Thumbnail photo of Living A Double Life: Are You A Functional Alcoholic?

What Is A Functional Alcoholic?

Lazy. Bum. Freeloader. Good-for-nothing.

These are just several of the stereotypes associated with the term “alcoholic”. All too often, people struggling with a dependence on alcohol put off getting help because they’re worried about what others will think or say. Others may be in denial that they have a drinking problem at all. This is usually the case of a functional alcoholic.

Functional alcoholics are described as individuals who lead successful lives, yet suffer from effects of alcoholism. Many of these people appear to have picture-perfect lives – a steady career, financially sound, nice possessions, and tons of family and friends. Beneath the surface though, a functional alcoholic succumbs to drinking as a way to get through each day.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffering from alcoholism are functional alcoholics. Many of these individuals are middle-aged, well-educated and have stable jobs and families.

National Institutes for Health

From entry level employees to C-level executives, functional alcoholics are found across multiple professions, industries and lines of work. While alcoholism can affect anyone, there are a few career fields that have higher rates than others.

Several career paths that tend to see a larger number of individuals struggling with alcohol use include:

  • Lawyers
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Teachers
  • Journalists
  • First responders

People can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They’re successful students. They’re good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go to the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet.

Dr. Mark L. Willenbring
(Pulled from the New York Times)

Tell-Tale Signs Of A Functional Alcoholic

For many functional alcoholics, dangerous drinking patterns are typically concealed and kept secret from family, friends, work colleagues and others. Their success at work, involvement in hobbies and activities, and hardworking demeanor shield any underlying issues or suspicions.

Some of the most common warning signs associated with a functional alcoholic include:

  • Rationalizing alcohol consumption, such as the completion of a work project or personal goal
  • Needing alcohol to relax and let loose after a long day or week
  • Denying a drinking problem or becoming defensive when confronted about it
  • Drinking in secrecy and hiding beer, wine or liquor bottles
  • Experiencing mood changes, such as acting irrationally, restless or annoyed
  • Participating in dangerous behaviors, such as driving while under the influence or engaging in risky sexual activities

Many [high-functioning alcoholics] are not viewed by society as being alcoholic, because they have succeeded and overachieved throughout their lifetimes. These achievements often lead to an increase in personal denial as well as denial by colleagues and loved ones. HFAs differ from lower-functioning alcoholics in the way that they appear to the outside world. They are able to hide their addiction so that loved ones and colleagues often do not think or realize that they are alcoholic.

Sarah Allen Benton
Boston-based Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Unfortunately, when a person’s heavy drinking habits stay buried for far too long, their addiction becomes worse as the weeks and months go by. After a while, the effects of alcoholism begin to interfere with an individual’s physical and emotional well-being, relationships, daily obligations and other important aspects of their life.

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Even when alcohol has taken control and begins to consume someone’s actions and feelings, it is never too late to seek help. There are countless treatment programs in cities large and small located across the United States. These programs offer therapies, support groups and aftercare services to assist individuals overcome alcoholism.

Find more alcoholism resources and information here.

Take Back Control

No one should suffer in silence from the damage caused by alcoholism. The decision to quit drinking is not always easy, but it will be worth it in the end. Investing in an alcohol treatment program is an investment in your life, your future. Learn about how to safely and effectively overcome a drinking problem by contacting a treatment provider now.

Get help for alcoholism today.

If you or a loved one is ready to overcome an alcohol addiction, reach out today. Treatment providers can connect you with programs that provide the tools to help you get and stay sober.