What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

When you think of an alcoholic, what do you think? Do you picture a homeless person begging on the streets for alcohol money? Or do you think of someone with a good job and a family?

You would be surprised how often alcoholics fall into the latter category.

These alcoholics are called functioning alcoholics. They have a severe drinking problem but they still excel at their jobs and achieve their career goals.

While they seem fine on the outside, they're internally fighting demons that force them to be co-dependent on alcohol.

So, what is a functioning alcoholic? Continue reading this guide and find out if your loved one fits this category.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic is someone who's able to live their life normally but be able to sustain their drinking habit. These alcoholics usually have a great career, kids, a marriage, and an active social life.

Functioning alcoholics can easily hide their addiction. No one likely sees them drinking.

They usually try and pretend they're drinking a non-alcoholic beverage, such as pouring gin in a normal bottle of soda but pretending they're only drinking soda.

You may even see them drinking alcohol, such as drinking fine bourbon in their office. But most won't think anything of it.

In reality, this person is classified as an alcoholic. They can't go a minute without drinking alcohol and they believe alcohol is necessary for them to function.

So if they're drinking on the job or with their families, why don't they get drunk?

Well, they developed a tolerance. They drink because they want to feel that buzz; since they consume so much alcohol, they have to drink constantly to feel any effects.

This leads to alcohol dependence and addiction.

Deep Down, There's a Problem

All alcoholics stick to the bottle for one reason: they have a deeply rooted problem. This goes for the homeless drunk, the teenager who skips school to drink, and the successful business owner who drinks throughout the day.

The only reason why a functioning alcoholic stands out is they hide their problem better.

They wear the nice business suit, put on a happy image, and seem normal to their loved ones. But deep inside is an issue that forces them to drink.

There could be a variety of reasons why a functioning alcoholic chooses to drink. The most common reason is depression. They're unhappy and their only escape is alcohol.

Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Even functioning alcoholics aren't safe from the side effects of alcohol abuse.

There's a reason why alcohol is also called a poison: in large amounts, alcohol is deadly. Without treatment, functioning alcoholics are at risk to develop one of these ailments:

  • Organ damage

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Liver disease

  • Heart disease

  • Pancreatitis

  • Epilepsy

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke

  • Seizures

  • Memory loss

  • Hearing loss

If you suspect someone is a functioning alcoholic, make sure they receive treatment to prevent these ailments.

Denial is Deadly

Even with the cloud of alcohol side effects over their head, many alcoholics deny their addiction.

Plenty of alcoholics even know they have a problem. But alcoholism is painful. Many addicts would rather not come to terms with their problems.

They also know without alcohol, they may not have another way to cope with their deeper problems. Therefore, it's easier to deny their problem and continue drinking.

Another reason why functioning alcoholics deny their problem is because of embarrassment.

Unlike other types of alcoholics, functioning alcoholics are concerned about their reputation.

They have a successful career and a family -- if they come out about their addition and go to rehab, it could ruin their reputation and tear apart their family.

And many functioning alcoholics don't know they have a problem. They see they have a job, they have a family, they were never arrested, and they are financially doing well.

They know there are no social implications of alcoholism so they ignore the physical and mental damage that alcohol causes.

Is a Loved One a Functioning Alcoholic?

Are you reading this article and think you have a loved one who's a functioning alcoholic? Once you know the signs, spotting a functioning alcoholic is easy.

Common Signs

Functioning alcoholics typically show these signs:

  • Arriving hungover or late to work, events, gatherings, important meetings, etc.

  • They stop eating (heavy drinkers lose interest in food)

  • They often exhibit angry or depressed behavior

  • They forget important information

  • They're at the bar right after work

  • They drink every day, usually throughout the day

  • If they don't drink every day, they binge on the weekends or on their days off

  • They do what they can to hide their drinking

  • They say they love drinking

All functioning alcoholics are different, but they all commonly show these signs.

Seeking Help

Chances are, a functioning alcoholic won't check themselves into rehab. Unless they have a moment of clarity, they need help seeking treatment. As their loved one, you need to be their support system.

Many families and spouses give up on alcoholics. They deny care, get angry during interventions, or relapse after rehab. The process is challenging, but with treatment, a functioning alcoholic can recover.

If your addict wants to recover, here are your options:

  • Have an intervention

  • Seek rehab

  • Find a medical professional to assist with the withdrawal process

  • Seek additional support, such as therapy

  • Continue supporting them after treatment

So your loved one can identify their problem, they need a strong support system every step of the way.

Time to Help a Functioning Alcoholic

What is a functioning alcoholic? This is someone who can hold a job or care for their family but can't do so without alcohol.

Most people don't know these people have an alcohol problem. But their career and family won't hide the physical and mental damages that alcohol causes.

If you suspect a loved one is a functioning alcoholic, approach them and offer support and treatment.

Did you recently have your moment of clarity? Continue searching our resources and get the help you need.