How to Handle a Functioning Alcoholic

While the ratio of alcoholics may be as high as one in eight of us, many of these people will be functioning alcoholics.

A functioning alcoholic is a person who is entirely dependent on alcohol, but may still be able to carry out a 'normal' day-to-day life.

They probably have a job, although might not always turn up. Their relationships with other people may not have entirely broken down. And they can look after themselves just fine.

But they are abusing alcohol, and this will eventually cause their physical and mental health to deteriorate. Handling these people can be difficult. They may be erratic and their drinking might be damaging your relationship with them, even if it hasn't broken down at this point.

Here's how to handle a high-functioning alcoholic, and steer them towards a cleaner life.

Becoming Codependent

One of the main difficulties in dealing with a functioning alcoholic who you live with, is that you still love them. It might be your husband, wife, a parent or a child.

You might see their behavior and recognize the signs, in some way - but justify the situation to yourself and to others.

If you're living with an alcoholic and never question their behavior, you're starting to fall into the trap of codependency. Here are some key warning signs that you're slipping into codependency.

You Make Excuses for Them

Their behavior is getting worse. Their drinking means that they're hungover a lot, and might not turn up to work or social gatherings sometimes.

Instead of addressing the issue, you make excuses for them to friends and family. Or you might call in sick to their work for them while they're hungover.

You're not helping them by doing this - you're just giving them a free pass. They will never see the consequences of their actions if you carry on doing this.

You Drink With Them

If you drink with the alcoholic - and particularly if you try to keep up with them - this will normalize and rationalize their behavior. They are then far less likely to realize that they have a problem.

In effect, you may be enabling them and their problem, even though you don't mean to. A similar issue is when the non-alcoholic keeps the house well stocked, as they think they're keeping the alcoholic happy.

While that might be true in the short term, it's definitely not in the long term.

You Try to Control Their Behavior

You are unlikely to be successful if you try to limit or control the functioning alcoholic's drinking in a direct way which is overly aggressive.

Telling them to stop, or throwing out the booze, will likely result in more secretive or risky drinking habits.

How and When to Approach the Subject

It is possible to broach the subject with the alcoholic, but this should be done with care. Don't bring it up when they're drinking, or in a bad mood. Wait for a sober moment to address the problem.

Use examples to help them see the problem. Whether that's a time they didn't show up for something you'd organized with friends, or the fact they promised your children something and never followed through.

The point is to show them how they're affecting the other people in their lives.

Don't berate them, as you may provoke a negative reaction. It's about making them see the issue, rather than starting an argument. So if they get angry, stay calm and wait for them to calm down too.

It's a hard conversation to have, but it's necessary. And it's easier to have it with a functioning alcoholic, rather than an alcoholic whose life is already in disarray.

Support for Non-Alcoholics

We know living with a functioning alcoholic is difficult.

Many groups exist to help and support people in your situation. Plenty of self-help groups for alcoholics will be just as eager to offer advice to their loved ones.

And there's always organizations like your local church, and phone line services, who can offer advice.

An Intervention for the Functioning Alcoholic

Drinking is on the rise in the USA, and the normalization of heavier alcohol consumption means it's harder than ever to make people face their problems.

A person admitting that they have a problem is one thing - but getting another person to admit that they have a problem is often far harder.

An intervention with their best friends and family members can help them to see the number of people who are worried about them.

You need to be prepared to show them a way out. That's the support you'll all offer them to help them out of the hole, including helping them find help.

However, you also all need to be ready to tell them about the consequences of not changing. That might be visitation rights, or even a divorce. They need to know that the problem is serious, and they need to have a good reason to commit to the change.

Looking for Help?

Whether you're now recognizing the warning signs of the functioning alcoholic, or if you think your own drinking is starting to get out of control, treatment is available.

Alcohol rehab programs can be an effective way to deal with the problem, but it's never an easy process. Some people will also need medical staff on hand, and medication, to help them deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

But the short-term discomfort of getting clean is completely worth a happier, healthier lifestyle, which doesn't depend on alcohol for satisfaction.

If you're searching for a rehab program, use our online tool to find a suitable center in your state. Call us if you need more information, or to arrange a free assessment to see how we can help.