Recognizing a High-Functioning Alcoholic
You wake up early every morning, hit the gym before enjoying breakfast with your spouse and kids, and head off to your high-power job. When you get home, your reward for a long day’s work might be two bottles of wine or a few joints to help you unwind.
Some People Who are Driven to Succeed are also Alcoholics
If this sounds familiar, you may be what addiction specialists call a “high-functioning addict” – someone who holds down a stable job, has a family and appears to be on top of the world, but who is privately struggling with the disease of addiction.
Know the Symptoms
Are you or someone you know a high-functioning addict? The signs may be hard to recognize, but here are a few things to look out for:
- Drinking or using more than intended
- Being consumed by thoughts of drinking or using drugs, or making plans for the next time they can drink or use
- Blacking out or being unable to remember what took place because of excessive drinking or drug use
- Experiencing cravings to have more of a drug
- Behaving in uncharacteristic ways when under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Denying the existence of a problem and refusing to get help for addiction
- Making excuses for drinking or using drugs (for example, using drugs as a reward or to relieve stress)
- Maintaining a job, family and social life and appearing put together to the outside world, but drinking or using excessively or obsessively
- Surrounding themselves with heavy drinkers or drug users
- Trying unsuccessfully to limit or stop drinking or using drugs
- Hiding or sneaking alcohol or other drugs (for example, before or after an event or indulging alone)
- Ignoring or rationalizing physical and psychological consequences of drinking or drug use
Other signs may include failing to meet family obligations, late attendance or frequently calling in sick at work, and an overall change in attitude or focus.
Leading a Double Life
According to Michael Hurst, the marketing coordinator at Sober Living by the Sea, a network of addiction treatment centers in Southern California, executives, professionals, celebrities and people in high-profile positions are often the hardest to help. They don’t have a boss to answer to at work; they are under a great deal of pressure at work and feel entitled to indulge on drugs or alcohol as a reward for their hard work; and their high income cushions them from the financial consequences of their drug use. They may also view treatment as a sign of weakness and believe they are capable of resolving their problems alone.
“High-functioning addicts live double lives: successful executive by day, addict by night,” said Hurst. “Their lives are shrouded in secrets, lies and shame, all of which must be addressed in order to return to healthy functioning.”
Because society has an image of what drug addiction and alcoholism look like, and the high-functioning addict doesn’t match this stereotype, family and friends often unknowingly enable the addict’s destructive behaviors by refusing to acknowledge and confront the problem.
Even if a high-functioning addict acknowledges that they have an addiction, they aren’t likely to seek drug treatment because they view themselves as “too valuable” at work to spend 30, 60 or 90-plus days in drug rehab. What would happen to their job, their reputation and the income that their family depends on?
“Functional addicts are often the heads of companies who are married with children,” said Nate Stump, a case manager at The Landing, an exclusive men’s-only addiction treatment center in Newport Beach, California (a member of the Sober Living by the Sea network of drug treatment programs). “It’s hard for them to break away from their responsibilities and find time for recovery, and it’s easy to use their jobs as an excuse to avoid getting help.”
Helping a Loved One on the Road to Recovery
Some high-functioning addicts gradually lose control over their drinking or drug use over a number of years, while others experience a dramatic event that brings the severity of their problem to the forefront. In either case, treatment is often the only way for a high-functioning addict to reclaim control over their career, family life and future.
Perfectionism Can Display Itself in Destructive Ways
The families of high-functioning addicts play a critical role in getting them into treatment. The first step, according to Stump, is contacting a professional interventionist or addiction specialist who can help the addict recognize the extent of their drug problem and enter an addiction treatment program that meets their unique needs.
“Addiction is a family disease, and families have a lot to do with getting their addicted loved ones into treatment,” said Stump. “One of the few things they may be willing to sacrifice their habit for is their family and the hope to return to a normal lifestyle.”
Executive rehab programs understand the unique needs of high-functioning addicts and the concerns they have about their reputation and privacy. That’s why they offer the utmost in discretion and confidentiality, while providing sophisticated, individualized care, luxurious accommodations and cutting-edge treatment options.
Residents at The Landing attend group counseling in the company of like-minded individuals and build self-esteem through sober activities, such as surfing, playing on a sober softball team and visiting local museums and attractions.
As part of its holistic approach to addiction treatment, The Landing addresses each client’s situation individually, including their physical, emotional, social and dietary needs. Through intensive individual, group and family therapy, sober activities, healthy meals prepared by a gourmet chef, and a highly individualized treatment approach, The Landing creates a safe, private and healing atmosphere for men to start down the road to recovery.