By Maximilian Clarke

As many as 1 in 4 lawyers may grapple with alcoholism during their working life, research suggests, with doctors and bankers also among careers most at risk.

The ‘functioning alcoholic’ is the name given to people who have a serious drinking problem but still remain able to retain their careers and relationships. Their health, relationships and working life will often suffer, but seldom to the extent that they become unmanageable.

The idea that a serious addiction will automatically destroy your life is a stereotype which is perpetuated by the British media. In reality, while many people do lose everything as a result of their addiction, there are those, who manage to continue on a comparatively even keel. The problem for these people is that while life goes on there is often very little incentive to seek treatment.

"People seem to have the view that you must have lost everything and hit rock bottom before you need to access help or seek some kind of treatment,” says Alistair Mordey, the Programme Director and Head Counsellor at The Cabin. “Some people, especially high functioning people have not lost everything, and there is the view that this somehow makes them a different kind of addict.

“We must differentiate between a material rock bottom, where the addict loses all their possesssions or status, and an emotional rock bottom where they are essentially having what we used to call a nervous breakdown. In rehab we talk about high rock bottoms as opposed to a low rock bottoms; not everyone who hits rehab is coming off a low rock bottom where they have lost everything. Many are coming from a high rock bottom where they still have successful careers but have nowhere to go in terms of mood imbalance and emotional crisis".

High functioning addicts start using for the same reason low functioning addicts do, to self medicate an imbalanced brain chemistry and calm the symptoms of depression, anxiety or lack of focus (hyperactivity). However using addictive drugs or alcohol to make them feel better eventually stops working as the chemicals this produces in the brain become exhausted and both high and low functioning addicts are left with issues that leave them no option but to seek treatment and not rely on addictive processes.

Having a high rock bottom or a low rock bottom is often nothing more than social and environmental differences between individuals, ie how much we had to start out with. Whether you consistently manage to hang on to your material goods or social position, is not a good way to judge the severity of your addiction, but rather how much damage has it caused and will cause you, emotionally and mentally, is the true judge of whether you need treatment."

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