What is a Functional Alcoholic?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that is caused by the inability to control excessive consumption of alcohol despite the consistent negative consequences. Individuals who are suffering from AUD often show both physical and emotional symptoms and are unable to maintain a standard of daily responsibilities in their professional and personal lives. What is a functional alcoholic? A high-functioning alcoholic is a person who has an AUD and is outwardly able to engage in daily life activities, despite drinking too much or too often. This person gives the appearance of controlled drinking habits and a normal life that includes maintaining their career and their relationships with their family and friends.

A female functional alcoholic looking distressed, sitting next to a glass of wine and holding up a sign that reads HELP.

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One may think that if a person can control their drinking and alcohol-related behaviors, they do not have alcoholism. That is a false statement. In fact, many people who are functioning alcoholics are also suffering from alcohol use disorder. There is no formal medical diagnosis for a functioning alcoholic. It is a term used to describe a person dependent upon alcohol but is still able to participate in daily life responsibilities and activities. These individuals often appear physically and mentally together and healthy. However, internally, they are struggling with uncontrollable cravings, multiple attempts at quitting and dealing with co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

How can you tell if someone is an alcoholic? If you suspect someone of having a drinking problem, there are a few functional alcoholic signs to be aware of.

  • Your relationship with the person has been strained because of alcohol use
  • They have given up any goals or dreams due to alcohol
  • They get defensive about their drinking habits
  • They have dedicated time for drinking and get agitated when the allotted time has been disrupted
  • When they drink, they often lose control
  • They have experienced legal consequences due to drinking
  • They drink longer than they should a develop a very high tolerance
  • They have alcohol-related blackouts
  • They are constantly talking about alcohol and or drinking

An individual who is considered a functional alcoholic can consume as much or more alcohol as a person who is suffering from AUD. According to the DMS-5, experts categorize those with functioning alcoholism under the same umbrella as those who have an AUD. Underneath the façade of a normally functioning member of society, functional alcoholics can experience low-quality of work production and frequent performance issues, poor health conditions, and increased mood swings due to mental health conditions.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Because of the looming stigma associated with alcoholism, many functional alcoholics are in denial of their addiction and will need the assistance of a professional behavioral health program such as Hotel California by the Sea. At this premiere alcohol use disorder treatment program, functional alcoholics can expect to choose from a multitude of options for recovery. Intensive medical detox along with unique behavioral therapies such as CBT, family therapy and EMDR therapy, can help clients address all aspects of their addiction. Through individualized treatment plans, men, women and young adults with alcohol dependence issues can live a happier and healthier life in sobriety.