Heather King is a mother and military veteran who has bravely shared her story of alcohol addiction in the New York Times. King became a mother at 18. She partied extensively during high school and continued those patterns even after giving birth to her son.

When she turned 19, King joined the Air Force. During basic training, she became sober but quickly returned to alcohol after graduating. King used drinking as a way to fit in with her mostly male colleagues. She was arrested on base and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). She explains that this incident didn’t convince her to quit drinking but forced her to drink in private.

King was subject to harassment from a senior officer that she says amounted to stalking. Her unit was deployed to Diego Garcia and was assaulted by the same officer. This incident led to her disengaging from her life and escalated her alcoholism. She explains that alcohol helped her to sleep better, feel more joyful, and let go of her anger issues.

King’s commander did require her to work through an alcohol program but she was not committed to recovery. She left active duty in 2007 and spent nine years drinking heavily and living with internal chaos. King explains that, from the outside, her life was functional. She got married and have a daughter, staying sober through that pregnancy and several months after. Her commitment to motherhood remained intact even as she relied on alcohol to cope. Alcoholism claimed her marriage and deteriorated her home life. She tried and failed multiple times to quit drinking.

In 2016, she nearly died in a car crash, driving while intoxicated. That was the turning point. She was bailed out of jail, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and started a new sober life.

King’s story is a powerful illustration of how alcoholism can overtake someone’s life. Brilliant, educated and successful people are not immune to the power of addiction. There are many reasons people turn to substance abuse. For as many reasons, there are as many ways to receive effective treatment.

DUI, Trauma, and Alcoholism

Trauma and alcoholism are often too often deeply related. King’s time in the military exposed her to instances of abuse. Drinking alcohol can be a form of self-medicating that gives the illusion of mental or emotional relief. Alcohol can feel safe because the senses and mind are dulled while intoxicated. People may drink for many reasons, including:

  • Drinking to deal with emotions.
  • Drinking to deal with stress.
  • Drinking to deal with conflicts.

Alcohol and trauma are approached carefully by counselors during addiction treatment. People who have suffered trauma may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health conditions. Excessive alcohol intake can complicate or even mask the symptoms of other disorders. It is vital that they receive specialized support.

From Active Duty to High Functioning Alcoholic

King explains that she was a functioning alcoholic. A high-functioning alcoholic can often maintain a normal life. They live in denial that they have a problem, even as habitual alcohol consumption impacts their health and well-being.

There are some signs that may indicate that alcohol abuse is taking place:

  • Trouble controlling the amount of alcohol consumption.
  • Acting dramatically different when intoxicated or lashing out. 
  • Drinking to cope with stress or everyday life.

Alcoholism may have a cultural stigma. In many arenas of life, like the military or business world, people can live as high-functioning alcoholics as they participate in regular social events. It is especially important for people in these contexts to be aware of their alcohol consumption and seek recovery if needed.