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5 Lies We’re Told About High-Functioning Alcoholics

When you hear the term “alcoholic,” people automatically think of someone who drinks too much and whose life is falling apart as a result. However, not all problem drinking can be defined within these parameters. Some people can abuse alcohol, yet are able to achieve success in their personal and professional lives. Experts call these people “high-functioning alcoholics,” or HFAs.

Setting the Record Straight About High-Functioning Alcoholics

Even though a loved one may not fit the mold, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have a drinking problem. To help you separate fact from fiction, here’s a look at 5 common myths surrounding the high-functioning alcoholic:

  • “Alcoholics can’t hold down jobs or be successful.” Actually quite the opposite. A HFA can have a good job and a family that adores him. They can be wildly popular, make a lot of money, and enjoy a wide circle of friends. In fact, it was found that 19% of alcoholics fall within the functioning subtype. Members of this demographic were commonly middle-aged and well-educated, with stable jobs and families. About one-third have a genetic or generational history of alcoholism and about one-quarter also had major depressive illness occur sometime in their lives.
  • “HFAs don’t have a problem.” Just because they are able to maintain obligations like work, school, or relationships doesn’t mean that their drinking problem doesn’t exist. After all, they are still stricken with the craving, withdrawal, and tolerance that comes with a serious dependency on alcohol. No one can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities over long periods of time. Before too long, the consequences of heavy drinking are going to catch up with them.
  • “HFAs are in control.” Functional alcoholics are often intelligent, hardworking, and well-educated. That means a person’s professional or personal success can actually convince them that they have got the drinking thing under control. But, as any recovering alcoholic knows, the drink controls the individual—not the other way around. What’s actually happening is that the person has successfully managed to conceal their drinking… for now.
  • “HFAs don’t show signs of alcoholism.” From the outside, it may seem like the person has got it all together. But dig a little deeper and red flags will start to surface. Typical behaviors of a HFA tend to include drinking to induce relaxation or confidence, needing to drink alone, constantly becoming intoxicated, experiencing sudden lapses in memory, an inability to concentrate, hiding the evidence of consumption, and finishing the drinks of others.
  • “HFAs don’t need to seek help.” Many high-functioning alcoholics manage to function effectively—sometimes for years—without suffering any major losses. As such, they are likely in deep denial that they have a problem, yet they instinctively go to extreme lengths to both feed and hide their addiction. And since the person has convinced themselves that they simply don’t fit the “classic alcoholic” stereotype, chances are much higher that they will remain undiagnosed. Without help, HFAs are usually the last ones to seek treatment for alcoholism or addiction.

How to Find Help for Alcohol Misuse

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol misuse, help is available. Professional treatment programs can help those suffering with alcohol addiction live lives free from substance dependency. You can contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at at any time, day or night for helpful advice, information, or admissions. You can also check your health insurance coverage using the form below.

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