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Are You a Functional Alcoholic?


You Do Not Need to Drink Out of a Paper Bag to Be an Alcoholic

The word “alcoholic” tends to be associated with a certain type of substance abuser. There will usually be an image of an individual who always appears to be inebriated and who is obviously down on their luck. The most stereotypical image of the alcoholic is probably of a homeless man who drinks from a cheap bottle of whisky inside of a paper bag and shouts incoherently at anyone who comes near. This image of alcoholism can be used by high functioning alcoholics as evidence that they do not really have a problem. What these individuals will fail to appreciate is that the vast majority of alcoholics do not fit the stereotype. In fact, the person may only ever drink champagne from a crystal flute and still be an alcoholic.

What is a Functional Alcoholic?

Some people are better at hiding their addiction problems than others. A functional alcoholic is somebody who appears to be doing well in life despite the fact that they are dealing with an addiction problem. Unlike the stereotypical alcoholic, this individual may:

  • Have a good job and be well respected within their career
  • Have financial security and able to afford all the good things in life
  • Own a nice home in a respectable neighbourhood
  • Be viewed as a positive role model in the community
  • Wear nice clothes and have good personal hygiene habits
  • Be adored by their family and friends
  • Have a good deal of responsibility in life

The functioning alcoholic covers a wide spectrum of behaviours. Some of these individuals will be only barely holding onto their job and their reputation, but there are some high functioning alcoholics that are so good at hiding their addiction that nobody really suspects anything. The reality is, though, that this ability to hide the problem will decline over time and the functioning alcoholic will eventually cross the line into dysfunction. The real worry is that by that time they will have already done a great deal of damage to their physical and mental health.

The Dangers of Being a Functioning Alcoholic

In some ways, the functioning alcoholic is in more danger from their problems than the individual who is struggling almost from the beginning of their substance abuse. The reason for why they can be in such a precarious position is because:

  • The reason for why most alcoholics will be able to break away from addiction is that they feel that they have hit rock bottom. This usually happens because their life appears to be falling apart. The functioning alcoholic will be better able to hold things together because they will tend to have a great deal more security in life. This means that they will be able to continue with drinking or drug use for longer.
  • There will not be the same amount of pressure on this person to quit the behaviour. They will be able to use their success in life as evidence that they do not really have a problem.
  • The person who is functioning in the world can have a great sense of entitlement when it comes to alcohol. They may live by the motto of – work hard, play hard. They may see alcohol as their reward, and it can be very hard to convince them otherwise. The problem is that most people tend to share this sentiment, and may try to justify the person’s alcoholism by saying that the person is just “letting off steam.”
  • There may be a culture of heavy alcohol use within the person’s profession. The individual may even feel that they have no choice but to engage in this type of behaviour because it is expected of them – this can particularly be the case when it comes to things like entertaining clients.
  • The alcoholic who is struggling in life will usually be kept in check by their finances. There will be times when they just cannot drink because they do not have the money, and they will be forced to take an involuntary break from substance abuse. The high functioning alcoholic will have no such financial constraints, and they will be able to just keep on drinking.
  • The fact that this person is always able to maintain their habit financially means that they might never even know that they are physically addicted. This is because they are never forced, through lack of money, to go without alcohol so that they experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • The high functioning alcoholic can feel that they have more to lose by admitting that they have this type of problem. They may be worried about their reputation and how admitting to such a problem with harm this. Of course, what this individual fails to appreciate is that by continuing with the substance abuse, they will almost certainly be harming their reputation anyway.
  • The fact that this person has nothing really to stop them continuing with the abuse means that they will be able to do more damage to their bodies and mind. This means that by the time they are forced to acknowledge the problem, they may have already crossed the line into serious physical and mental health problems.

How to Break Away from Functional Alcoholism

There is no real difference between a functional alcoholic and the one who is struggling in life. They are both moving in the same direction even if they may be moving at different speeds. If either of these types of alcoholics continues to drink, it will lead to further deterioration and more suffering. Here are a few suggestions for how a functional alcoholic can overcome their problem:

  • The individual does not have to admit that they are an alcoholic right away. They just have to acknowledge that drinking may be a problem for them. This will give them the motivation to see an addiction therapist who can help them examine the reality of their situation. The therapist can encourage their client to use things like a drinking diary to better assess what is going on.
  • It is vital that the individual who is addicted to alcohol understands where this condition is going to take them if they do not stop. They need to understand that just because they seem able to hide the worst of their problems now does not mean that they will be able to continue this indefinitely.
  • It is also important for the person to realise that their fears of the stigma of being an alcoholic are unjustified. They are far more likely to harm their reputation by being an active alcoholic than they are by being somebody who is in recovery. These fears about a stigma are usually just an excuse to continue with the behaviour.
  • The individual needs to understand that asking for help to overcome their addiction problems is not a sign of weakness. It is actually a sign that they want to take charge of their own life, so they can move things in a more positive direction. Like all successful people, they will be making use of available resources to help them achieve their goal.

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