5 Recovery Tips for the High Functioning Alcoholic

recovery tips for HFA_edited-1When you’re a high functioning alcoholic (HFA), your #1 problem is a physical addiction to alcohol.

You have lots of problems, as everyone does. But the majority of them are directly tied to alcohol. Your energy levels are off, you’re struggling to fight off hangovers at work and your physique is slowly turning to mush.

You may need to repair some relationships because of the consequences of your drinking.

However, the advice you get from recovering addicts isn’t helpful. You want to excise alcohol from your life and achieve your dreams, not undergo a religious conversion or become a saint!!

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What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

The National Institutes of Health claims that 19.5% of alcoholics in the U.S. are of the functional alcoholic subtype.

What exactly does that mean?

Functional alcoholics are defined as individuals who can maintain professional standings and relationships/families while being physically or mentally dependant on alcohol.

Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

Although this is not an exhaustive list, a high-functioning alcoholic may:

  • Not show signs of intoxication.
  • Have memory loss or black out from consumptions.
  • Effectively take care of responsibilities.
  • Not suffer the same consequences from drinking as others who drink as much.

Top 5 Recovery Tips for the High Functioning Alcoholic

Tip #1: Don’t Delay Recovery Until It’s Too Late

I know what it feels like to tackle recovery as a HFA.

When I was 25, I was making 6 figures and my life was generally enviable from the outside.

I refused to admit that drinking was secretly more important to me than my job or my girlfriend or my health/fitness.

I’d built up a lot of respect from colleagues and friends that slowly deteriorated as my problem got gradually worse over time.

I had a litany of excuses that prevented me from doing something about my drinking:

  • I took a week off from drinking last month, so I’m not an alcoholic
  • I’m nothing like unemployed guys who drink in their basements
  • I‘ve always excelled in everything I do, so I’ll moderate my drinking too

Three years before I quit drinking, I knew I had a problem but I could wait until 5 PM – and sometimes even the weekend – before drinking.

By the time I quit drinking, I ruminated about alcohol all day at work and finally “turned myself in” to rehab because I could not function.

The upper right side of my abdomen hurt, my mind raced in an insane frenzy, and my hands shook when I could not drink. My liver enzymes indicated that I was, at most, one year away from liver failure.

Be honest with yourself early on. When you have a problem, you just know. You can be in denial but there are still moments, usually when you’re alone, when you realize that you’re not in control.

Capitalize on these small moments and make the decision change your life.

Even in college, I sensed that alcohol had a dark gravitational pull that made me fear for my future. Trust your instincts!!

The truth is that alcohol is a crappy drug with terrible side effects and you’re sacrificing nothing by giving it up.

Tip #2: Get support from close family, friends, and/or specialists

You need external support if you’ve tried to quit or moderate on your own and failed.

Most HFAs already have good support networks. It’s one of the reasons they’re more successful than people who aren’t high functioning.

I had family and friends who gladly would have helped if I’d asked for their support early on. All I had to say was: “I have a problem and I need your help.”

Without emotional support and accountability, you’re likely to fall back into your old habits even if you enlist the help of a professional.

If there is no one you can count on, then here are two good options:

  • Find a psychologist in your area who specializes in addiction and ask if he or she holds meetings for people struggling with/recovering from addiction (one-on-one sessions usually cost around $250/hour)
  • Hire me for Alcohol Recovery Coaching!

Tip #3: Determine the best way to withdraw safely from alcohol

Withdrawing from alcohol cold turkey can literally kill you.

To minimize the risks and misery of withdrawal, you have three options:

  • See a doctor who’s willing to prescribe medications for a short span to ease withdrawals while you quit drinking alcohol
  • If your withdrawal symptoms are mild or moderate, check out alternative options to help you quit on your own
  • See a doctor who’s willing to prescribe Naltrexone as part of the Sinclair Method
  • If you’ve waited too long for either of the above and you’re a huge mess like I was, get yourself into rehab ASAP!! A doctor there will prescribe detox medications immediately.

