Communicating with an Alcoholic High Achiever
At first sign you might never know or suspect somebody has a drink problem. With the early stages of alcoholism you have to be close and even then it may not be apparent. Often alcoholism creeps up on people before controlling the life of the person affected.
Alcohol is arguably the most destructive substance addiction and is a truly devastating illness once you are in its grasp. It can be difficult to accept this concept when there is so much media about drug usage because alcohol is legally on sale and socially acceptable across much of society.
Drink is an everyday part of life and socially drinking is acceptable in fact in some ways expected. Drugs are not the norm and so this gives alcohol an edge to get established into a pattern of habitual use.
High achievers are often exposed to alcohol through work and social life but for years they will often function and perform to a high level.
The high achiever will progress with alcoholism in more of a stealth mode with regular business lunches, social occasions, working late and often with drinks afterwards. This lifestyle is seen as pretty normal and it is often difficult to suggest that they are drinking too much or that they should cut back.
Months turn to years and then the tipping point comes along where the alcohol is the catalyst for other problems. Often these problems start at home where people have the closest relationships whereas at work this anti-social side has much less effect.
Of course the people who are going to see the warning signs are family, spouses and very close friends. This though is the point at which intervention is at its most timely and effective. Once alcohol gets a real grip reason starts to become second place and the drive to drink is coming first.
What To Watch For
There are a number of early warning signs and these can be spotted if the awareness of those close enough is high. Behavioral change is one of the first signs perhaps getting home later on a regular basis. Habits such as visiting bars or travelling by tube or taxi when they didn’t really need to.
Often social evenings or engagements become more alcohol focused and the old adage “I will just have one” that becomes four or five. These types of signals are masked by the talk of stressful days or the need to relax which is an acceptable excuse and makes it difficult to flag up the over consumption.
Once alcoholism progresses a little there will be denial and justification that is over emphasized or even bad tempered. They will broadcast their ability to succeed and do well. To still perform in all sectors of life at a premium level. At this point this will not be true and if it was possible to map it to a performance graph you would start to see a downward trend. Alcohol is at this point engrained in daily life with habitual behavior. At this point people get very defensive about any suggestion of too much drink.
Broaching the Subject
In this early phase there will be periods of time when the influence of alcohol is still at a low level. This is the prime time to raise the subject of drinking too much. Maybe choose a weekend or perhaps suggest a morning coffee meet but the periods to avoid raising the subject will at this point be obvious.
If you want a really picture perfect moment then wait for a remorseful period. Choose the morning after you have been let down or where the person has been mean. Remorse and guilt play a big part of the cycle and can be an ally in addressing the problems.
In many cases the closest family members will start to be adversely affected by behavior or let downs and this is a good place to start. Talking about the negative effect on children, for a high functioning individual this will beat trying to levy reason on financial effects. This has to be about relationships and feelings, love and concern rather than rebuke or shaming.
Taking Positive Action
Revisit the parts of life that are happy and fulfilled and yearn to do those things again. Underline the care and love whilst also balancing proper acknowledgement for achievements. This will help with confidence and self-esteem which will be on the slide. As self-worth diminishes so does the will to change and emotional withdrawal will become a feature.
At this juncture it may seem a little passive considering the seriousness of the situation. Try backing up the softly approach with the reality of the effects if things do not change. Health and relationships will be affected in all directions as well as work. This process is about getting the person to look at themselves. It is rare for somebody to seek help unless they really accept they have a drinking problem and this will take time.
Patience is a virtue, people will not stop drinking overnight and it will be challenging once the subject has been aired so early expectations should remain low. At the same time put the spotlight on positives and take small wins as a measure of good progress.
Nurture that progress with the aim of getting the person comfortable enough to talk to a specialist. This can be a therapist or a doctor. The route of self-help can come from association with bodies such as AA, Drinkaware or Supportline. There will be localized self-help groups and meeting other people like themselves will encourage them to accept there is a way out.
These are the first steps and the most important, nobody becomes an alcoholic overnight. In fact drink dependency has a slow burn but it is irresistible in its progress. There is without doubt a window of opportunity on this journey if the signs can be spotted and the right action taken.
If not addressed what follows is a potential descent into oblivion where alcohol has such control that it blights the lives of all that it touches. In the UK in 2014 over 9000 deaths were attributed to alcoholism. In addition drink driving fatalities are in the region of 1,000 per year. The economic and commercial cost of alcohol related problems is a staggering $21bn. This is rising with the NHS picking up £3.5bn, crime related costs are £11bn with work related issues costing £7.5bn.
What is certain is that not talking to a high achiever (or anyone else who is drinking too much) significantly raises the risk that the person concerned will become another statistic.