According to Pia Mellody, renowned addiction expert and author, addiction is a “disease of the soul” that affects individuals at their very core. When dealing with high functioning alcoholism in the workplace, sharing your story and speaking out can be a potent tool in addressing this often overlooked issue.

In the bustling workplaces across South Africa, it is common to find high functioning alcoholics. You may see them successfully meeting their targets and outperforming their colleagues, all while grappling with an addiction that they have become adept at hiding. The perception that they have everything under control often prevents these individuals from acknowledging their problem and seeking help.

Breaking this cycle requires strength, resilience, and above all, openness. When you speak out about your struggle, you make visible what was invisible. This visibility is often the first step to addressing high functioning alcoholism, for you and for others. Your candid conversation about addiction could be the nudge that prompts a colleague to self-evaluate their drinking habits, or the motivation that encourages your employer to develop workplace policies for addiction support.

Now, there are several counterarguments that may be presented against speaking out.

Counterargument 1:
Speaking out about personal struggles in a professional setting is inappropriate.

While maintaining professional boundaries is important, it’s equally crucial to create a supportive and empathetic workplace environment. Speaking out doesn’t mean divulging every detail of your personal life but rather sharing your experiences in a way that promotes understanding and encourages a supportive environment.

Counterargument 2:
Speaking out could lead to job loss or hinder career progression.

While this fear is understandable, most companies have regulations in place to prevent discrimination based on health conditions, including addiction. Plus, fostering an environment where employees can openly address their struggles often leads to better productivity and overall workplace wellbeing.

Counterargument 3:
High functioning alcoholics do not require intervention since their work is unaffected.

Though high functioning alcoholics might seem fine on the surface, the physical and psychological impacts of addiction can’t be ignored. By speaking out, you reinforce the idea that anyone, regardless of their professional success, can struggle with addiction and needs help.

High-functioning alcoholism, despite its prevalence in workplaces across South Africa, is often a silent struggle. Following Pia Mellody’s understanding of addiction as a ‘disease of the soul’, let’s dig deeper into how this condition can manifest itself, and how speaking out can be a catalyst for change.

Understanding High-Functioning Alcoholism: High-functioning alcoholics often lead a dual life. At work, they meet targets, excel in their roles, and appear in control. Behind closed doors, however, they grapple with an addiction that remains hidden to their colleagues and sometimes even to themselves.

Role of the Workplace in Alcoholism: Workplaces can often unknowingly contribute to high-functioning alcoholism. A culture of after-work drinks, reward systems tied to alcohol, or lack of effective policies to address addiction can exacerbate the issue.

Speaking Out: How it Helps: Speaking out about the struggles of high-functioning alcoholism plays a critical role in addressing this problem. It’s not about sharing every detail of one’s personal life, but rather about fostering an environment of support and understanding. Open dialogue can lead to more effective workplace policies and can encourage individuals battling this silent struggle to seek help.


  1. What is high-functioning alcoholism? High-functioning alcoholics are individuals who maintain successful professional and personal lives while struggling with alcohol dependence.
  2. Are high-functioning alcoholics really struggling if their work isn’t affected? Yes. Despite outward appearances, they face the physical, psychological, and emotional impacts of alcohol dependence.
  3. How can speaking out help address high-functioning alcoholism in the workplace? Speaking out fosters an environment of understanding and support, can lead to improved workplace policies, and may encourage affected individuals to seek help.

When it comes to high-functioning alcoholism in the workplace, silence is often the biggest hurdle. In the words of Pia Mellody, addiction affects one’s ‘body and self’, and to recover, one needs to regain ownership of these. Speaking out is a step towards this ownership. It’s a way for you to claim your narrative and to turn the tide of high-functioning alcoholism in your workplace.

Your voice has the power to shatter misconceptions, to break down the walls of silence, and to challenge the status quo. It can serve as a beacon of hope for others who are secretly battling the same struggle. Your story can highlight the unseen aspects of high-functioning alcoholism and can initiate conversations about mental health and addiction in professional settings.

By speaking out, you’re not just addressing your own struggle, you’re also transforming your workplace into a more supportive environment. You’re paving the way for a deeper understanding of high-functioning alcoholism, an understanding that can change lives and mindsets. As you share your journey, remember the words of South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”