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A functional alcoholic, also known as a “functioning alcoholic” or a “high functioning alcoholic” (HFA), is a person who meets the criteria for alcoholism or alcoholism, but still is able to function in society financially, professionally, socially and/or otherwise.
While the high functioning alcoholic may be late to (or miss) work or forget a family obligation, he usually is good at hiding the extent to which drinking takes up his time, thoughts and activities. From the outside, the functional alcoholic may look “normal” or “fine.”
Living with a functioning alcoholic
In many cases, a person who is addicted to alcohol will make the decision to seek help for the alcoholism following an incident or trend that affects that individual (as well as family, friends, co-workers, etc) in a negative way. In the case of functioning alcoholics (and their spouses, loved ones, friends, etc), this dynamic is a bit “off.” Because of the hiding associated with acting “normal” in the “real” world while being an addict in a secret personal world, there is often a high level of denial at play here.
Oftentimes, unfortunately, high functioning alcoholics, who are living double lives that include hidden heavy drinking, are among the last to think they need help, or to seek it. Those who live with a functioning alcoholic know this better than anyone else.
Signs of a functional alcoholic
High functioning alcoholics can consume as much alcohol as any other alcohol abusers, but because they are skilled at hiding the typical alcoholic behavior, they may develop a very high tolerance to alcohol. They often drink alcohol in relatively large amounts, feeling a “buzz” only at this very high level of consumption. This high tolerance often characteristic to functional alcoholism is particularly dangerous, potentially resulting in grave health issues, organ damage and even death.
Getting help for the high functioning alcoholic
Because of their ability to function at a high level (especially when compared to the more common conception of the alcoholic as a “sloppy drunk”), functional alcoholics—as well as their husbands, wives, friends, siblings and others – sometimes find it even more difficult to admit there is a problem that requires outside help than other alcoholics and their loved ones do.
This is because in many cases, the HFA isn’t considered by others or by himself as an alcoholic. In fact, these men and women may go undiagnosed and regarded as someone who can “hold his liquor.” Like any other alcoholic, the longer the functioning alcoholic goes without treatment, the more damaging the addiction can be.
Who is the High Functioning Alcoholic?
One more important point to make about this type of alcoholism is this: HFAs, who can be found in all walks of like and are of all ages, are made up of about half men and women equally.