Why High-Functioning Alcoholics Need Help

If someone is a high-functioning alcoholic, then what is the problem?

Posted Jan 28, 2009

What is the problem with being a high-functioning alcoholic? This is a question that has been posed several times to me and has probably crossed the minds of others. Although the term "high-functioning" has a positive connotation, the reality is that the diagnosis of "alcoholic" is also present. High-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) have the disease of alcoholism-which is lifelong, chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal.

The fact that HFAs may be succeeding professionally or academically does not negate that they are alcoholic and need to get help. Similarly, if a person was diagnosed with Diabetes 1 but appears to be managing their life well and looks healthy that does not mean that they should not take their insulin or seek medical treatment.

A large part of why HFAs continue drinking alcoholically without interventions from loved ones or colleagues is due to of the power of denial. This denial can manifest in many ways including thoughts such as: "I have a great job, pay my bills and have lots of friends, therefore I am not an alcoholic," "I am doing really well academically and am involved in so many activities, I cannot be an alcoholic," "I am wealthy and drink expensive wine, I could not possibly be an alcoholic," "I have not hit a ‘bottom', so I cannot be an alcoholic," "Everyone at work drinks like me, so I am not an alcoholic," and many more. Societal stereotypes of the "typical" alcoholic can also contribute to HFAs minimizing their own problem.

Although HFAs may project a well put-together façade, they can still be placing themselves in danger in many ways including but not limited to: drinking and driving, having risky sexual encounters, blacking out, damaging their reputation, etc. They may have been able to avoid serious trouble professionally or personally to a certain degree however, it will be only a matter of time before their "luck" runs out and their alcoholism will lead to problems. HFAs are also placing their own health at risk as well as the emotional health of their family because they are not seeking assistance.

HFAs are essentially "masters of disguise" who not only fool those around them but also themselves. This does not detract from the fact that they are alcoholics who need help in getting sober just as much as lower functioning alcoholics.

More information on this topic is available in my new book: Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights.