Mrs. Perfection or The Functional Alcoholic?

Stigmas incorporate negative views towards an individual or a group of people. The stigmatizing attitudes towards individuals with substance abuse, which is strongly associated with other mental illnesses, can affect individuals to feel isolated, rejected, and experience levels of discrimination.

Society has a negative stigma about individuals who are battling and struggling with alcohol abuse. There are strong opinions of what is deemed socially acceptable among men and women when it comes to alcohol. Historically, alcohol use has been more evident among men; however, alcohol consumption levels are similar between men and women over the past decade. Women are consuming higher levels of alcohol than ever, which reflects the shift in the gender roles of women in our society.

In the past, women took on traditional gender roles of taking care of their house, family, and children.  Women of today are becoming go-getters, having economic independence, mothers, wives, and are taking up spaces in dominating male career fields. Women who take on some of these roles may engage in excessive or binge drinking, traditionally was viewed as “masculine” activities. Regardless of the shift of gender roles, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol has adverse health effects, which is now affecting many women today.

circa 1960: An American housewife demonstrates the cleaning power of ‘Vel’ detergent for a T.V. advert. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated 5.3 million adult women from the ages of 18 and older had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) [4]. Many women are managing their lives and not fully acknowledging the fact they may have a drinking problem. Many of these women want to reject the narrative of being labeled as an alcoholic. Women who are labeled as alcoholics are viewed as sloppy, “loose”, having slurring of speech, difficulties holding down a job, consistently hungover, and their personal relationships are dysfunctional.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, individuals who do not fall into this mold of the “typical alcoholic” are known as high-functioning alcoholics. The high functioning alcoholic may appear to be a successful woman who can juggle her work and family life with ease. This woman is displaying an image of perfectionism and does not show she is physically or emotionally dependent on alcohol, but still, she may have difficulty resisting alcohol [1,3]. The successful woman or “Miss Has it All Together” comes in many different forms. She may not fit the generic alcoholic stereotype, yet this does not remove the fact she may be suffering from alcohol addiction[1,3]. Women will live in denial until their health starts to decline, facing issues at work, broken relationships, being emotionally drained, or other life events that will allow them to realize the extent of their drinking problem.  

Like many women who are denial of their drinking problem, I wanted to share a story of a woman named Jean, who appears to be the “successful woman” but is a recovering alcoholic [5].  

“I am one of the fortunate alcoholics who has lived to tell my story. But for the grace of God and the program of A.A., I would have died.

At that time, my drinking was fairly well under control; I was young, I had the stamina to get drunk every night and work every day, and the vicious cycle went on and on. I was married several times, held very prestigious jobs, i.e., working in various law firms, for a state Senator and a Probate Judge and the Lt. Governor’s office. I had a beautiful home and a husband who I thought I loved at the time; and most of all, my beautiful children.

Well, this husband didn’t love me as much as I thought; he did the right thing; he took my children, he booted me out of my beautiful home, and he divorced me because of my drinking problem.

I tried to blame everyone and everything I knew for my drinking, the death of my child, the ex-husbands, etc. Everyone was responsible for my drinking except me. The blackouts were, in a way, a blessing. I don’t want to remember some of those times…..None of my family would allow me in their homes; this was bottom out time. I looked in the yellow pages of the phone book and found the number for A.A.”

You can read more of her story through this link.

https://www.verywellmind.com/jeans-alcoholics-anonymous-story-63503

Women who are functional alcoholics like Jean are in denial and attempt to hide their drinking problem from others. It is essential just like Jean’s family to be aware if you have a loved one, family member, or friend who may have a drinking problem. That person may need an intervention to fully understand that they are putting themselves at risk health-wise and how it is affecting other areas of their personal lives. Women who struggle with alcohol abuse, hesitate to seek help because they do not want the label of an alcoholic and fear judgment from family and friends.   

 We need to change the narrative and stigma of alcoholism, for many women are suffering in silence. Women are drinking excessively because of many reasons, but alcoholic beverages are easily accessible, which is a problem. The government needs to create policies relating to pricing and taxes of alcohol, retail access, and reducing exposure to alcohol advertisements. These steps are necessary to minimize alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm among women[2]. 

Also, early intervention is critical to reassure that long term effects of alcohol do not take full effect. Women who may not know where to get help can first seek advice from family, friends, and even your local doctor’s office. Doctors can perform different tests to see if you are showing any signs of chronic diseases or conditions caused by excessive drinking. Doctors can also speak with you on how to quit drinking or lessen the problem. Women who are experiencing alcohol abuse need a support system such as family, friends, school counseling, therapy, or outpatient treatment plans, which will aid in their recovery and healing. There are available resources and call a national helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. The SAMHSA can help provide and locate services for individuals who are facing alcohol use disorders [6].

The high functioning alcoholic may appear to have it all together, but drinking excessive alcohol over time can have adverse effects if not appropriately addressed. Making changes in government policies and seeking help through intervention programs or support from loved ones can promote positive health outcomes of women who are struggling with alcohol abuse.

 

References

  1. “What Is a Functional Alcoholic?” Dual Diagnosis, dualdiagnosis.org/alcohol-addiction/functional-alcoholic/.
  2. “Addressing Alcohol-Related Harms: A Population-Level Response.” AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION, apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2020/01/14/addressing-alcohol-related-harms-a-population-level-response.
  3. “Intervention Strategies for a High-Functioning Alcoholic.” org, www.alcohol.org/intervention/best-methods/.
  4. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2020, niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.
  5. “Jean’s Alcoholic Story: I Tried to Blame Everyone and Everything.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 8 Apr. 2019, www.verywellmind.com/jeans-alcoholics-anonymous-story-63503.
  6. “National Helpline: SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” gov, www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

8 thoughts on “Mrs. Perfection or The Functional Alcoholic?

  1. I really enjoyed your blog post and how you included a woman’s personal story as a recovering alcoholic!

  2. I also really enjoyed your post & reading Jean’s story! It makes me wonder how many functional alcoholics I have come in contact throughout my life.

  3. This is a great insight into the lives of general working class women. Many who may be at risk for alcohol use disorders. It is okay to own up that one has an alcohol problem and I also agree that being functional after binge drinking a huge dose of alcohol doesn’t mean that the woman does not have any problem. I do think that women should speak up about drinking issues.

    • I agree with you that being functional after binge drinking does not mean a person have their drinking under control and its not an issue. We do though live in a society where heavy consumption is our norm. For functioning alcoholics, I would imagine they are an extremely hard group to intervene because they appear to be doing everything most people are doing – drinking heavy but still completing tasks. It may be harder for some to recognize they have a problem. America, has not created an environment where people can feel encourage to talk about their drinking problem because of the stigma of being an alcoholic is extremely limiting and can interfere with home and work life.

  4. Great post! I think raising awareness of high-functioning alcoholics is crucial, as many could suffer from this condition without knowing they have a problem. Some of my friends have experienced this problem since it was reasonable to drink frequently in college to cope with homework and work stress. Unfortunately, many of them currently suffer from mental health problems related to alcohol abuse. Alcohol sometimes seems like a reward after hard work, which is why many hard-working people would want this malicious pleasure. Like my friends, many functional alcoholics seem to have normal lives while binge drinking, but chronic alcohol abuse generally has negative consequences. Therefore, I believe that it is essential to develop campaigns to increase awareness of the relevance of this problem so that people can recognize it early.

  5. Great blog! I liked how you drew the connection between everyday women and how the multiple roles and responsibilities could lead them to become a functional alcoholic. Many women have to juggle being superwoman on a daily basis, juggling career, family, and other responsibilities. Women have become so comfortable with being superwoman and tending to everyone else’s needs that we often neglect our own. And with so many people depending on women, such as husbands, children, friends, etc., women often feel a lot of pressure to be on top of everything all the time. This can dangerous because it makes it hard for women to ask for help causing them to turn to alcohol or other substances to help cope.

    • Even women of different cultural backgrounds, it makes it harder to reach out for help. I know from my culture, there is silence and a negative stigma towards people who are experiencing mental health issues and are substance users. Once you have such a label, that person is viewed as an outcast, and people with your community will start talking badly about you, which shouldn’t be the case. I just think there should be more ways for women to be more open and vulnerable about these issues in safe spaces, so they can receive the necessary help to be mentally and physically healthy.

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