Professional Alcoholism

Despite holding a well-paying job and being successful in one’s career, alcoholism can still take hold of someone’s life. Although it may take longer to recognize, professional alcoholism is a problem in the American workforce.

Professionals And Alcoholism

Professionals and alcoholism are not two words commonly associated in America. For most, the image of young professional drinking may bring to mind a group of well-dressed individuals enjoying cocktails during happy hour. This phenomenon is a familiar mainstay of work culture in the United States. It serves as a social tradition and manner of decompression before heading home. Still, is drinking weekly after work really normal? 

Finding a way to decompress after a long day is necessary. Yet, habitually drinking to relax is problematic. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance. In the U.S., there are about 14.1 million adults addicted to alcohol. Many hold well-paying jobs and are considered distinguished professionals in the workforce. 

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Professionals Decompressing With Alcohol

Professionals make up over 41% of America’s labor. Many hold stressful and demanding white-collar jobs in fields with high rates of depression. Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the mix of pressure and depression leads many to reach for alcohol. These high-functioning individuals typically do not fit the traditional image of an alcoholic. However, some experts believe that over half of all alcoholics are high-functioning professionals. If true, then there are 7.05 million American professionals living with a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

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High Functioning Alcoholics

High-functioning alcoholics are challenging to spot. Their demeanor of always having “everything together” can cause the classic signs of alcohol abuse to be missed. It can take years for anyone to notice. These individuals may work as lawyers, engineers, and doctors. Still, just like everyone else, they too run a high addiction risk. For example, in the United States 1 in 10 physicians have struggled with either drug or alcohol abuse at some point. Lawyers are also prone to alcohol addiction. According to the American Bar Association, more than 1 in 5 lawyers have an alcohol problem. 

You may be wondering: If over half of all alcoholics are suspected to be professionals, why isn’t there a national uproar? The answer may lie in the public’s perception of what an alcoholic looks like. In the United States, the stereotype of an alcoholic is of a drunk whose life is falling apart. They have DUI’s, cannot hold a job, and are usually non-contributing members of society. But that is not always the case. There are many alcoholics with high-paying jobs, a healthy family, and great social life. Despite their compulsive need to drink alcohol, high-functioning alcoholics can maintain a relatively “normal” life without hitting “rock bottom.” This misconception can make high-functioning alcoholics difficult to identify and treat. 

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Identifying Alcoholism Among Professionals

Identifying whether a professional peer is an alcoholic is no easy feat but it is possible. Though they may be secretive about their drinking levels or in denial about their habits, there are tells. 

Below are a few signs that can help identify a high-functioning professional with alcoholism. A high-functioning professional: 

  • Cannot control or stop drinking alcohol.
  • Has increased absenteeism and extra sick leave.
  • Has trouble with co-workers or supervisors.
  • Has difficulty performing tasks and duties.
  • May have a DUI or other alcohol-related legal problems.
  • Tends to drink alone.
  • Has a constant preoccupation with alcohol.
  • Excessively uses alcohol even when problematic.
  • Has a higher tolerance; “holds their liquor well.”
  • Is secretive about their drinking.
  • Must have alcohol before attending social events.
  • Is defensive or angry when questioned about their drinking habits.
  • May experience blackouts or lapses in memory when drinking.
  • Uses alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress or negative emotion.
  • Experiences withdrawal symptoms after a period of little to no drinking (e.g. shakiness, irritability, and nausea).

Though many high-functioning alcoholics may be professionals who can keep up with their responsibilities, they are not “okay.” These individuals are struggling with a debilitating disorder and in the long run can shorten their lives. 

What Happens To Untreated Professionals With Alcoholism?

When high-functioning professionals battling alcoholism go untreated, they may face several consequences. These negative outcomes can be both short and long-term. Still, overall, they reduce an individual’s quality of life and ability to function optimally. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated alcoholism can lead to a higher risk of:

  • STDs
  • Heart disease
  • Unwanted pregnancies
  • Loss of production and efficiency
  • Tiredness or sleeping on the job
  • Poor decision-making
  • Low co-worker morale
  • Dangerous and risky behaviors (like theft)
  • Premature death
  • Certain types of cancers
  • DUI arrests
  • Legal problems
  • Injuries (violent altercations, falls, and drownings)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Overdose (if mixing alcohol with other drugs)
  • Liver disease
  • Permanent changes to the brain

It is important to note that pregnant women are at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome. 

Helping A Professional High-Functioning Alcoholic

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that affects millions of Americans. Being able to drink while maintaining responsibilities does not mean a person is free of the disorder. Being a high-functioning alcoholic is dangerous, especially when left untreated. If you or a loved one are battling an alcohol addiction, do not wait another day to get help. Reach out to a treatment provider to find professional support. There are many inpatient rehabs, therapy, and support groups to help any professional battling an alcohol disorder. Contact a treatment provider today and take that first step towards sobriety. 

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