acquiesce - June 13th, 2019

What Is A Functioning Alcoholic?

What most people see when they imagine the stereotypical alcoholic is someone who is unable to maintain a job or relationship because of their drinking, or a dysfunctional, scruffy person.

However, this is not always the case. It is possible to be an alcoholic while maintaining a life that fits into societies expectations of success. Including jobs, family, and friendships. This is referred to by experts as a ‘functioning alcoholic’.

Like other kinds of addictions, there are different levels of severity in alcoholism. Just because you are able to balance your drinking with a normal life could mean the severity of alcohol abuse goes unrecognised. This ability to succeed does not mean there isn’t a problem, and this can often mean that functioning alcoholics go untreated as their symptoms aren’t taken seriously.


The Characteristics

For example, a functioning alcoholic may be able to meet all of their regular responsibilities, continue to be productive, or be in a top-ranking career. This type of success may lead themselves and others to minimise the concern for their drinking.

Regardless of the denial this could lead to, continuous heavy drinking which is always dangerous no matter whether it has never got in the way of a great job or social life. It also doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink. Expensive wine is just as harmful as the cheap stuff.


Recognising The Symptoms

Heavy drinking is still the same whether you’re able to continue life as normal or not. Just because you are coping well or don’t fit the stereotype of an alcoholic doesn’t mean the alcohol consumption isn’t causing you harm.  

For women, having more than three drinks a day, or seven a week is classed as heavy drinking. For men, heavy drinking is classed as four drinks a day, or fourteen a week. If you drink more than the daily or weekly limit, you are at risk.

Here are some warning signs that could help you to recognise if someone you know is at risk without the usual symptoms such as avoiding responsibilities or suffering relationships:

  • The reliance on alcohol to feel confident or relaxed
  • Drinking in the morning or when you’re alone
  • Getting drunk without intention
  • Forgetting what you have done
  • Denial or anger when confronted
  • The cause of loved ones to worry or make excuses for your drinking
  • Replacing food with alcohol
  • Rarely getting hangovers despite drinking
  • Irritable behaviour when not drinking
  • The inability to stop at one drink


What are the Effects?

Functioning alcoholics may appear to be in control on the surface, but it is difficult to really know what happens behind closed doors. Even a highly organised and social person is at risk of putting themselves or others in danger when under the influence of alcohol. These risks include the dangers of drink driving, making poor decisions due to bad lack of judgement, having impulsive sexual encounters or memory loss.

The medical risks related to alcoholism, regardless of ability to function include:

  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • High blood pressure

These are not the only risks. Ongoing excessive drinking can increase the chances of suicide, being murdered, dying in a car crash, the likelihood of domestic abuse, child abuse, and foetal alcohol syndrome.


How to Help or Get Help

Although it can be difficult for a functioning alcoholic to admit to needing help due to their seeming ability to manage without it, once this has been established, the treatments are the same for all types of alcoholic.

It is worth recognising that admitting there is a problem can be difficult and if the discontinuation of alcohol is abrupt this can be dangerous. However, is possible to successfully detox from alcohol with the help of experts who can guide you through the process before things get worse. 

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