What is a Functioning Alcoholic?
A functioning alcoholic is someone who abuses alcohol on a regular basis but is still able to work, go to school, handle parenting or marital responsibilities, maintain their appearance and manage an assortment of daily tasks. A few family members, friends or co-workers may suspect the truth, but for the most part, others are not aware of how serious the person’s drinking problem really is.
Functional alcoholics think having a stable and prosperous life means their drinking is under control. But they are living an illusion.
Functional Alcoholism Statistics
According to research sponsored by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD), approximately 14 million American adults—or one out of every 13—suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Out of this total, as many as 20 percent may be functional alcoholics.
Functional alcoholism is a silent epidemic, and far more people are suffering from its hidden symptoms than most would ever imagine.
Am I a Functional Alcoholic?
It takes courage to ask yourself this question, and even more courage to answer it honestly.
Unfortunately, most functional alcoholics live in denial, too ashamed or too proud to admit the truth to themselves or others. In their own minds, they rationalize their behavior by its apparent lack of effect on their lives. They may even congratulate themselves for being able to handle their alcohol consumption without slipping into true alcoholism.
But make no mistake: functional alcoholism is true alcoholism, and people who suffer from this form of chemical dependency do not have control of their lives and are ultimately at risk for a number of serious life and health consequences. They are living on the edge, and they will pay a high price for their hubris if they continue to deny reality.
The Telltale Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism
Are you a functioning alcoholic? Here’s how to tell …
- When you wake up in the morning, alcohol is the first thing on your mind.
- You often feel shaky when you first get up and are not above “calming your nerves” by sneaking a quick drink.
- You view lunchtime at work as a golden opportunity to imbibe.
- When you come home from work, getting a drink is your first priority.
- You plan to have only one or two drinks, but you end up having twice that amount or more (and this happens in a variety of circumstances).
- You experience blackouts or memory problems related to your drinking, on at least a semi-frequent basis.
- You feel compelled to hide your alcohol consumption from others, especially loved ones.
- You’re uninterested in attending social events where alcohol isn’t served.
- You drink to help cope with emotions (stress, anxiety, boredom, anger, frustration and so on).
- Hangovers are a routine side effect of your drinking.
- You drink every single day—and miss alcohol dearly if for some reason you can’t.
If you recognize yourself in these symptoms, you should consult with a physician or addiction specialist as soon as possible to receive a full evaluation for substance abuse. Do nothing, and you’ll never find peace or safety, as your drinking continues to put you and your family at risk.
Too often the loved ones of so-called high-functioning alcoholics end up as collateral damage, and that was the case with Diane Shuler. In this sad incident, her son and three nieces also lost their lives, casualties of a disorder that selects its victims mercilessly and without discrimination.
Can I Control My High-Functioning Alcoholism?
The answer to this question might surprise you, but it is no, you cannot, at least not all on your own. Functional alcoholism can be overcome with time and treatment, but you cannot wish it away or take command of it through willpower alone.
Your alcoholism undoubtedly snuck up on you, as you began drinking more in response to stress, relationship troubles, workplace disappointments or the loss of a loved one. You probably didn’t notice the way alcohol was taking over your life, but with the passage of time your body’s tolerance for alcohol increased and you needed to drink more and more to achieve the same effects. You didn’t realize it, but alcohol was slowly gaining control, and its mastery over your life has only been gaining in strength.
You may be functional now. But if you continue down this path without seeking professional help, your performance and your health will gradually deteriorate as profound alcohol dependence develops.
Living with Functioning Alcoholic
In the privacy of their own homes, functioning alcoholics are not the confident, self-assured achievers they normally pretend to be when they’re hiding behind their facade. While family members may not be sure of what’s going on (although they often do have strong suspicions), they know the functioning alcoholic is dealing with a plethora of problems. Their anxiety and depression may be obvious, and their moodiness and secretiveness impacts spouses, children and other loved ones who are puzzled by their inconsistent behavior.
Functional Alcoholism and its Long-Term Impact
A functioning alcoholic who tries to quit drinking may be derailed by the strength of their cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and they may retreat into rationalization and denial once again as they slide back into chronic substance abuse. With functioning alcoholism, the drinking frequently escalates and the eventual deterioration in home life, working life and overall well-being is inevitable.
Anyone suffering from so-called high-functioning alcoholism should be encouraged to face their problems honestly and openly, and to take whatever steps are necessary to separate from alcohol. If the person is receptive and willing to commit to change, they should be urged to seek the expert services of a trained addiction specialist.
Functioning Alcoholics in the Workplace
Alcoholics in the workplace can be a danger to themselves and others. They can be reckless and unreliable, either drinking on the job (as their condition intensifies) or showing up for work hungover and unprepared to perform.
Many employees don’t realize it, but federal law guarantees them time off for work for substance abuse treatment, and their employers must keep their jobs open for them until they return. Rather than risk future unemployment, functioning alcoholics would be wise to seek professional help right away, before it is too late.
Functional Alcoholism Treatment and Recovery
Outpatient treatment programs are usually the best course of treatment for high-functioning alcoholics, likely supplemented by an initial period of medical detox.
The latter procedure usually takes place in a treatment facility or clinic, and will allow patients to be carefully monitored as medications, vitamin supplements, diet plans, and therapy are offered to help them pass through the withdrawal process with a minimum of difficulty and discomfort.
If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from undiagnosed and untreated functional alcoholism, you should seek medical attention and evaluation for substance abuse quickly, before the situation gets out of control. Functional alcoholism responds well to sustained treatment, and customized options are always available to help recovering alcoholics who have special needs and life situations.