Throughout the Christmas break we laugh about the levels of drinking the holiday period brings, the quantities, the daily pursuit, the celebrations which wouldn’t be the same without a glass of something in hand.
But we’re not alcoholics, we just enjoy a drink. We all know how to spot an alcoholic right? Those people who prop up the bar in their threadbare suits, who wander the streets with a can in their hand. The people we sit next to on the train who smell like they’ve been on a week-long binge in a brewery. We turn away, shake our heads and thank our lucky stars we’re not alcoholics, like them.
But according to the experts, roughly twenty percent of all alcoholics could be labelled as high-functioning alcoholics, and that could be someone you know, or worse, it could be you.
What exactly is the difference between a healthy drinker and someone who is a high-functioning alcoholic?
Basically it’s about how you maintain and manoeuvre through life. Like the normal drinker, the HFA has a job, a good one even, is making money, holds responsibilities; lives a successful life. The only difference between a high-functioning alcoholic and a normal drinker is that the HFA is physically dependent on or mentally addicted to alcohol. Whilst the HFA does not always drink during the day (unless they are part of a ‘liquid lunch’ culture), an HFA feels they need alcohol in some form every day, and rarely, if ever, go without it. Surprisingly, they don’t hide their drinking; the bottles are in the fridge, not the airing cupboard.
So when does a ‘glass or two’ at the end of a long, hard working day slip into something more serious, like addiction? Read this hypothetical case study based upon one in the Independent newspaper: does this sound like you or anyone you know?
At the end of the working day, every day, you hit the pub or go home and open (and finish) a bottle (or two, on those ‘particularly hard days’). Sometimes you suffer from memory loss, especially come Friday or Saturday night when you drink twice as much because ‘it’s the weekend’. You have screaming matches or fights with loved ones which you can’t really remember the next day. Or, if you’re single, you have regular one night stands, you ‘choose’ to forget.
Every weekday morning you go to work as usual but inwardly you’re suffering from dehydration, headaches and lethargy, which at the weekend would be considered ‘a hangover’ but during the week, is put down to the stress of work and life (unless of course, you’ve been on a mid-week binge with your colleagues, in which case you can be open about how you’re feeling). Every Sunday night, you promise yourself you’ll have ‘break-days’ but can never seem to get past one or two consecutively. You have been drinking, non-stop, for more years than you care to remember. You tell yourself your relationship with alcohol is ‘normal’, but inwardly you know this is not true.
But, we hear the understandable cry, is this really a problem or just part of modern life and British culture? Most of your friends do it and they seem to be ok? If you manage to get your work done, maintain your responsibilities, socialise and take care of a family – what’s the big deal?
“It’s about control. That you are able to control your drinking and it doesn’t control you.”
See the scary bit really is this: according to the experts, alcoholism is a disease and there is strong evidence to suggest it is genetic. Not only that, they believe that alcoholism is a progressive disease and so heavy drinking will only get heavier, thus, all the problems the man in the threadbare suit with the can in his hand suffers from, the HFA may do too, in the long-term.
So is it worth the risk? It has been proven that alcoholism may lead to liver and kidney diseases, pancreatitis, diabetes, some forms of cancer, brain damage, serious memory loss, and high blood pressure. And speak to the children of HFAs – to you, you’re the life and soul of the party, to them, sometimes they’re not having quite as much fun as you.
The truth is, some people do live their lives drinking away happily and not really suffering from any of these – we all know at least one person, right? But a high percentage are not as lucky – the question is: do you really want to take the chance for a nightly glass of wine?
If you feel like your life might be better lived with less alcohol involved, that your drinking is the boss and you’d like to discuss this further and get some advice, then check out the brilliant and anonymous Addiction Helper. They can talk through all options with you – and these days, for some, it’s more than just rehab and tee-totalling. Or read the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) which uses ten questions to determine your level of alcoholism so you can decide what is best for you.
photo credit: Team Sugar