When most people hear the word “alcoholic, they think of pathetic fall down drunk who turns nasty and violent after they have had too much to drink. Some may think of the drunk who displays other embarrassing behavior even if it is not violent; they pass out in inappropriate places and have a tendency to have a life that is clearly spinning out of control.
It tuns out there are many types of alcoholics and the one that most of us think of, the one fitting the stereotype of the low-bottom alcoholic is actually only 9% are of the “chronic severe” subtype. According to Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C., a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, “High-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) defy these stereotype and often go undetected because they do not fit the image of the “typical” alcoholic.” 20% of alcoholics are actually functional alcoholics and among them are high functioning alcoholics (HFA).
An HFA is an alcoholic who is able to maintain his or her outside life, such as a job, home, family, and friendships, all while drinking alcoholically. HFAs have the same disease as the stereotypical “skid-row” alcoholic, but it manifests or progresses differently. Many are not viewed by society as being alcoholic, because they have functioned, succeeded and/or over-achieved throughout their lifetimes. These achievements often lead to an increase in personal denial as well as denial from colleagues and loved ones. HFAs are less apt to feel that they need treatment or help for their alcoholism and often slide through the cracks of the health care system, both medically and psychologically, because they are not diagnosed. Sadly, according to the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions only 25% of alcoholics ever receive treatment-indicating a serious problem of denial on a societal level.
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:
• have difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they don’t fit the stereotypical image
• believe that they are not alcoholics because they are 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
• sustain friendships and family relations
• have romantic relationships