Family Therapy In Addressing High Functioning Alcoholism

Based on David Sheff’s approach, which delves into the depth of familial struggles with addiction, understanding high functioning alcoholism, especially within the context of the workplace, can be both enlightening and daunting. It’s an unseen undercurrent in many professional settings, and its silence is deafening.

In South Africa, the business culture is not isolated from the global trend of working long hours, celebrating with drinks post-work, and sometimes even utilizing alcohol as a coping mechanism for the stressors of the corporate world. But what happens when one’s ability to manage professional responsibilities masks a growing dependence on alcohol? This is where the world of high functioning alcoholism blurs the lines.

Family therapy plays a pivotal role in this arena. If you’re witnessing a loved one effortlessly gliding through their professional life, but their evenings and weekends are punctuated with excessive drinking, the concern is valid. This behavioural pattern can be more challenging to address because, on the surface, everything seems fine. Their job is intact, their social status unharmed. But beneath this veneer, there’s a storm brewing.

By integrating an Eastern philosophical approach, family therapy emphasizes balance and harmony. In Eastern thought, balance is the key to all aspects of life. Therefore, even if someone is excelling professionally, the over-reliance on alcohol can disrupt their inner equilibrium. As a family member, your role is to be the mirror reflecting this imbalance. Through therapy, you and your loved ones can find ways to restore that harmony, replacing the void often filled by alcohol with more constructive coping mechanisms.


  1. What is high functioning alcoholism?
    • It refers to individuals who maintain their professional and personal responsibilities while consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, often in secret.
  2. How does family therapy help in addressing high functioning alcoholism?
    • Family therapy provides a safe space for families to address concerns, learn about alcoholism, and develop strategies to support the affected member in seeking help and maintaining sobriety.
  3. Why might high functioning alcoholism go unnoticed in the workplace?
    • Due to the individual’s ability to uphold their work responsibilities effectively, colleagues and superiors might overlook or dismiss signs of excessive alcohol consumption.
  4. How does Eastern philosophy view addiction?
    • Eastern philosophy often emphasizes the importance of balance and harmony in one’s life. Addiction, in this context, is seen as a disruption of this balance.
  5. Can high functioning alcoholism affect one’s personal life despite professional success?
    • Absolutely. Even if professional life is unaffected, personal relationships, health, and emotional well-being can deteriorate due to the hidden effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

High Functioning Alcoholism Defined: When you think of someone struggling with alcoholism, you might envision an individual whose life is spiraling out of control. However, high functioning alcoholism paints a different picture. Here, the individual may be you or someone close to you, who, on the surface, appears to have everything together. Professionally successful, active in the community, and perhaps even a pillar of the family. Yet, behind closed doors or during off-hours, they might be consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, often in secret. The mastery lies in their ability to compartmentalize this behaviour, ensuring it doesn’t spill over noticeably into their day-to-day responsibilities.

Family Therapy as a Reflective Mirror: In the journey of addressing high functioning alcoholism, family therapy serves as a reflective space. If you’re part of a family where one member is battling this silent demon, attending therapy allows you to voice your concerns, learn about the intricacies of alcoholism, and strategize on supportive measures. During these sessions, the affected member can also gain insights into the impact of their drinking on the family, which might otherwise be masked by their professional accomplishments.

The Workplace Conundrum: High functioning alcoholism presents a unique challenge in the workplace. If you or a colleague is grappling with it, the signs might be subtle. Perhaps it’s the occasional smell of alcohol, frequent breaks, or even a slight change in behaviour during social gatherings. However, the efficiency at work might remain uncompromised, making it difficult for superiors or HR departments to address the issue directly. This duality can lead to feelings of isolation for the affected individual, further perpetuating the cycle.

Eastern Philosophy and Balance: Embracing an Eastern philosophical approach, you can begin to view life as a balance between the Yin and Yang. Every aspect of one’s life, be it professional, personal, or emotional, needs to harmonize. High functioning alcoholism disrupts this harmony. Even if you’re achieving milestones at work, the over-reliance on alcohol creates an inner turmoil. By recognizing this imbalance, you and your family can seek avenues, such as therapy, to restore the equilibrium. This might involve not just reducing alcohol intake, but also adopting mindfulness practices, meditation, or even engaging in activities that align with your inner passions.

The Personal Impact of High Functioning Alcoholism: While the professional front might remain untainted, high functioning alcoholism can deeply impact personal life. Relationships might strain due to erratic or changed behaviour. Health issues can begin to manifest, both physically and mentally. If you or someone you know is juggling this duality, it’s crucial to understand that no amount of professional success can compensate for the erosion happening at a personal level. Through family therapy and recognizing the signs, taking the steps towards recovery becomes a shared journey.

Family therapy isn’t just about addressing the person with the addiction; it’s about healing together, understanding each other, and navigating the challenges that come with this often misunderstood form of alcoholism. Through the lens of counselling, it becomes clear that balance is key. While professional success is commendable, it shouldn’t come at the cost of personal well-being or family ties.

To end with a quote that’s always resonated with me, Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Remember, it’s okay to seek help, and it’s okay to prioritize you and your family’s well-being over everything else. Stay safe, stay informed, and remember to always reach out when things get tough.

Family Therapy In Addressing High Functioning Alcoholism
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