Who is a Functional Alcoholic? Know the Signs

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Arzt | Last Edited : February 06, 2021 | 3 Sources

Alcoholism progression

A functional alcoholic may seem to live a completely 'normal' life.
But it is only a matter of time before the signs of alcoholism appear and life unravels.

What makes a functional alcoholic different from other alcoholics? There is a myth (or is it wishful thinking?) that if you drink a lot but can go about life as normal then you must not be an alcoholic.

That is, if you manage to complete day to day tasks then your drinking is not an issue

This just isn't true.

The definition of a functional alcoholic is somebody who displays signs of alcoholism (or at least some of them) but is able to live a 'normal' life.

They get up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work, put the kids to bed, play football on a Saturday, keep their partner happy......and so on. Everything is just fine...in their eyes at least.

Sorry to burst the bubble but, yes, you can function as an alcoholic and for quite some time. However, eventually, alcoholism progression will mean you won't be able to keep up the act anymore.

Here is a great resource...

Are you a functioning alcoholic? Do you want to do something about your drinking but are unwilling to embrace Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step way? The Sinclair Method is a viable and statistically effective alternative to the 12 steps, involving none of the shame and powerlessness used in the AA recovery system.

The Functioning Alcoholic and Alcoholism Progression

In most cases, alcoholism is progressive. This means that it follows a definite path and goes through distinctive phases or alcoholism stages. When someone drinks chronically, they eventually develop a tolerance to alcohol. Over time, this tolerance increases and increases. That means they need to drink more alcohol at higher frequencies to achieve the intended effect.

This pattern can also lead to withdrawal. Withdrawal happens when someone experiences physical and psychological symptoms after stopping drinking. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from mildly distressing to incredibly uncomfortable.  

The final stage is, unfortunately, death unless help is sought.

During the first two alcoholism stages, it is possible to cover up your excessive drinking but enter the final stages of alcoholism and this is just not an option anymore.

In end stage alcoholism you can no longer hide your alcoholic abuse. There is only so much drinking the body can take and the long term effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse health effects will become very visible.

Additionally, any degree of alcoholism can affect you and everyone around you. You aren’t as present for your spouse or children. You may make more mistakes at work. Your health can take a tremendous beating. If you drink while engaging in hazardous activities like driving, you face immense safety risks. Unfortunately, functional alcoholics may have a false sense of confidence that nothing bad can or will happen to them. 

Anyway having a functioning life and a good life are not the same.

Why be a functional alcoholic when you can break your addiction forever and have a more fulfilling life? And....

.....you may be functioning at the moment but if you don't think about quitting drinking soon then you may well be dysfunctional not too long from now.

I don't want to preach but if you suspect you are (or someone you care about is) a functional alcoholic get help NOW before it is too late.

The Signs of a Functional Alcoholic

  • You drink like you did when you were younger. Most people drink quite a bit when they are at college or in their late teens/early twenties. It is a rite of passage. Most people stop binge drinking when they get a job, settle down etc. The functional alcoholic doesn't. They still drink like a fish. They may just hide it more frequently.
  • You laugh about your drinking. It is a part of who you are. People in your social group also make jokes about it. It is a running joke. Sometimes you might get defensive, aggressive, or angry when the jokes get too much. This reaction often manifests from the shame you feel over your habit.
  • You are generally the first one at the bar, the party, the drinks cabinet. The first two or three drinks go down fast. Sometimes you have drinks before you go out to get a head start on everybody else. It’s normal for you to want to drink before, during, and after events. The idea of just drinking to drink rarely seems appealing- you usually want to get drunk.
  • Is drinking a large part of your life? Do you look forward to going out? Would you rather go to the bar than the cinema? Do you avoid going to places where drink isn't available? Are you a big organizer of after work drinks, parties etc.?
  • You can drink most people under the table and you don't even get drunk (or at least don't look as if you do). Are you a 'happy drunk'?
  • Do you sometimes have trembling hands? Have alcoholic blackouts? Suffer from anxiety when you haven't had a drink for a while?
  • Are you proud of the fact that you can drink so much and still get up for work and lead a 'normal life'? Do you think you are immune to the addictive nature of alcohol?
  • You go to great lengths to hide or lie how much you drink. For example, in public, you may only limit yourself to one drink to appear normal. But at home, when nobody is watching, you drink and drink and drink.

If you recognize yourself in these then maybe it is time to take a look at your drinking habits. That is, if you want to.

love an addict
Do you live with a functional alcoholic? Loving an alcohol dependent is one of the most painful things you will ever have to cope with. However, there is hope. C.P.Lehman in his book, Help Me! I'm In Love With An Addict provides you with the strategies that will enable you to find contentment and get your life back where you want it to be.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Withdrawal provided by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation: https://adf.org.au/reducing-risk/withdrawal/.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse provided by HelpGuide: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/alcoholism-and-alcohol-abuse.htm.

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