Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It was surprising to read the title of the New York Post article "Brad Pitt and the New Alcoholism."  This article claims that high-functioning alcoholics are just now starting to be recognized and reach out for help.

However, in 2007 the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse released a landmark study that categorized alcoholics into five subtypes—one of which includes "Functional."  The topic of high-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) has also been in the media quite often since. 

My book "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" was published in 2009 and since then I have had the honor of being featured in newspaper, magazine, TV, and radio shows by writing and speaking about this very topic.  My mission has been to increase awareness about this "subtype" of alcoholic—and at this point, it is NOT "new." There have also been dozens of other articles around the country and world also written about about this topic.

HFAs are defined as individuals who are able to maintains an average level of outside functioning personally, professionally and/or academically while still drinking alcoholically.  HFAs can exhibit various characteristics at different times or phases of their drinking that can be broken down into different categories and include but are not limited to: 

Denial:

  • Difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they don’t fit the stereotypical image.
  • Believe that they are not alcoholics because they are externally successful.
  • Use alcohol as a reward and/or justify drinking to relieve stress.

Professional and Personal Life:

  • Able to maintain consistent employment and/or gain an education.
  • Well respected for job/academic performance and accomplishments.

Interpersonal Relationships:

Drinking Habits:

  • One alcoholic drink sets off a craving.
  • Obsess about the next drinking opportunity.
  • Display personality changes and/or compromise morals when intoxicated.
  • Repeat unwanted drinking patterns and behaviors.
  • Cannot imagine life without alcohol.

“Double Life”:

  • Appear to the outside world to be managing life well.
  • Skilled at living a compartmentalized life (separating their professional and drinking lives).
  • Appearances contradict the alcoholic stereotype.

Hitting Bottom:

  • Experience few tangible losses and consequences from their drinking, often by sheer luck.
  • Experience recurrent thoughts that because they have not “lost everything,” they have not hit bottom

The NY Post article did go on to make a hopeful statement that “Many [celebrities] now seem more open to talking about it in a ‘I want to be a good role model’ kind of way, which is great.”  Pitt's issues with alcohol have been devastating to his family, but we can only hope that his story will will be a powerful example and cautionary tale for the millions of high-functioning alcoholics who have not received appropriate addiction care.

For more information and resources about high-functioning alcoholics, please visit www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com.

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