high-functioning alcoholism
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Media depictions have given us a stereotypical image of a “high-functioning” alcoholic – someone who manages to maintain their job, family life and social commitments while secretly battling an alcohol addiction. This portrayal suggests that some can skirt the severe repercussions typically associated with substance abuse. But is there truth to this depiction, or is it a pervasive myth?

The Progressive Nature of Addiction

Addiction is insidiously progressive. Many people who abuse alcohol rationalize their habits, arguing that they cannot be severely ill if they can still fulfill their daily responsibilities. However, addiction gradually alters the brain’s structure and function, affecting decision-making abilities and emotional health over time. In other words, even if someone seems to have everything under control now, this facade is only temporary.

As the disease of addiction takes hold, it diminishes a person’s ability to maintain a normal outward appearance. High-functioning alcoholics share several characteristics.

1. Denial

This hallmark of addiction manifests as a robust defense mechanism. Functioning alcoholics often use denial to mask the extent of their problem, with rationalizations like these.

  • “I can stop drinking anytime I like; I just choose not to right now.”
  • “I don’t need to get drunk – I’m doing it recreationally.”
  • “I work hard, and I deserve something that helps me unwind.”
2. Enablement

Support from well-meaning family, friends, and colleagues can inadvertently sustain a high-functioning addict’s lifestyle. Enablers might:

  • Make excuses to cover for the alcoholic’s decisions or behavior.
  • Provide emotional or financial support that helps the person avoid facing the consequences of their actions.
  • Take the blame for problems caused by the addict’s behavior.
3. Employment

Holding a steady job can be misleadingly reassuring to functioning addicts, helping them afford to continue buying alcohol while providing a semblance of normalcy and success. Co-workers who cover for mistakes, rationalize unexcused absences or give them second chances further perpetuate this illusion. However, even the most lenient supervisor will eventually notice the lost productivity and poor decision-making skills that characterize active addiction.

4. Legal and Financial Issues

An alcoholic deep in denial may claim their behavior is not problematic because they haven’t faced legal and monetary consequences. Still, this line is precarious to walk – financial troubles and run-ins with law enforcement are often inevitable as addiction progresses.

Busting the Myth of High-Functioning Addiction

The myth of the high-functioning addict is dangerous. It suggests some alcoholics can continue drinking without the inevitable decline their disease brings. At Hope by the Sea, we know substance use disorders require professional intervention and treatment – no matter how well someone may hide their problem behind closed doors.

If you know someone who struggles with alcohol addiction, you must try convincing them to get help, even if they appear to be in control. The carefully crafted illusion of being high-functioning can crumble quickly, and early intervention can make a significant difference. Hope by the Sea offers a compassionate, understanding environment for adults to address their addiction with professional support, away from the pressures of maintaining an unsustainable, unhealthy front. Contact us today to learn more about our family-owned California addiction treatment facility and our comprehensive treatment tracks.