Life as a High-Functioning Alcoholic: An Interview with Sarah Allen Benton
Sarah Allen Benton is a Licenced Mental Health Counselor specializing in alcoholism. She is also an author, and writes the blog The High-Functioning Alcoholic through Psychology Today’s website. Recently, she was kind of enough to take the time to answer our questions:
AllTreatment: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sarah Allen Benton: I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at McLean Hospital in The McLean Residence at The Brook transitional living program for substance abuse and dual diagnosis treatment in Waltham, Massachusetts. I am also the author of the book, “Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic”. I have been featured in the media including a NY Times article by Jane Brody, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, NPR and am a blogger for PsychologyToday.com. Most importantly, I have been in recovery from alcoholism for 8 years.
AT: How did you become interested in alcoholism?
SAB: I have always had an interest in psychology and pursued my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. However, my own struggle with alcoholism and recovery led me to have a specific interest in the addiction field. I was troubled that the stereotypical image of the alcoholic was preventing many alcoholics, including myself, from getting appropriate help. My own challenge in recognizing and acknowledging my alcoholism led me to want to help others short-circuit this process—which is the true purpose of my book “Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic”
AT: What is a high-functioning alcoholic?
SAB: A high-functioning alcoholic is a person who drinks alcoholically yet is able to maintain an above average level of functioning in their life responsibilities such as career, academics and/or childcare.
Call your sponsor and talk about your cravings and that you are in a high-risk situation
Repeat a positive affirmation or mantra (“This too shall pass”, etc.)- it is harder for your mind to think about alcohol/drugs and intentional repetitious thoughts
Stay away from people, places and things that tempt you while in this vulnerable state
Focus on something else- play with your pet, garden, watch TV, read a magazine
Think of the consequences- imagine the impact for tomorrow, next week, next year
Positive self talk
Observe your thoughts- don’t believe everything that you think
Imagery- visualize being in a safe or special place
Break time down into manageable increments- commit to staying sober for the hour, minute, second
Create a structure for your day/evening
Replace destructive activities- eat candy instead of drinking or using drugs
Practice delay- tell yourself that you only have to stay sober today
Fight the urge- imagine this is a battle that you want to win!
Don’t pick up a drink- NO MATTER WHAT!
AT: What are some challenges facing a recovering alcoholic in today’s society?
SAB: Drinking alcohol is part of the American culture and therefore, getting sober is essentially going “against the grain”. Therefore, finding social support in recovery is crucial to maintaining long lasting recovery. Additionally, alcohol is a legal substance and therefore more accessible and socially expectable than illicit drugs. Recovering alcoholics can often feel socially isolated when they get sober and “not normal” as so many others in their life may be able to drink alcohol in a moderate way or have not chosen to get help.
AT: In your experiences, why do people abuse alcohol?
SAB: People abuse alcohol because they enjoy the effects that alcohol produces. For those with alcohol problems, many begin drinking for one reason (socially, work culture) and then often report that they end up drinking because they have developed an addictive relationship with alcohol. Alcohol serves different purposes for different people, and is highly addictive for those with a predisposition for alcohol problems Individuals are more at risk for developing alcoholism if they have alcoholism in their family, started to drink before age 15, trauma history, mood issues and/or impulsive personality.
AT: What advice can you give for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction?
SAB: If you are having a moment of clarity around your alcohol problem, take action and reach out for help. It is easier not to deal with an addiction and important that loved ones can support you in getting help and hold you accountable. There is hope and there are MANY resources available. My website lists some of the available resources.
Thank you, Sarah, for your insight and tips. Alcoholism, like many addictions, can be a difficult disease to recover from, but with methods and support from loved ones, it can be beat.