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Functioning alcoholic. You may have heard the term before; you may even know one. However, there is a great deal of research—both scientific and anecdotal—that refutes the concept of functional alcoholism.

Let’s look at what we know and talk a little about why functional alcoholism doesn’t exist.

What is ‘functional alcoholism’? And is it any less serious?

We tend to think of an alcoholic as somebody who has lost everything – their spouse, their job, their friends, their savings, all gone. But, many alcoholics still manage to maintain a relatively productive life, both personally and professionally. This makes it very difficult to recognize the disease, not only for the people who care about them but for the alcoholic themselves.

This type of alcoholic often has great relationships with their friends, family, and coworkers. They may excel at their job and feel that they are quite successful. Some may be quite successful, which may lead others to overlook the drinking altogether.

He or she may not even drink every day and may instead binge-drink on the weekends when they have less to be accountable for. They may rationalize their drinking with statements like “I only drink expensive liquor,” or “I just drink wine.” They often feel that their drinking, along with everything else in their lives, is under control, when in truth, they are in deep denial.

In many cases, the alcoholic has people in their lives who help them hide their shortcomings, someone who makes it easy for them to evade the negative consequences of their drinking. These individuals, often close friends, spouses, or family members, are enabling the behavior, allowing it to continue and even supporting the idea that whatever the alcoholic gets up to, there will always be someone there to pick up the pieces.

Know the warning signs

If an individual doesn’t drink every day, if they manage to fulfill their responsibilities, and if they hold a position of power, it’s not easy to tell that there is a problem. However, some behaviors paint a telling picture.

For instance, drinking secretly, drinking alone, or drinking in the morning, using alcohol either as a reward or to mitigate stress or thinking that alcohol is needed to feel at ease. Drinking to the point of blackout, forgetting what’s been done or said while drinking, making excuses for drinking, and denying or hiding drinking – these are all clear signs that the drinking behavior is becoming dangerous.

Like any alcoholic, a high-functioning alcoholic often engages in risky behavior, such as driving drunk, promiscuity, and putting themselves or others in dangerous situations. They are also no less susceptible to chronic and life-threatening diseases related to their alcohol use, such as liver disease, brain damage, neural damage, diabetes, pancreatitis, and some forms of cancer. The risk of dying in a car accident, by murder, or suicide is significantly higher, as is the risk of violence, domestic abuse, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, reach out today. Roots Through Recovery offers many treatment options that can help you get your life back on track.