What Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Functioning Alcoholic

Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Functioning Alcoholic.

The popular notion of an alcoholic is a person who is ‘down and out’. This is the alcoholic in the ‘chronic’ or ‘severe’ phase of the disorder. However the disorder may be progressing slowly while the person continues to go about daily life; hence the term ‘functioning alcoholic’.

They are a man or woman who – contrary to popular stereotypes – manages to hold down a job, pay their rent, and otherwise maintain the appearance of a life unblemished by addiction problems.

Understanding how this type of addiction functions is important. Because high-functioning alcohol addiction can be just as damaging to the abuser and their loved ones as very transparent and noticeable alcohol addiction.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic is likely to be middle aged and educated, with a successful career and married with a family instead of destitute, desolate and alone. Friends and families may not recognise that a problem with drinking even exists.

Functional alcoholics may go to work all day, go to the gym after work, and then go home and down a bottle or two of wine or excessive spirits. Family members may take this as normal behaviour. Since the person is not having problems fulfilling work or familial obligations, they must be OK.

Functional alcoholics may not even drink every day, but instead engage in frequent episodes of binge or heavy drinking every few days.

They may not see a problem with their drinking, and may lead a sort of double life wherein they are able to completely separate their drinking life from his/her professional and personal life.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of a High Functioning Alcoholic

Although some of the warning signs and symptoms of Functioning Alcoholics are similar to those of other alcoholics, they often appear at different stages of the progression of alcoholism.

Some signs may not be present in all Functioning Alcoholics, or may occur in clusters. One thing is certain: the longer the Functioning Alcoholic goes without treatment, the more likely he or she will display some of these warning signs and symptoms.

  • In the company of others who drink – the functioning alcoholic surrounds themselves with others who like to drink.
  • Obsessing over alcohol – The thought of alcohol is never far from the mind of the Functioning Alcoholic.
  • Consuming craving – One drink is never enough for them. The lure is too strong, and the craving consumes the functioning alcoholic until he or she can have the next drink
  • Alcohol is part of their lives – The functioning alcoholic would no more give up alcohol than they’d give up their identity. Alcohol is so much a part of their lives that they cannot imagine a life without alcohol.
  • Experiencing shame over drunken behavior – Being such masters of concealment, the Functioning Alcoholic does often experience remorse and/or shame over instances where their behavior has become sloppy after drinking.
  • Self-deluding – Some functioning alcoholics drink only expensive wine or spirits in the mistaken belief that this means they’re not an alcoholic.
  • Fit life into compartments – Another familiar sign of functioning alcoholics is that they are able to conveniently separate their drinking lives from the rest of their existence.
  • Tried to quit but failed – At some point they may have tried to quit drinking but failed in the attempt.
  • Excuses and rewards – Functioning alcoholics feel they work hard and deserve a drink as a reward.
  • Hiding and sneaking – When others are going to be around – and watching – the functioning alcoholic may sneak a drink early, drink before going out, or drink alone.
  • Emotional and physical consequences don’t matter – Whether minor or severe, emotional and physical consequences of drinking don’t make a difference to them.

It’s easy to overlook these behaviours when someone is managing to take care of their responsibilities. However, these signs of a functioning alcoholic signify a problem that needs to be addressed. If proper action is not taken, an alcoholic’s health can severely decline.

Seeking Help & Treatment

Helping anyone with a substance use disorder is challenging, but helping a functioning alcoholic holds a unique set of difficulties. Initial assessment is important.

While the person is not recognising problems associated with their drinking, they may be helped to see that the inner dynamics of their relationship with alcohol is a dependent relationship.

Family members may play a key role in this assessment as they will know that this kind of relationship with alcohol is impairing marital, parental and other familiar relationships.

Like anyone suffering from a disease, most realise that any form of alcoholism is problematic and may wish to change, but are fearful of doing so. For many, alcoholism has been a way of life for decades, which means that to change this component of their lives is to step into the unknown: A scary proposition for anyone.

In order to help a functioning alcoholic, it is essential to educate them about the realities of extended alcohol use, including the fact that no one is immune to its physical and psychological effects. Functioning Alcoholics often convince themselves that they are not suffering from compulsive behaviour.

The best way to help an alcoholic —functioning or otherwise — is to present evidence that if alcohol is not already ruining their life, it is inhibiting their ability to achieve greater success at the very least.

If we break down the term “Functioning Alcoholic” into its two parts, we have a dichotomy – functioning and alcoholic. On one end, they are openly accepted by society due to their functional behaviour. On the other end, they face the constant threat of stigmatisation if their addiction is acknowledged. Thus, letting go of the “functional” state comes at a high cost, though the cost is never as high as the physical and psychological tax of excessive alcohol use.

Get Help at Tabor Group

Do you believe that you are, or might know, someone suffering from functioning alcoholism? If so, now is the time to seek answers and treatment. At Tabor Group, we provide resources and support so that Functioning Alcoholics can receive the care they need. Contact us today at +353 (21) 488 7110 or Email Us and we can help you