Functional Alcoholism

Characteristics of a Functional Alcoholic



They appear physically healthy and living a normal life



Functional Alcoholism

Functional alcoholism is a sub-type of alcoholism in which the alcoholic, while still addicted to alcohol, manages to function fairly normally in his daily life. It appears that way to outsiders, at least; family members and close friends will begin to see signs of a drinking problem.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 20 percent of all alcoholics can be considered a functional alcoholic. Functional alcoholism is no less serious than any other kind of alcoholism, even though the disease manifests differently. If the alcoholic in question doesn’t get help, the problem generally grows worse over time and eventually, he becomes much less functional (of course, women can be alcoholics, too; we’re just using male pronouns here for simplicity’s sake).


Characteristics of a Functional Alcoholic

Functional alcoholics don’t look like drunk homeless people sipping from a paper sack on a street corner. They often:

  • Go to work regularly, often in high-paying professional positions
  • Are well-respected at work
  • Are married and seem to have a good relationship
  • Have kids and seem like a good mom or dad
  • Seem to be managing life well
  • Appear to be physically healthy, with no significant alcohol-related medical problems

However, someone with functional alcoholism may also:

  • Spend a lot of time thinking about when he will get to have the next drink
  • Find that having one drink only makes him crave another
  • Demonstrate a very different personality when intoxicated
  • Do things that compromise his moral values when intoxicated (like someone who believes adultery is wrong, and who also loves his wife, but cheats on his wife sometimes when he’s drunk)

Functional alcoholics often deny they have a drinking problem. Often, they’ve managed to avoid many negative consequences of alcoholism, at least so far. It may seem that they’ve just been lucky. Since they haven’t been fired from their jobs or gotten divorced or been arrested for driving while intoxicated, though, they may feel they haven’t “hit rock bottom” and that therefore their drinking problem isn’t serious.


Getting Help for a Functional Alcoholic

If you think you might be a functioning alcoholic, give yourself some credit for recognizing and admitting that you might have a problem. You can get treatment discretely; your boss, your coworkers, your neighbors, and other people do not have to know. Start by talking to your doctor. Your medical information is confidential and your privacy is protected by a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 

Your doctor can assess your health and refer you to an addictions treatment program if needed. Treatment programs for alcoholics are very careful about confidentiality. If you need to take time off work for treatment, you may need to let your employer know you need the time off to get medical treatment, but you don’t have to share the details. Please don’t hesitate to seek help because you’re afraid of people finding out you that have a drinking problem.

If you’re concerned about someone you love that shows signs of functional alcoholism, remember that you can’t make someone get help. You can share your concerns with your loved one and encourage him to get help, but it the end, it’s not in your power to make that happen. You can, however, get help and support for yourself, which can be very important when coping with a functioning alcoholic. Make an appointment with a professional counselor or attend an Al-Anon meeting to get more information about coping with an alcoholic and to get the support you need to deal with a very difficult situation.




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