With the admission of US Representative John Sullivan of Oklahoma and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island that they are again facing a battle with alcohol, there has been a new discussion of HFA’s or High Functioning Alcoholics. Most alcoholics are not living on the street but are, to the outside observer, a productive member of society.
HFA, Functioning Alcoholic, or Functioning Alcoholism are not conditions or a diagnosis, but merely descriptions of the progressive nature of Alcoholism.
These terms are usually used to describe someone that is consuming alcohol at dangerous levels, yet they don’t display the typical signs of intoxication due to the body’s slow build up of tolerance to alcohol. They are usually well liked, productive and very few may realize that they have a problem at all. Slowly, as the levels of alcohol needed to incite a “high” in the alcoholic increase, their ability to be productive wanes and they begin to show more outward signs of withdrawal; including urges to drink more frequently.
As is true for any addiction, the alcoholic or excessive drinker has to want help before treatment can be effective. Because the effects of alcoholism slowly get worse, most deny that they have a problem with alcohol, and those who are functioning alcoholics will need to find their bottom before treatment can be successful. For some it can be the first sign of tremors or friends or loved ones’ finally confronting them with their concerns.
If you suspect that someone you care about is drinking more than they should, seek more information about alcoholism and have a frank open conversation about your concerns. And if you a professional worried about the stigma of in-patient care and your patient is ready to seek help, consider confidential outpatient options for alcohol treatment.