Not all alcoholics fit the common stereotype for this condition. There are people out there who on the surface seem to be doing very well in life, but this hides the reality that they are dealing with a serious drink problem. The professional high functioning alcoholic is able to use their success in life to justify their excesses, and this means that they may end up suffering worse because of their addiction. The fact that this person is so good at hiding their problems means that their drinking can go unnoticed for a long time.

Professional High Functioning Alcoholic Explained

A high functioning alcoholic can describe anyone who is managing to perform relatively well in life. This individual may feel like they are barely holding it together but they will be able to put on a show of normality for other people. There are different types of alcoholics who we can describe as high functioning:

  • the person may be totally oblivious to the fact that they are addicted to alcohol and their denial is supported by their successes in life

  • this individual may have to work hard in order to hide their problems and keep things together

  • this person may believe that being successful and having a drink problem go hand in hand – this can be summed up with the motto, ‘work hard, play hard’

  • the person may be able to control their drinking when there is work to be done but lose control at other times – they may even be a workaholic as well as an alcoholic

Successful People and Addiction

Successful people are not immune from drink problems. In fact, there can be aspects of being successful that make this type of individual more prone to addiction problems, such as:

  • successful people can share some of the characteristics associated with the addictive personality, such as the willingness to take risks and do their own thing

  • it could be argued that workaholism shares many similarities with alcoholism

  • there can be a culture of drinking associated with being successful

Dangers of High Functioning Alcoholism

Despite the fact that the high functioning alcoholic will appear to be doing well in life, they will be in danger due to their drinking. In fact, they may be more in danger than other types of alcoholic because:

  • this person can use their success in life to support their denial of there being a problem with alcohol

  • friends and family may be willing to ignore the drink problem because the individual is doing well in life

  • there will not be as much pressure on this person to get help for their drinking problem

  • this type of person will often have a real sense of entitlement when it comes to using alcohol

  • this person may be convinced that drinking alcohol is part of their job description – for example, they may be expected to entertain clients

  • the individual may be more worried about the stigma associated with being addicted to alcohol and therefore unwilling to consider the possibility

  • this individual may feel that they have more to lose by admitting that they have a drink problem – it could harm their career

  • most alcoholics realise the extent of their problem when they are forced to go without alcohol for a period of time, but the high functioning alcoholic may have the financial resources to never go without alcohol

  • the fact that this person is able to hide their problems so well can mean that they will suffer far more mental and physical damage before the addiction becomes apparent

The Stigma of Addiction

A common reason why alcoholics who are high functioning will refuse to get help is that they are worried about their reputation. This is understandable as there are judgmental people out there in the world. The reality is though, that if the person fails to get help it is likely that their reputation will suffer worse damage. Just because they have managed to hold things together thus far does not mean that they will be able to continue to do so in the future. Addiction usually involves a downward spiral, and this means that things tend to get worse over time. The stigma of recovering from an alcohol problem is nothing when compared to the stigma of being an alcoholic in freefall. In fact, there are plenty of examples of successful, respected people who previously had addiction problems.

How to Help High Functioning Alcoholics

Once the person becomes willing to admit that they have a problem, there will be plenty of things that can be done to help them. The problem is getting this person to a stage where they do become willing to acknowledge their situation. This individual may be in particularly deep denial and will have all types of justifications for why they should continue with their behaviour. Here are a few suggestions for how to help high functioning alcoholics.

  • The individual may be unaware that it is possible to be successful and have an addiction, so it is important for them to learn about the existence of high functioning alcoholics.

  • It can be very helpful for this person to meet people in recovery who also experienced what it was like to be a professional high functioning alcoholic.

  • This person may be very worried about their reputation, but they need to know that there are options where they can get the help they need anonymously.

  • It is vital that this person understands that things are likely to get worse over time, and that it is unlikely that they will be able to hold things together indefinitely.

  • This person is likely to have times when they are more open to the idea that they have a problem – this might be when they have a bad hangover or they have done something particularly hurtful.

  • An intervention is where loved ones come together to tackle the person about their alcohol problem, and this can be a good option if done correctly.

How to Deal with High Functioning Alcoholism

Those individuals who feel ready to deal with their alcohol problem can:

  • attend sessions with an addiction counsellor who will be able to help them come to terms with their situation

  • enter rehab, which is a good option because it means that the individual will be given the tools to build a strong recovery

  • consider going to a rehab abroad where they can get the help they need completely anonymously; they can just tell friends that they are going on holiday

  • attend some AA meetings – this fellowship is based on the principle of anonymity, but if the individual is worried about being seen they can attend a meeting out of town