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What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

It might be a friend, family member, or colleague. They would consume alcohol regularly and rarely go to an event or get-together without alcoholic drinks. They might even drink during lunch. You know that they’re dependent on alcohol, but they might jokingly refer to themselves as functioning alcoholics.

They might say that alcohol doesn’t affect their work, barring those rare occasions. They might also be able to manage their relationships, whether with family or friends. Since they seem physically and emotionally healthy and stable, no one would believe that they have a problem with alcohol.

If they are a functioning alcoholic, which means that they can function in all areas of life, you shouldn’t worry, right? Before answering that question, we need to define a functioning alcoholic.

What exactly is a functioning alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic, otherwise referred to as a high-functioning alcoholic, depends on alcohol but can function in professional, personal, and social spheres. The conventional definition is that this would be an individual who needs their regular drink but can perform their duties without any problem.

In other words, they don’t have problems in the office. They’re also able to manage their family responsibilities. Since they can take care of their affairs, their friends or family may not see the need for any intervention. The individual might defend their actions, saying that they are fully functional.

The fallacy called a functioning alcoholic

The truth is that there’s no such thing as a functioning alcoholic. These are just alcoholics who prefer to cite their functionality to hide or justify their alcoholism.

The first thing to understand here is that people who describe themselves or others as functioning alcoholics are linking two separate issues. The inability to perform at work or home is not the sole or most important trait of an alcoholic. Just because someone goes about their work doesn’t mean that they are not exhibiting or reeling from the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol addiction should be viewed independently without linking to performance or management skills. A finance professional who regularly drinks but manages their job and family commitments is not a functioning alcoholic. It’s misleading to suggest, in this case, that the individual can’t be an alcohol addict because they’re good at their job. An individual can be a highly successful trader and an alcohol addict.

Why does this distinction matter? Because their functioning abilities might discourage others from offering support or having meaningful conversations with them. To address and successfully treat alcohol addiction through rehab, or any other addiction for that matter, it’s essential to understand that it shouldn’t be linked to how the individual can perform at work or handle family affairs.

Secondly, performance is an effective mask for addiction. Their professional and social engagements would hide the underlying problem, and the prefix “functioning” would make it impossible for anyone to spot it and offer help.

Finally, alcoholism doesn’t always show its ugly effects to passive observers. The so-called functioning alcoholic may have a turbulent history of alcoholism. They may have unsuccessfully tried to quit several times. They might have uncontrollable cravings and could constantly be thinking about their next drink.

Their addiction would make them nervous and tense, preventing them from forming meaningful connections. It would also have significant health consequences that may not be immediately visible. In other words, their problems and sufferings may not be known to those around them.

The signs of alcoholism

Binge drinking: Habitual overindulgence is one of the most evident signs of alcohol addiction, and it’s something you should watch out for in family members or colleagues. More than five drinks per day is usual for alcohol addicts.

Denial: They would also be in denial of their addiction and would often lie about drinking alone or habitually. They might also hide bottles when others are in the vicinity.

Risky behavior: These individuals are prone to dangerous activities since alcohol can significantly lower an individual’s inhibitions. For alcoholics, these behaviors might get termed as ordinary.

Isolation: Alcoholics tend to isolate themselves from family members and friends. Being withdrawn helps them hide their problem but has high emotional costs.

Justifications: Most alcoholics, especially those functional at their jobs, cite work or peer pressure as the reason for their alcohol consumption.

Blackouts: They would also experience short-term memory loss or blackouts after drinking. They might forget how they reached home or went to sleep.

Constant referencing: Most conversations of alcoholics would be centered around alcohol. It could be about the brands they drink, the party they went to or plan to go to, or how they have enough stockpiles of liquor.

If you identify with any of these, you might be tempted to take matters into your own hands and self-detox. But that can have serious consequences.

The dangers of self-detoxing

When the body becomes addicted to alcohol, any sudden withdrawal can lead to deadly seizures. This is true for not just alcohol but all drugs. Sudden denial can force the brain to create homeostasis. This is to counteract the effects of withdrawal.

Addicts who self-detox might experience vomiting, headaches, or shaking. It can even lead to seizures, and in some extreme cases, it can cause permanent damage to the brain or even death.

That’s why alcoholics should always seek the services of professionals. Under guided medical detoxing, most of these symptoms won’t be prominent. Doctors will devise procedures to protect the individual from any severe discomfort or harm.

In short

There’s no such thing as a functioning alcoholic. There are only alcoholics who disguise their addiction or justify it using flimsy reasons. If you or a friend or family member suffers from alcoholism, the right thing to do is seek professional help at a rehab center at the earliest time possible.