I wish I’d been more clear about my options for quitting during the years that I struggled with alcohol.

My biggest mistake, by far, was attempting to solve my problem by scheduling sporadic sessions with expensive psychologists who knew little about addiction.

These experts meant well, but all they could do was sit there, pretend to be fully engaged, repeat a few AA cliches, and schedule the next session.

They didn’t know how to help me except to recommend AA. They didn’t seem to care about addiction and they were often bored to tears by my stories, which usually went something like this: “I tried what you recommended last week, and I tried out an AA meeting, but I drank anyway.”

What I really needed was guidance from someone who had already been through what I had experienced, and who wasn’t going to insult my intelligence by drilling spiritual dogma into my head.

Because I was ignorant of my detoxification options, I waited so long that inpatient rehab was my only option.

Being a HFA comes with a silver lining: Because you’re used to succeeding when you put your mind to it, you WILL recover as long as you have the right strategy in place!!

Tip #4: Reevaluate your fitness and diet to support your recovery

Most recovery programs have very little, if anything, to say about fitness and diet.

Your fitness level determines your energy levels. Why would you want to fight a difficult battle without maximizing your energy levels?

Human beings weren’t designed to sit in chairs all day, whether for work or for group therapy sessions.

There’s simply no substitute for the sense of well-being, peace of mind, and natural euphoria you’ll get from making exercise a priority.

I spent a week doing nothing at rehab because I was in such dire straits. After that, I hit the gym every single day – and I felt better from the first session onward.

Similarly, the relation between what you eat and how you feel isn’t a mystery. Garbage in, garbage out.

Opt for healthy food – lean meats, vegetables, fresh fruit – and cut out processed stuff. If eating healthy is new to you, you’ll soon feel like a totally different person.

Physically and emotionally, prioritizing my fitness has been a constant upward spiral. I’m not as focused on how I look to other people as I am on on how I feel.

Looking good is just a pleasant byproduct of working out and eating right.

Tip #5: Reexamine your Life’s Purpose

Most HFAs have various goals and an overall idea about what their Life’s Purpose is.

But because alcohol addiction tends to get worse with time, many of us get distracted. We lose sight of our mission in life.

As a HFA, you are an achiever by nature. Your recovery depends in large part on doing what you believe you were born to do.

I spent years sitting at a desk and slaving away for relatively large paychecks that barely kept up with my ever-increasing standard of living.

I was preparing for a life of keeping up with the Joneses. What a waste of time, what a waste of individuality.

It wasn’t until I gave up alcohol, and my faux-glamorous lifestyle, that I realized I couldn’t waste another second doing mind-numbing work that I wasn’t passionate about. I’m lucky to be alive so I’m going to make the most of it.

Deciding to spend time only on things that I love doing – and in particular, to work toward self-employment – turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for my recovery from addiction.

Because I need to make money in the short-term, I began training people in the gym. I’m more passionate about helping my clients than I ever was about crunching numbers.

Because I want to build something great over time, I started a side business and this website. Both of these things have upside potential and they give me a sense of mission that my old job could not match.

I don’t label myself as a trainer or a writer or whatever job title I might have had in the past. I think of myself as an entrepreneur.

Stop Deluding Yourself and Start Living

Just because a lot of people wait until it’s too late doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

I’m incredibly lucky that I quit drinking just in time to start piecing my life back together.

Follow the tips above and stop doing any of these things ever again:

  • Secretly drinking yourself to death
  • Beating yourself up for failing when you try to quit alone
  • Assuming professional help is a luxury (rather than a necessity)
  • Subsisting on poor energy levels
  • Ignoring what you were born to do

See you on the other side.



  • Chris Scott

    Chris Scott founded Fit Recovery in 2014 to help people from around the world dominate alcohol dependence and rebuild their lives from scratch. A former investment banker, he recovered from alcohol dependence using cutting-edge methods that integrate nutrition, physiology, and behavioral change. Today, Chris is an Alcohol Recovery Coach and the creator of an online course called Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0.

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