Tuesday, May 5, 2009

High-functioning alcoholics?

An article in the New York Times today spoke in depth about a segment of the population not often talked about- the high-functioning alcoholic. Sarah Allen Benton has recently published a book called "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" which can be found on Amazon here. Her basic premise is that this special type of alcoholic is able to somehow manage a job, family, friends and yet mask their problem drinking, sometimes for years. Many of these people are able to maintain a semblance of a normal life while covering up the massive wreckage that alcoholics routinely suffer.

What's interesting about this segment of the population is that it has existed in almost secret for hundreds of years. Employees, customers, and family members are often willing to overlook out-of-control drinking since their loved one or boss can maintain their job performance. The three martini lunch, popular up through the early 90s, was almost a right of passage for high-performing executives. They looked at alcohol as a reward for their hard work.

For many of these high-performing people, the major consequence for them is the fact that the one aspect of their lives that they can't control is their alcohol intake. They've avoided many consequences- loss of job, loss of family, financial ruin, etc. The other interesting thing is that there is an entire segment of the treatment world devoted to treating this population. Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta functioned for years by simply treating doctors. Hazelden Springbrook in Newburg, OR has a program dedicated to helping healthcare professionals. And programs such as The Landing, Promises, and other high end facilities specialize in treating high-functioning alcoholics- basing treatment tracks on the assumption that clients their don't need a complete overhaul of their lives, just around their relationship with alcohol and/or drugs.

What can be troubling about this segment of the population is relapse. When high-functioning alcoholics, who are used to perfection in all aspects of their lives, have trouble with sobriety, they can run into trouble when relapse happens. They can often move downhill fast. Luckily, there are resources available. Places such as Sunrise Recovery Ranch, Mayflower Center, and Jaywalker Lodge provide programs for chronic reluctant-to-recover patients, and can work together with the job and family to insure a smooth transition back into life.

It will be interesting to see how much this article and book bring awareness to this issue. People suffer in silence daily due to the ignorance of their friends and family members about the signs of out-of-control drinking. I can only hope that this article can help bring things to light about the secret lives of high-functioning alcoholics.

In other news, my friend Rick Ohrstrom over at Sober Bulldog just returned from the Gaza Strip working on addiction and trauma. Make sure to check out his website and stay tuned for a new blog about his experiences overseas.

Here's Anderson Cooper's breakdown of doctors in treatment:

Here's something funny.

As always, follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. AT, good stuff. i considered myself a high functioning addict with outside success in my life, job, family, friends, however, over time the progressiveness of the disease caught up to me internally. I went to hazelden w/ many professionals and the ego seemed to be the biggest hurddle for myself and others. The ability to find success, yet still drink and use in the manner I did was a game that continued to fuel the ego. Thus, I think this attributes to relaspe. Anyway, good stuff. If you find folks in F&B industry pass along.