On the surface, Seth, a 37-year-old entrepreneur, had a picture-perfect life. He lived in a swanky Midtown apartment with a beautiful wife and private-school-educated kids and made a six-figure salary.
But beneath the shiny veneer, he had a secret: He was drinking more than seven glasses of whiskey throughout the day, starting in the morning, to cope with his job.
“I was taking out significant loans to grow my business, and I needed a way to numb the stress of family life and work life,” says Seth, who started drinking heavily in 2014 and prefers to not disclose his last name for professional reasons.
For a while, no one suspected his drinking problem. In between glasses of scotch, he’d spray on cologne and use mouthwash, and he’d sneak into his home office to nap after a long day of boozing before having dinner with his family.
But in January, his wife discovered flasks in his suitcase and urged him to seek help. He’s been seeing a therapist ever since and now regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
“I didn’t think I had a problem [at first],” he says. “But [my wife]suspected it. She started seeing signs like my slurred speech.”
Last week, Brad Pitt shocked fans when he revealed to GQ Style that he had an alcohol problem that led, in part, to the demise of his marriage to Angelina Jolie. Few had known that the actor struggled with drinking, but addiction experts say they’re getting more and more patients, like Pitt, who are functional alcoholics whom few suspect have a problem.
“I’m seeing a lot of professionals like nurses, doctors and lawyers and successful people,” says Midtown-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson. “It’s not people who are blacking out, unemployed or living in Section 8 housing. I’m seeing married executives with great careers, and nobody knows what’s going on with [their alcoholism].”
People are becoming more aware that it’s a disease and not a dirty word.
New York is especially conducive to functional alcoholism, Hershenson says.
“I’ve had one of my clients say she’d been drinking every day for a week because of all her [work]events,” she says. “And with New York bars and restaurants open almost 24/7, we have more access to alcohol than other places.”
Jason Arsenault, 41, a recovering alcoholic who now works as a sobriety coach with Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Conn., says he sees more younger people seeking treatment.
“I think it’s really inspiring to see clients who are sober and under 30,” he says. “I didn’t get sober until I was in my 30s … I’d like to think [alcoholism]isn’t as stigmatized. People are becoming more aware that it’s a disease and not a dirty word.”
Carrie Wilkens, co-founder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change, near Herald Square, says celebs like Pitt and Jon Hamm coming forward with their addictions may have made it easier for functioning alcoholics to seek treatment.
“Many [celebrities]now seem more open to talking about it in a ‘I want to be a good role model’ kind of way, which is great.”
Seth has now been sober for four months, thanks to meditation, exercise and AA. He says he’s never felt better.
“It’s like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” he says. “I feel healthier and more aware and productive. I feel like I’m relating better to my employees. I’m not in the clouds anymore … now I’m fully, 100 percent present.”
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