A Functional Alcoholic

Alcoholism can be tricky. Maybe you have a friend who seems to drink a lot, but you cannot imagine that she is really an alcoholic. She has a good job. She takes care of her responsibilities. She always seems put together. So is it possible that she is dependent on alcohol? The answer is yes. Functional alcoholics, also called high-functioning alcoholics can drink plenty and still maintain at least an outward appearance of normality. Society in general would not consider this type of person to be an alcoholic because we have a different stereotype of alcoholism. An alcoholic should be disheveled, out of work, maybe even homeless, and definitely someone to look on with pity or disgust. If you recognize the signs of alcoholism in someone who seems to be functioning normally, or if you suspect it in yourself, it is time to get past the denial and get help.

Functioning and Denying

Denial is the number one characteristic of functional alcoholics, and often of the people around them. Denial of high-functioning alcoholism leads to just one thing: the unraveling of the alcoholic’s life and the crumbling of her functional life. Alcoholism does not get better on its own. Whether the abuser is functioning or not, she will only get worse as times goes on. When the alcoholic and those who care about her deny the problem, they are only allowing the disease to become worse and making the possibility of recovery and healing more and more difficult. Many believe that while the alcoholic still has her job, has not been arrested or found to be driving under the influence, or has not destroyed relationships, that she does not really have a problem.

Tolerance: the Key to Functioning

The reason it can be so tough to recognize signs of intoxication in a functional alcoholic is that he has developed a powerful tolerance to the substance. He is drinking plenty of alcohol, yet not acting very drunk. By drinking so much, his body has learned to tolerate the alcohol and large amounts are required to make him seem drunk to others. While having consumed quite a lot of alcohol, he can still carry on almost as normal. Although functioning, this type of alcoholic is causing just as much damage to internal organs as any other type of alcoholic. He will still end up with liver and kidney damage, cognitive impairment, and other health problems over time.

The Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

There are many signs signals that you can watch for in anyone you suspect of being an alcoholic who functions. Not everyone who has a problem will exhibit all of these symptoms, but if you see these signs in someone you know, it is time to be concerned:

  • Many functional alcoholics drink like a college kid at a frat party. If your friend seems to be partying the way you all did in college, while the rest of your social circle grew up and tapered off, she may be an alcoholic.
  • Your friend may also seem to be able to drink a lot without showing the usual signs of intoxication. He may be drinking everyone else under the table while still carrying on normal conversations and keeping a steady hand and voice.
  • Functional alcoholics drink every day. If you have a coworker who functions well at work, is always there on time, and is sober during the day, but hits the bar every night after work, you may be looking at a high-functioning alcoholic.
  • Your functioning alcoholic friend is likely the person behind most of your partying and drinking. She is the one that always brings up going to the bar, encourages everyone else to take shots with her, and heads up parties with a full bar. This is because alcohol is a huge part of her life, and it is a bad sign.
  • He is probably a jokester when it comes to his drinking. If your friend laughs off the quantity of alcohol he consumes or makes jokes about how drunk he got on a regular basis, he is trying to make light of his problem and pass it off as a quirk of his personality. He is in denial.
  • When you start to hear others talking behind your friends back about her drinking, it is time to worry more. As others notice the signs, you can be sure that you are not imagining them.
  • Functional alcoholism may not be a medical term, but it is a serious state in which to find someone. If you suspect this problem in someone, confront him and offer your help and support. A gentle suggestion and a friend to confide in can make a world of difference.
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