Are You a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

High-functioning alcoholics

Happy New Year!

Twenty-five years ago today, I had my last drink.

And now I’m working on a book proposal for a memoir about my drinking years and recovery, researching articles and sites that support my project. When I found this piece on high-functioning alcoholics, I found myself. At least, who I was.

A bona-fide HFA. Could you be one too?

How to Recognize a High-Functioning Alcoholic | Intervention.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of HFAs

Although some of the warning signs and symptoms of HFAs are similar to those of other alcoholics, they often appear at different stages of the progression of alcoholism. Some signs may not be present in all HFAs, or may occur in clusters. One thing is certain: the longer the HFA goes without treatment, the more likely he or she will display some of these warning signs and symptoms.

• In the company of others who drink – The HFA surrounds himself with others who like to drink. This assimilation makes it difficult to pick out the HFA as being different from the rest. Besides, the HFA truly enjoys drinking and being around others with similar likes.

• Obsessing over alcohol – The thought of alcohol is never far from the mind of the HFA. Counting hours until the next drink, mentally savoring the mellowness and pleasure of the impending drink, calculating how much alcohol can be consumed without any outward signs of drunkenness – the HFA obsesses over alcohol.

• Consuming craving – One drink is never enough for the HFA. The lure is too strong, and the craving consumes the HFA until he or she can have the next drink – and the next, and the next. Before long, the HFA has lost control over total alcohol intake – even though he or she still may appear outwardly normal and in control. After all, they are masters of discipline and concealment.

One drink is never enough

• Alcohol is part of their lives – The HFA would no more give up alcohol than they’d give up their identity. Alcohol is so much a part of their lives that they cannot imagine a life without alcohol.

• Finishing drinks of others – If someone the HFA is with leaves a drink on the bar or the table, the HFA may pick it up and finish it. “Don’t want to let this go to waste,” he may say in a joking manner. Related to this is the example of the HFA downing his own drink when it’s time to leave – to go to the table at the restaurant after waiting at the bar, for example – and then quickly ordering another. If a family member or friend doesn’t touch his or her drink, the HFA often drinks it along with his own.

• Experiencing shame over drunken behavior – Being such masters of concealment, the HFA does often experience remorse and/or shame over instances where their behavior has become sloppy after drinking. Such behavior isn’t part of their carefully crafted images and they consequently work even harder to avoid such mistakes in the future. But they won’t quit drinking.
They’ll just watch their behavior more.

• Self-deluding – Some HFAs drink only expensive wine or liquor in the mistaken belief that this means they’re not an alcoholic. It’s a self-delusion that allows them to continue to drink with impunity.


• Fit life into compartments – Another familiar sign of HFAs is that they are able to conveniently separate their drinking lives from the rest of their existence. Who they are at home, on the job, or to casual acquaintances is totally different from their drinking routine and environment.

• Tried to quit but failed – At some point the HFA may have tried to quit drinking but failed in the attempt. This pattern may often be repeated, but still the HFA refuses to seek treatment. It is part of their personality makeup, their self-constructed identity that they feel they can handle their drinking on their own. Such refusal to get help is difficult to overcome.

• Excuses and rewards – HFAs feel they work hard and deserve a drink as a reward. Drinking, to the HFA, is both an excuse and a reward. The HFA may even use those words in defense of his actions – to himself and to others.

• Hiding and sneaking – When others are going to be around – and watching – the HFA may sneak a drink early, drink before going out, or drink alone. Such secrecy is part of the concealment of the HFA’s true problem. He or she has to get in the drinking, but can’t take the risk of others finding out or suspecting the real problem.


• Emotional and physical consequences don’t matter – Whether minor or severe, emotional and physical consequences of drinking don’t make a difference to the HFA – who will continue to drink, regardless. It’s only when things really spiral out of control that the HFA, or those closest to him, may seek help for the problem.

• Blackouts, memory losses, or worse – At the end of the HFA’s downward spiral – just as with any other alcoholic – blackouts, memory losses, increasing physical, emotional, psychological, social and/or legal problems intensify. It’s at this point that the HFA either gets treatment or continues to deteriorate.

Writing Is (also) My Prozac

I loved this post by Kathy Weyer on so much, I needed to repost it here.

Writing Is My Prozac

Storm Coming, photo by Carol Weis

I call it The Beast.

As a mental health professional, the death of Robin Williams struck a profound chord. He had it all – fame, money, respect, children, a new marriage. Many people are asking – how could he?

We’ll never know what happened in his head, but clearly he saw exiting the world as his only way out of whatever pain he suffered. He tried drugs and alcohol to escape and found that destructive. It’s a good guess that he was being treated professionally for his depression. His Beast could not be slayed.

Many writers suffer from depression, often called malaise or melancholia. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Virginia Wolff all suffered from depression. It grips you and won’t let go.

Believe me, I know. It occurred to me that that’s why I write. It helps exorcise some demons.

While there may be some root causes for depression (grief that sticks, then becomes a habit of sorts,) most is organic, meaning the chemicals in the brain are off and medication will help organize them back into shape and help balance out your moods. That, along with talk therapy, will often be successful. But it’s a lifelong process.

I don’t have the statistics, but I would bet that most creative people have some sort of emotional or mental issue. Artists, writers, most craftspeople, really, have a different slant on life. Geniuses abound in the creative world, and, coincidentally, in recovery centers. Not all geniuses are alcoholics, but a lot of alcoholics have IQ’s that are off the charts. Alcohol is a depressant; perhaps it calms the storm going on in their heads. I don’t know because I’m neither a genius nor an alcoholic.

People who abuse drugs and alcohol are trying to find peace through escape. The Beast takes a nap for a bit, but, like a vampire, he reawakens, ready to ruin your world, which is tight and dark with no windows and no options.

I am editing stories for someone who had a drug and alcohol problem for twenty-seven years – from age thirteen to forty. He never completed high school and therefore his writing and grammar skills can use some polishing. It’s an addiction problem with him – first smoking, then alcohol, then drugs, then working out. Now it’s writing.

When he’s not working, he’s writing on an old computer, banging out stories from his experiences in flophouses, making deals, living off the streets, in jail, and with others. The stories are tough – there is one where he’s in a hotel room with a young girl who shot up heroin and gave herself too much. She died, but, all by himself and with the nervous energy that methamphetamines give you, he banged on her chest and got her heart started again. It’s repulsive and riveting.

He says he can feel himself shifting with every story as he reviews the true happenings in his life and can examine them from different angles. I send them back with notes “go deeper”, and he does. He talks about the lack of feeling at the time, lack of remorse, lack of respect for himself and others. He’s learning about himself as he spills out the story of his life.

Writers are very seldom rich people. We don’t do it for money or fame, although that would be nice. We do it for ourselves and hope and pray that it appeals to others. Every idea, every story, every plot and concept comes from somewhere deep inside us, from our own experiences. It all means something very personal to us, even though we may not recognize it at the time. (“Where did that come from?”)

We need to get to know ourselves better, and writers have found a way to do that, creatively and hopefully artfully. But in the end it’s about going deeper, finding out the why, the how, and the lesson of each story of our lives.

The stories I’m editing have taught me a great deal and opened my eyes to giving permission to delve deeper, open those windows and shed some light on your past, and ultimately take steps to slay The Beast, one story at a time.