Functional Alcoholics – Family Impact, Hidden Trauma
Posted On July 22, 2016
1 in 5 Alcoholics are Considered ‘High Functioning’
Emotional Impact on the Family Can Be Devastating
What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?
“The ‘functional alcoholic subtype‘ are least like the typical alcoholic. They are often well-educated, middle-aged and with stable jobs and families. This functional category highlighted the hidden nature of problem drinking for many people.
High-functioning alcoholics are often able to hold down a job (often well-paid) and appear in control of their lives. These individuals are often extremely well experienced at hiding their drinking habits and due to the seemingly minimal consequences [to them] of their drinking will be unlikely to see it as a problem.
The findings contribute to the small but growing collection of research affirming the effects of fathers’ characteristics and father-child relationship qualities on children’s social development, rather than just the fathers’ residence in the home or presence in the child’s life,
Families of Functional Alcoholics Experience Significant Trauma
The classic stereotype of alcoholism is someone who always drinks too much too often and whose life is falling apart because of it. But not all problem drinking fits that mold. Some people appear to be just fine while they abuse alcohol.
Experts call these people “functional alcoholics” or “high-functioning alcoholics.” However, families of functional alcoholics experience significant trauma.
Typical high-functioning alcoholics are in denial about their abuse of alcohol. The impact of the alcoholism is ‘hidden’ and limited to immediate family members.
Coworkers, relatives and friends often enable abusive alcoholic behavior to continue by refusing to acknowledge and confront it.
Alcohol abuse does have negative consequences, even if those consequences are not immediately apparent. Functional alcoholics appear to have a ‘great life’ to outside observers; including a career, home, family, and friendships. Inside the immediate family, all the negative qualities of alcoholism are experienced with full impact by the family.
Because the alcoholic appears totally ‘fine’ to everyone else, there is no active support offered for the spouse and children of a high-functioning alcoholic.
Worse, immediate family members may not be believed when they describe their spouse’s at home alcoholic behaviors. This often delays or prevents the spouse from seeking much needed help for themselves, their children and their loved one.
Alcoholism Damages Families, Children of Alcoholics
The effects of alcoholism on families can cause more damage and pain than any other internal or external influence on the family unit. The impact of the drinker’s abuse or addiction is usually experienced differently by each member of the family. Children of alcoholics experience long-term negative effects. The 14 Traits of an Adult Child of of an Alcoholic
Children of alcoholics are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, antisocial behavior, relationship difficulties, behavioral problems, and/or alcohol abuse. One recent study finds that children of drug-abusing fathers have the worst mental health issues.
Depression is common, as is anxiety, aggression and impulsive behavior. Adult children of alcoholics continue having a negative self-image, which causes them to make poor choices and accumulate failures in their work, social and family lives.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than one-half of adults in the U.S. have a close family member who has abused alcohol or is addicted to alcohol.
Getting Help for High-Functioning Alcoholics Can Be Very Difficult
A serious obstacle in identifying and getting help for high-functioning alcoholics is that high-functioning alcoholics often do not meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, as described in the psychiatric diagnostic manual. They have good jobs, perform the expected tasks of daily life and avoid legal problems.
Living with a high-functioning alcoholic can cause significant cognitive dissonance. That is, affected family members question their own perceptions and experience.
Since the world at large sees the high-functioning alcoholic as ‘ok’ – family members question themselves intensely. This leads to family members more easily assuming ‘blame’ for the alcoholic’s condition.
If family members accept the outside world’s assessment of the alcoholic as ‘ok’ – then there is no explanation for all the painful and damaging symptoms of living with an alcoholic that family members experience daily.
People in positions of power are often the hardest to detect and help because they tend not to be closely supervised at work. They are assumed to be able to deal successfully with the pressures of their jobs. And their high pay enables them to escape the financial consequences of excessive drinking. Most see drinking as their reward for hard work.
High-functioning Alcoholic Family Trauma
Spouses and other family members begin to ask a perfectly logical question: “If you really love and care about me, why do you keep doing what you know hurts me so badly?”
The alcoholic has no answer except to promise not to do it again. Commonly, alcoholics respond with grievances and complaints of their own towards family members. The question of ‘fairness’ arises as the alcoholic attempts to excuse hurtful behavior impacting the family. This is often done by categorizing the ‘faults’ of those who point out the addictive behavior.
Ultimately, the alcoholic begins to think of himself as the ‘victim’ of the unfairness and unreasonableness of others. Those who try to help are seen as ‘harping on’ alcoholism and consequences that follow.
“Leave me alone,” the alcoholic snaps. “I’m not hurting anybody but myself!” The functional alcoholic is blind to how his addictive behavior harms the family who cares about them. Almost always, this feeling of ‘victimization’ gives rise to self-pity, resentment and outrage towards the family whose lives are being disrupted by the addict’s behavior.
We use a multi-disciplinary addiction treatment approach implemented by licensed professionals. The Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff includes a Physician-Addictionologist, Addiction Psychiatrist, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Registered Nurse, several Licensed Therapists, and an addiction Nutritionist.
We assist our clients in finding their personal connection to the spiritual. Through years of experience, we believe in the power of spirituality in the addiction healing process. We assist our clients in discovering their unique path to living a more authentic and joyful life. See our article on Mindfulness Meditation – The 10th Step.
Alcoholism Recovery Journey to Wholeness and Healing
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We equip our clients with the depth and stability to handle all the curves and disappointments – as well as joys – in their regular daily lives once they leave Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.
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