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We’re used to thinking of alcoholics as the ones whose lives are in the gutter, those who are isolated from society, jobless and visibly desperate. Regardless of what we know about the pervasive nature of addiction and its ability to touch all sectors and spheres of society, this is the image we often have of the alcoholic. So when we see individuals attending church with their families, excelling in their professional lives, participating in service and ministry and living the classic suburban life, the last thing we assume is that they would be hiding an addiction problem.
High-functioning alcoholics are elusive characters and masters of imagery. They aren’t falling down drunk, showing up to church reeking of booze and maybe not even going out or causing trouble at all. Many are sitting at home in the evening, helping their kids with the homework and then sitting in front of the TV, drinking to the point of passing out. They wake up the next day, shower, brew a strong cup of coffee and head off to work, and the pattern starts again.
The high-functioning alcoholic is so named because, for all intents and purposes, he or she is “functional.” This class of addicts shows up at work, they’re involved in the community, they uphold their obligations, and they may even be your pastor or a respected leader in the church.
Alcohol holds an unhealthy place in their lives, but they’re always careful, to the degree that they are able, to not go too far over the line. Even when drunk, they’re surprisingly controlled and seemingly lucid.
High-functioning alcoholics are a conundrum and they are not only hard to identify, but also hard to help as they are steeped in deep denial. They don’t look desperate to themselves or the rest of society. Their lives aren’t falling apart, their jobs and marriages are intact and they hold the respect of the community. Why would they need help?
Professional success, community influence and church involvement mean other people often don’t even imagine there could be a problem with excessive drinking. The family may be aware, or may suspect, but may also become accustomed to the behavior as normal: “Dad likes his cocktails—he has a stressful job,” or “Mom likes to have a few glasses of wine to unwind.” They may be conditioned to excuse the behavior or to simply hide it.
Many people, especially those in business or power positions, are accustomed to measuring success and well-being on the basis of performance. Thus the logic follows that if they’re performing, there are no problems. There might be a passing, fleeting concern that they drink too much, but as they look around at their home, car, job and family all intact, they are convinced they must be OK. They’re respected in the community and involved in the church. Real alcoholics can’t keep their lives together like this, can they?
The Pain And Denial Of Alcoholism
But the outside doesn’t match the inside. Regardless of how well one is able to uphold the façade of normalcy, he or she may be utterly in shambles on the inside. He or she may wish for a solution, but simultaneously be afraid of upsetting the apple cart of his or her comfortable, upper middle class life. The stakes are too high. What would people say? What would happen to the family if the alcoholic admitted his or her need for help?
Denial is going to be a major hurdle to leap in trying to help the high-functioning alcoholic see that there is actually a problem with his or her drinking. Family members may talk to the individual about his or her drinking, but this must be done carefully and perhaps with the help of a church leader. Rather than call the individual out as an alcoholic, it will be better to speak honestly about how his or her drinking is affecting you. Even so, the alcoholic may not be ready to acknowledge the problem or to seek help for it. Spouses and children must be willing to get the help and support they need to deal with an addict if he or she is unwilling to acknowledge the problem.
Signs Of A Functional Alcoholic
Think that you or a loved one may be a functional alcoholic? Here are a few of the signs:
- Women: Having more than three drinks a day, or seven per week
- Men: More than four drinks a day, or 14 per week
And for both genders:
- Engaging in affairs, risky sex
- Having frequent problems at work, missed work, demotions
- Drinking in the morning, or when alone
- Excessive drinking on business trips
- A DUI charge
- Joking about having a problem with alcohol
- Secret drinking, hidden stashes of alcohol
- Defensiveness, even anger, when confronted about alcohol use
- Frequent excuses for drinking or behavior related to excessive drinking
- Domestic abuse
- Marital problems
- Always keeping the liquor cabinet or supply stocked, buying in bulk
- Obsession with alcohol
- Makes alcohol a hobby, becomes a connoisseur—may spend a lot of money on expensive brands, only drinks the best
- Spends less time, socially, with people from the church and more in the company of those who share drinking habits
- Doesn’t care to attend events where alcohol will not be served
- May be quite disciplined and self-controlled, employing these faculties in maintaining the façade and appearing normal, even when highly intoxicated
- Tendency to compartmentalize, having a personality and way of acting in the various spheres of their lives
- Drinks as a reward
- Anger issues
- Sexual dysfunction
Alcohol Addiction Treatment For The Christian
Admitting to an addiction can be hard for anyone, but especially for a Christian. Christians have a spiritual and leadership role to live up to, both to their families and to their community. Denial and resisting help is common, but through God, all things are possible! Don’t give up on your Christian addict. Seek help today.
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