We hear about the term “high functioning alcoholic” all the time lately, usually in reference to someone else. But in reality, it has very personal connotations. Am I a high functioning alcoholic? Are you a high performing alcoholic? But before we can label anyone with a name such as alcoholic, we need to understand just what a high functioning alcoholic is.
What is an alcoholic?
Most of us have probably observed a poor unfortunate person who is deeply in the grip of an alcoholic stupor. This person may or may not care for their personal hygiene, and may or may not have a roof over their head. And this person who has succumbed to alcoholism, may or may not have family that cares. This is not a very nice scenario, but it is true, and it happens every day. Alcoholism is an illness that can envelop anyone from any walk of life at any time.
Why doesn’t everyone who drinks become an alcoholic?
Just because we don’t all look like homeless alcoholics, doesn’t mean that we can never, ever end up that way. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same problem. The issue of alcoholism is all about appearance, and scale. Many of us believe that if we keep up appearances, then we can’t possibly have a problem. But if we don’t take steps to address the problem, and because alcohol adds to the stress of our lives, over a long period of time, the problem will definitely get worse. This is what I mean by scale. Because we are all at different points along the drinking scale, and I am sure that the homeless alcoholic never intended to end up derelict. But it can happen.
What is a high functioning alcoholic?
If you are like me, and you are a bit competitive, like to keep up with the crowd, keep an eye on what my peer group is doing, then there could be another scenario at play.
I used to think that I could handle my drink. Once, I thought that I could drink more than everyone else and still keep my senses. I used to think that I could handle it better than everyone else. Surely this was a power of strength – to be able to drink all night and keep on partying. My belief was that the one who could drink the most was the winner, and I didn’t want to be the loser.
It was also important to me to be able to recover quickly, and to get up early the next day. Whether it be ready to go to the office, or play sport, or a family outing, I had to be up and ready to function at 100%. I thought I could do everything and do it better than everyone else. One of my favourite sayings was “Work hard, and play hard, and sleep well at night!”
Drinking too much alcohol is not an advantage
The problem with being able to handle more than the average amount of alcohol is that I tended to drink more than the average amount of alcohol. All the time! What started as a challenge amongst my peer group to have a few too many drinks, turned into a bad lifestyle habit of drinking every night. The weekend party became a nightly occurrence in terms of alcohol consumption. Something that started out as a celebration of youth had turned into a coping mechanism for middle age.
Highly functional alcoholic
The difficult part to recognise about becoming a high functioning alcoholic, is that I thought I was a high achiever. I thought my productivity covered for the occasional over-indulgence. The occasional hangover at work was merely something to push through. Failure was not an option, but neither was mindfulness. What I really needed was to step back and look at this pattern that was developing here.
Look out for the warning signs
Sometimes the first indication we get that something is not quite right, comes as a bit of a surprise. A routine visit to the Doctor revealed that I had high blood pressure. This was a nasty surprise because I thought that I was managing my health pretty well. I had taken steps to reduce my cholesterol, and I maintained a reasonable exercise regime. But I had not managed to control my drinking, and now it had come back to bite me. The Doctor recommended that I cut back on drinking, and start to drink in moderation.
Drink in moderation?
How hard can that be? I can do anything I set my mind to because I am a high achieving individual. Well, as I began to learn, it is easy to cut back on drinking. But it is not so easy to keep it down. I even tried quitting alcohol for a short time. Again, I found it is easy to stop drinking, but not so easy to stay stopped. For the first time in my life, I discovered something that I couldn’t beat. Normally, I could do anything that I set my mind to. Even if I wasn’t good at something, I could usually find a way, because I was a high achieving individual. But this time, I found that the I didn’t have the will power to win this one.
Am I a high functioning alcoholic?
OMG – could it really be true? Could I really be a high functioning alcoholic? No matter how many times I tried to stop drinking, or to drink in moderation, I found that bad habits just kept returning. And that is when I really began to worry, because I had a picture of an old alcoholic person in my head, and no way was that going to be a picture of me. But as a high functioning individual, I was pretty good at hiding the problem with alcohol, and I became fearful that maybe it was too late. If I kept going like that for another 10 years, I hate to think what would happen.
Something had to change
I am grateful that the warning signs were enough for me. Thankfully, somehow or other I stumbled through the minefield to find a way to stop drinking. Whatever you do, don’t try to sweep these warnings under the carpet. Don’t try to deny the facts when they jump up in front of you. Don’t wait until the warning signs become full blown issues, like pancreatitis, or heart attack, or car accident or marriage breakdown. Don’t be felled by an avoidable disaster.
The way I see it, there are two reasons to quit drinking:
The best way to quit drinking is to face up to the facts yourself, and decide that enough is enough. Take the initiative and do something about your drinking problem. Trust me – your family will love you!
Or the other reason is that your Doctor will one day tell you that you have a problem and you have to stop drinking immediately. It is your choice
If you think you have a problem with alcohol, then you probably do have a problem
I still don’t like to think that I was a high functioning alcoholic. In fact I have extreme reluctance to admit to being an alcoholic. But thankfully, now I don’t have to, because I am free from the curse of drinking alcohol every night. In fact I love being alcohol free, because now I am free to really achieve the things I want most out of life. I want to be present for my family, I want to be a good husband, I want a successful career, and I want to help others escape from the clutches of alcohol. Now that I love being alcohol free, I can really make those thing happen.
What is the best reason for quitting alcohol?
Freedom. No longer do I feel the weight of the pressure to perform the dance of death with alcohol. I can still be a high achieving individual, but I don’t feel the need to share my time with alcohol. The best part is that I feel so proud of myself for getting rid of the burden of trying to share my life with drinking. My family are proud of me, and no amount of money can buy the respect that I got for quitting. But the benefit of quitting alcohol is totally within my own mind, and the way I feel so much better. The weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I am free to express myself without hiding behind alcohol bravado.
Also published on Medium.