Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

Not everyone who struggles with an alcohol problem shows the stereotypical signs. Here are some of the signs of a functioning alcoholic, and what you can do to help.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic is a specific subtype of alcoholism and doesn’t usually fit the typical “alcoholic” stereotype.

A functioning alcoholic does not necessarily experience significant negative effects from alcohol consumption, and may appear to have it all together to many people. They still show up to work, they maintain good personal hygiene, and they keep up with personal responsibilities.

Since they don’t exhibit a lot of the stereotypical signs of alcoholism, a functioning alcoholic usually does not believe that they have a problem, because they are able to drink while managing their daily responsibilities. They don’t see any immediate repercussions of their alcohol intake, so why would it be a problem?

However, whether they realize it or not, a functioning alcoholic has a dependence on alcohol, and has trouble controlling their drinking.

How to Tell if Someone is a Functioning Alcoholic

A functioning alcoholic is someone who has an alcohol use disorder, but does not necessarily fit the image we have in our heads of what a stereotypical alcoholic looks like.

They might not have obvious blackout episodes, show substantial personality changes, or become emotionally unstable as a result of drinking. We wouldn’t expect someone who appears to have it all together to have an alcohol addiction.

Although a person may not be showing the stereotypical symptoms of alcoholism, there are a few key signs to look out for when determining if someone has an alcohol problem, including:

  • Drinking as a coping mechanism
  • Denial or avoidance
  • Binge drinking
  • Having a high alcohol tolerance
  • Getting defensive when confronted about their drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Unsuccessful when attempting to quit or cut back

Long-Term Effects of Functioning Alcoholism 

A person’s alcohol consumption may not be something that they recognize as a problem, because they don’t see any immediate negative effects from it.

However, over time, consuming alcohol to this extent can cause a variety of serious health conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Mental health disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Liver failure

Alcohol can also take a toll on more than just one’s health. It can affect one’s relationships, job, and more.

Living With a Functioning Alcoholic

Living with a functioning alcoholic can bring a great deal of stress and anxiety. You may feel reluctant to bring up the problem, because you are worried about how they will react. Here are a few ways that you can cope while living with a functioning alcoholic.

Set Boundaries

As much as you might want to help an alcoholic, you ultimately need space to cope with your own recovery process. Establish clear rules about when alcohol is allowed in your home, and stick to them.

Communicate Clearly

It’s important for your loved one to understand how you are feeling and how their drinking affects you. Communicate clearly and calmly, and try to understand why they feel the need to drink as much as they do.

Lean on Your Support System 

Those who live with a functioning alcoholic may experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. They may feel like they have no one to turn to.

If this is your experience, you are not alone. Reach out to friends and family to help you get through this time, or seek professional support from a therapist or an addiction specialist.

Practice Self-care

It’s especially important during this time to look after yourself, and be very intentional about practicing self-care. Make sure that you are taking time to do things that make you feel happy and rested.

Don’t Try to Fix the Problem on Your Own 

Remember that it is not your responsibility for the alcoholic to recover. You are only human and you can only do so much. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether from friends and family or from an addiction treatment professional.

If you are living with a functioning alcoholic, you are not alone. If you at any point feel unsafe living with a functioning alcoholic, speak to a professional right away.


How to Help a Functioning Alcoholic

If you’re the loved one of a functioning alcoholic, you may feel like you have no control over what is happening to your loved one, and that the situation is out of your hands. However, there are a few things that you can do to help support them during this difficult time.

1. Learn About Alcoholism

Spend time educating yourself about what alcoholism is and how it presents itself, in order to gain a better understanding of what your loved one is going through.

Alcoholism is a disease, and it takes much more than just willpower to overcome it.

2. Ask Open-ended Questions

Chances are, a functioning alcoholic is heavily in denial of having a problem. Instead of accusing them directly of having a problem with alcohol, try to ask them open-ended questions about their alcohol use.

It could be, “How often do you drink?” or “Why do you drink?” or “How does alcohol make you feel?”

3. Avoid Enabling

You may not even realize when you are enabling an alcoholic, but enabling them is basically doing things for them that they can do for themselves.

Protecting the alcoholic from feeling the consequences of their own actions prevents them from recognizing their problem and getting the help that they need.

4. Be Patient

It can be difficult trying to communicate with a functioning alcoholic, because they may be in denial of having a problem. However, don’t expect to have one talk with them and have them change overnight.

Alcoholism is a disease that needs professional treatment in order to recover, but give them the space and time to process their problem rather than trying to force them into treatment.

5. Encourage Them to Seek Treatment

While you shouldn’t make treatment seem forced, it is good to get your loved one thinking about the possibility of treatment, and seeing if they would be open to it.

If they are open to treatment, continue to support them by helping them find a suitable treatment program, and being there for them throughout the treatment process.

Treatment for Functioning Alcoholism

It can be hard to convince a functioning alcoholic that they need treatment. Remember that their recovery is not your responsibility, and that it is ultimately a decision they will have to make for themselves.

Some of the most common treatments for alcohol abuse include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, group therapy, detoxification, and sober living programs.

At Paramount Recovery Center, our staff is well-versed in treating alcohol addiction. We offer a stabilization (detox) program, as well as a sober living program, which provides our clients with the tools they need to maintain their recovery after they leave our treatment center.

To learn more about our programs, and how Paramount can help, speak to our addiction treatment specialists. 

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