My alcohol story is not a big screen movie blockbuster. One day I could drink with what appeared to be no problem, then one day I could not. The key word is “appeared.” Alcoholism looks different for each person who has this sickness.

When I started to do my homework it was interesting to me to discover that a person who throws up in one of their early experiences with drinking alcohol has a high propensity to become an alcoholic. What an eye-opener!

So, way back in high school, when I went out dancing with friends and came home wreaking of alcohol, puke, and all the elements around the event, the cards were stacked in favor of alcohol and it’s effects. Who knew? Not me.

What I did know was alcoholism has affected several members of my family. I played with fire and experienced the burn.

I used to love spending my free time doing arts or crafts, teaching and attending church functions. A turn of events led me to spending time at the bar instead because there was no condemnation there. I’m not trying to justify my actions, simply sharing my experience.

In retrospect, I was what experts call a “functional alcoholic” or “high-functioning alcoholic.” I’ve learned a lot about this disease and the various terms in the last few years. To be a “high-functioning alcoholic” (HFA) is a bit outside of the general mold of most perceptions of an alcoholic; I appeared to be fine while I abused alcohol.

Common Misconceptions About HFA’s

  • Contrary to the outward appearance of having it all together, the career, the car, the suits–all part of my professional life–these were my props which made me seem okay. Looks can be deceiving.

A common missed red flag is drink counting. I used to keep my cocktail napkin each time I was served a drink so I would know when the drinks were going to take over and I’d be at risk for exposing my lack of control around my drinking habit. When I neared my mark, which varied depending on what I was drinking, I would quietly disappear and go home.

  • Not all alcoholic lose their jobs, pass out on the sidewalk, or get arrested for public intoxication. In fact, HFA’s are quite the opposite, much like myself, they generally have great families, a good job or career, and make friends easily. Like many HFA’s, I have the generational history of alcoholism and as my grandmother validated late in life, a tendency toward melancholy (depression).

Alcoholism looks different on each person.

When you think about alcoholism or an alcoholic, what image comes to your mind? I personally had the movie screen perception, like Nicholas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas” or Sandra Bullock in “28 Days.” Needless to say, alcoholism looks different on each person. There may be certain tendencies that are common, but not everyone will have the same experience.

  • This is what I know for sure:  No one can drink heavily for an extended amount of time without loss of ability to maintain responsibilities. Lapses in memory, the inability to concentrate and efforts to hide consumption can only be disguised for so long.

One of the most subtle signs that I denied in my alcohol story is having a drink to relieve stress. No one wants to hear this, but it’s a slippery slope. It may relieve stress for one and become a crutch for another. Think about it. What others ways can you relieve stress that do not involve alcohol?

If you think you have a problem seek help. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help. If you are concerned about someone and suspect they have a problem, approach the subject with sensitivity and compassion. When you come from a place of genuine concern you’re more likely to initiate and open lines of communication. My alcohol story could be anyone’s story, it might even be yours.

Perhaps you are a HFA or know one, the illusion of being in control can go on for years. Denial feeds and hides the secret of alcoholism. Different yet similar to the classic alcoholic the HFA is generally the last one to recognize there is a problem and delays seeking help. Knowledge is power, the more you know about something, the better equipped you become to deal with it.

Click HERE to access a list of 17 top alcoholism health blogs. As with anything, keep searching until you find a message that resonates with you and gives you the support you need or desire. Decide what your next step is to living your healthy best.