What Is a Functional Alcoholic?

Many people are going through some personal struggles that aren’t visible to the outside world. That’s especially true for a functional alcoholic. These individuals might not seek treatment because they don’t believe that they have a problem and those around them aren’t aware of the issue. But a functional alcoholic’s behavior, performance and lifestyle are likely to suffer down the road if they continue to abuse the substance. Treatment is as essential for a functional alcoholic as for anyone with a substance abuse disorder.

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What Is a Functional Alcoholic?

There is no official diagnosis of functional alcoholic. In fact, the DSM-5 replaced labels like functional alcoholism with alcohol use disorder to reduce the stigma associated with this condition. Many people associate the word alcoholic with someone who gets blackout drunk and can’t keep their life together. With that stereotype in place, a functional alcoholic who could benefit from treatment might not seek it because they don’t want to be thought of as unmanageable or irresponsible. Alcohol use disorder exists on a spectrum. It can generate chemical changes that alter your behavior and performance in every area of life. If your alcohol use disorder is severe, it can make you seem irresponsible or erratic. But many functional alcoholics can manage their lives enough to minimize some of the negative consequences of alcohol addiction. Functional alcoholic and high-functioning alcoholic are used as informal terms for someone with alcohol use disorder who continues to function well in their personal and public life.

Why Should You Stop Drinking if You Can Function?

A functional alcoholic may not believe that they have a problem because their drinking doesn’t seem to cause them obvious distress or impairment. If they can drink and keep up appearances, why shouldn’t they? After all, that seems to be what most people do. About 55% of American adults drink alcohol once a month, but only about 6% of men and 3% of women in this age group have alcohol use disorder. Drinking socially and in moderation is enjoyable for many people and has been part of society for centuries. Therefore, you might wonder what makes a functional alcoholic different than someone who has a healthy relationship with alcohol. The primary difference between a functional alcoholic and someone who doesn’t have alcohol use disorder is dependence. When your body needs alcohol to feel normal or you believe that you need it to function, you are physically or psychologically reliant on the substance. Dependence is dangerous because it is associated with addiction and health risks. A functional alcoholic often consumes as much alcohol as someone with severe alcohol addiction. But they work it into their schedule so that it doesn’t impede their daily functioning. They may drink all day without appearing drunk. This level of tolerance can wreak havoc on your system. Some of the health risks associated with alcohol dependence include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Cancer
  • Injuries
  • Violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Mental health problems and co-occurring disorders
  • Social problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Weakened immunity

Furthermore, because a functional alcoholic is likely to have experienced the problem for a long time, they may be more likely to develop alcohol-related health conditions than someone who has been a heavy drinker for a shorter period.

How to Know if You’re a Functional Alcoholic

You might wonder how you can tell the difference between a functional alcoholic and someone who drinks recreationally. These are some of the common signs of a functioning alcoholic:

  • You drink regularly, and heading to the bar after work or adding liquor to your coffee is part of your routine.
  • You often have a logical or emotional excuse for drinking, such as having a stressful day or celebrating the weekend.
  • You drink alone frequently.
  • You tend to prefer social events that involve alcohol and drink more than others at the events.
  • You have trouble socializing or performing at work if you haven’t had a drink.
  • You don’t have to hide your drinking, but you don’t always mention it either.
  • You downplay the frequency of your drinking or joke about alcohol use disorder.
  • When you don’t drink, your withdrawal symptoms are mild.
  • You have a high tolerance and don’t get drunk or lose control easily.
  • You don’t have a great or consistent memory.
  • You don’t get hangovers often.
  • You have had trouble stopping or controlling your drinking in the past and may justify it with reasons for continuing.
  • Looking back, you realize that you’ve had several seemingly isolated incidents of impaired performance while drinking, such as showing up late to work after partying all night.
  • You may not realize or believe that you have a problem.

The Challenges of a Functional Alcoholic

A functional alcoholic can face as many struggles as anyone with alcohol use disorder. But some unique challenges come about from keeping the situation hidden. As a functional alcoholic, you may have trouble finding support. Your loved ones may not believe that you have a problem. They might gloss over your concerns and tell you that you have nothing to worry about, making it difficult for you to connect with them during this difficult time. One of the biggest problems that a functional alcoholic usually faces is a slow progression of the disease. The fact that they don’t hit rock bottom often delays treatment and increases the risk of problems in every area of their life. By the time they seek treatment, they may be drinking so heavily that cold-turkey withdrawal would be dangerous. Even if it surprises your friends and family, there is nothing wrong with asking for help if you think that you may be a functional alcoholic. The right diagnosis allows you to create an appropriate treatment plan. Burning Tree Programs will help you nurture the skills that allow you to perform well in all areas of your life while teaching you healthy coping methods. You’ll be able to function even better than you did before when you’re in recovery, and you’ll reduce the risks associated with alcohol addiction.

Find an Inpatient Rehab Program Now

We are here to help you through every aspect of recovery. Call our admissions team to find the best for long-term recovery.

(866) 287-2877


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