When you think of a typical alcoholic, you don’t picture a lawyer or a doctor, and yet it is estimated that between 15-24% of lawyers will suffer from alcoholism during their career, and doctors are 3 times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than the general population.
Efficiency is not a habit which is traditionally associated with alcoholics but many are capable of feats of organization which few sober people could ever manage. To reach the top of a highly competitive corporate ladder or high profile position and then remain there for years is no easy task, especially when you are an addict. Functional alcoholics are aplenty, particularly in high pressure, high paid jobs. Famous high functioning addicts include Winston Churchill, Boris Yelstin, and Eric Clapton.
The ‘functioning alcoholic’
The name given to people who have a serious drinking problem but still remain able to maintain what, for an addict, is a relatively normal existence. Their health, relationships and working life will inevitably suffer but often not to the extent that they become unmanageable.
Admitting you have a problem is universally accepted as being the first step on the road to recovery from addiction but for someone like Gary, an advertising executive in London, alcoholism didn’t seem like too much of a problem. He managed to maintain this image of the model professional for several years while in the grip of what, in hindsight, he acknowledges was an addiction to alcohol, but it took its toll on every other aspect of his life,
“I was married to the perfect woman but my drinking cost me my marriage and my kids. I could keep it together at work, I’d get drunk every lunch time but I somehow had the discipline to continue to do a pretty good job. The amazing thing was I was able to continue to stay pretty professional when I was at work, even though I was never sober for more than a few hours at the start of the day and had been prescribed anti depressants which I was taking every single day. However, I couldn’t keep it together at home, I think the effort of maintaining a pretence all day in the office just left me drained and once I got home I just needed to drink to relieve the strain.”
As a functional alcoholic, Gary had never previously had to properly face his demons because although his drinking had been problematic the pay cheques still kept coming in which allowed him to sustain his lifestyle. It wasn’t until he suffered a family bereavement and whilst he was on compassionate leave, that unbeknownst to his colleagues, he spent the time at The Cabin, a modern residential treatment in Chiang Mai.
The idea that a serious addiction will automatically destroy your life is a stereotype which is perpetuated by the British media. In reality, while many people do lose everything as a result of their addiction, there are those, who manage to continue on a comparatively even keel. The problem for these people is that while life goes on there is often very little incentive to seek treatment.
Alistair Mordey, the Programme Director and Head Counsellor at The Cabin comments:
“People seem to have the view that you must have lost everything and hit rock bottom before you need to access help or seek some kind of treatment. Some people, especially high functioning people have not lost everything, and there is the view that this somehow makes them a different kind of addict. We must differentiate between a material rock bottom, where the addict loses all their possesssions or status, and an emotional rock bottom where they are essentially having what we used to call a nervous breakdown. In rehab we talk about high rock bottoms as opposed to a low rock bottoms; not everyone who hits rehab is coming off a low rock bottom where they have lost everything. Many are coming from a high rock bottom where they still have successful careers but have nowhere to go in terms of mood imbalance and emotional crisis”.
High functioning addicts start using for the same reason low functioning addicts do, to self medicate an imbalanced brain chemistry and calm the symptoms of depression, anxiety or lack of focus (hyperactivity). However using addictive drugs or alcohol to make them feel better eventually stops working as the chemicals this produces in the brain become exhausted and both high and low functioning addicts are left with issues that leave them no option but to seek treatment and not rely on addictive processes.
“Treatment is about instilling new behaviours which will rebalance brain chemistry. This includes group therapy, exercise, new career or relationships goals etc. which are best implemented intensively in an inpatient setting, daily over a significant time span like 1-3 months. This is arguably why residential programmes are considered more effective.
Having a high rock bottom or a low rock bottom is often nothing more than social and environmental differences between individuals, ie how much we had to start out with. Whether you consistently manage to hang on to your material goods or social position, is not a good way to judge the severity of your addiction, but rather how much damage has it caused and will cause you, emotionally and mentally, is the true judge of whether you need treatment.”
Addiction affects millions worldwide, whether it be the 5% of alcoholics on “skid row” or highly functional alcoholics, who are well-educated with good incomes.
Alastair Mordey (BA hons, RDAP, ADAP) is the Programme Director and Head Counsellor at The Cabin, an addiction treatment centre in Chiang Mai. He is a certified and accredited addiction counsellor with over 10 years’ experience working in treatment services. Website: The Cabin Chiang Mai http://www.thecabinchiangmai.com/
Are you a high functioning alcoholic or were you married to one? Maybe you have sought treatment for your addiction and are now sober? If you would like to tell your story of conquering addiction, contact me here: Story to Sell
Featureworld gained a double deal this week for one couple with a double page in the DAILY MIRROR newspaper and BELLA magazine.
