofhis failures. Drugs seemed to be the thing to cause him to highly function and in fact, were desperately needeed to rid him of the affects of the dreaded liquid high of alcohol.


I think the article made some very accurate observations about HFAs. I have been an addiction psychotherapist for over 30 years and have found that what ultimately gets HFAs to address addiction is,, like Denzel Washington's character, when there is job jeopardy.

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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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