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How to Spot a High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics are often considered a hidden class of addict, but I've met more than a few of them in my life. So has Sarah Allen Benton, a recovering high-functioning alcoholic who just released a book about the disease: Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic.


According to Benton, a so-called HFA is someone who lives a seemingly normal life, often balancing family or romance with a successful career, while also abusing alcohol — and often denying it. In Benton's case:

"Having outside accomplishments led me and others to excuse my drinking and avoid categorizing me as an alcoholic. My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial."

Do you think you might know a high-functioning alcoholic? Learn the warning signs when you read more.

Many times, the problem comes to light due to an unfortunate incident, like a drunk-driving accident, or the realization that the HFA simply can't control her drinking. But since the alcoholism doesn't fit into our typical understanding of addiction, it can stay hidden for years. Here are some things to look out for.

  • Excessive social drinking. Overindulging on occasional nights out doesn't automatically make you an HFA; it all depends on how much you consume. "Low-risk" drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), for females consists of no more than seven drinks per week and three drinks per sitting.
  • Missed obligations. Shunning work or kid-related obligations could be indicative of a drinking problem.
  • Loss of control. Social drinkers who can't seem to limit their intake after one drink or who act differently than when they're sober could be HFAs.
  • Broken rules. Drinkers who set per-drink limits for themselves but fail to adhere to them could be battling alcoholism.
  • Alcohol obsession. People who seem to obsess about drinking could be HFAs. If one drink sets off a serious craving, that's a bad sign.

For more, check out Benton's blog or the resources page of the NIAAA. Do you know or have you ever known a high-functioning alcoholic? Share your stories in the comments (sign out to comment anonymously!).

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