Steve Shelton emailed me through the Sell My Story contact form because he wanted to raise the issue of gambling by telling his real-life story.
From the age of 19, Steve had enjoyed a flutter on the horses, the football and later roulette. Throughout his twenties he’d had a few times when he’d let his gambling get the better of him. But when he met Michelle he believed he had his gambling habit under control. And in fact, although she knew he did gamble, she believed it was just a few pounds while out with his mates at the weekend.
In fact, it was more than that – something for a long time Steve, who worked in recruitment, even denied to himself. Although Steve made little bets, just a few pounds at a time, they really added up and it wasn’t very long before Michelle began to notice they were overdrawn and also money went missing in the house. Despite this Michelle believed Steve when he said he wouldn’t gamble. The couple married and have two adorable children. Life should have been perfect. But unbeknown to Michelle Steve was continuing to gamble and finding other ways to raise the cash. He raided the children’s money boxes and cancelled their insurance policies.
The crunch came when he was made redundant. The children were small but Michelle went back to work and as their mortgage was covered by loss of job insurance, at least she was reassured that would be paid for a year.
But when a pipe burst in their home, she found out Steve had not only cancelled the insurance policy but had also gambled payments meant for the mortgage.
Shockingly he’d also run up £50K in debt and they were made bankrupt, losing their home. Michelle tried to forgive Steve – who said he would get counselling – but when she discovered he’d been gambling again, she decided to leave. She has now filed for divorce.
Steve and I discussed telling his story with Michelle – it felt only right that the whole family should be involved. Both Michelle and Steve told their stories in diaries in the Daily Mirror while for the women’s magazine, the story was told from Michelle’s point of view.
Steve, who is now in counselling with Gamblers Anonymous and who has stopped gambling, said: “I wanted to raise the whole issue of gambling – I only hope my story will help others seek help before it’s too late.”
Michelle said: “As soon as I got the paper and magazine I could see it was written exactly as it had been read back to me. Doing this has brought closure to what was a terrible time.”
Meanwhile, Gamcare, a charity that helps families affected by gambling, has contacted me to say they were pleased to see this issue raised. They add anyone can contact them in complete confidence. Contact Gamcare here: Gamcare help.
If you have an issue you would like to see raised in a newspaper and magazine, please contact me directly for a confidential chat: My Story
Mum of two Vicki Dillon’s real-life story about how a sex addiction almost ruined her relationship of 23 years appeared in the SUNDAY PEOPLE newspaper at the weekend.
Vicki Dillon’s life was turned upside down when at the age of 35 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. A mum of two and a nurse, she’d battled with strange symptoms for a number of years and the diagnosis came as a terrible shock.
But worse was to come when she was prescribed drugs to control the symptoms such as tremors in her hands. For they were to change her personality.
From being a shy mum she became uninhibited, her sex drive rose and she also experienced urges to go shopping and splurge money on things such as a sports car and clothes.
She also became an incurable flirt and wanted to go clubbing. Unsurprisingly her behaviour caused huge issues between herself and partner of 23 years, Ken. And last year matters came to a head when the couple were arguing so much, they almost split up.
Their story is covered in a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary, Sex lies and Parkinson’s. Unfortunately there is no alternative to the drug she is on and in fact research is currently ongoing into why these drugs, which replace a substance in the brain missing in people with Parkinson’s, sometimes have this bizarre side effect.
Thankfully, since filming Vicki has had counselling and is learning to control her urges. And she and Ken are rebuilding their relationship.
A doctor from Parkinson’s UK was quoted in the feature. For more advice on Parkinson’s look at their website: Parkinson’s UK
If you wish to raise awareness over a health issue or have a health-related story to sell, contact me here: Sell my Health Story.
Story of how more mums are hitting the bottle in DAILY MAIL newspaper this week.
Gill Fletcher’s real life story of how she used to binge drink appeared in a discussion piece in the Daily Mail this week.
Gill, who has two children, began drinking heavily after her marriage broke down. But the morning after a particularly bad night before – when Gill made passes at neighbour’s husbands – she knew she had to stop.
And from that day she has not had another drink. This is the third time I have sold Gill’s inspirational story and she was particularly delighted to see such a lovely photo with the article.
Gill said: “That photo was taken in a studio with hair and make up. Afterwards the photographer at the Daily Mail was kind enough to email me some for my own personal use. It’s now one of my favourites.”
She also hopes talking about her own binge drinking will help other women to see you can change your life. Since she stopped five years ago, she has lost a huge amount of weight and literally forged a new life for herself and her two children.
If you have a story about addiction, be it an addiction to drink or drugs, do get in touch and see if I can sell your story for you.