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Are You a Functional Alcoholic?

An alcoholic looks just like everyone else. Even a seemingly-“successful” person can secretly struggle with alcohol. The disease of alcohol addiction doesn’t respect boundaries of race, sex, income, or education. It doesn’t care how good your job is, how nice a house you live in, or how prominent you are socially.

In other words, your success doesn’t matter to your disease.

And here’s the thing – because addiction in any form is a progressive disease. If you currently have a “drinking problem”, it will invariably get worse unless you do something about it. And as is ALWAYS the case with any substance abuse disorder, the consequences of that progression will also get worse.

The Functional Alcoholic Subtype

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has determined that there are five distinct alcoholic “subtypes”. There is no such thing as a “typical alcoholic”.

Approximately 20% of US alcoholics can be classified as the “functional” subtype. Drinkers in this category share certain tendencies:

  • The functional alcoholic tends to be:
  • Middle-Aged
  • College-Educated
  • Employed full-time, with a well-paying job
  • Stable at home
  • 1 out of 3 is the product of multi-generational alcoholism.
  • 1 out of 4 has been clinically at some point.
  • About half

A Functional Alcoholic Lives in Denial

Functional alcoholics deny any drinking problem. They use their success and stability as “proof” that they couldn’t POSSIBLY be an alcoholic.

They become experts at denial – minimizing every incident, deflecting any concern from others, giving excuses for their behavior, and even getting angry when someone questions them too closely:

  • “So what if I had a few drinks?”
  • I work hard. I DESERVE to blow off some steam.”
  • I just had a few too many at a party. That’s why I got pulled over.”
  • “I fell asleep – I didn’t ‘pass out’.”
  • “What’s the problem? I can afford it.”

Emphasize “Alcoholic” Not “Functioning”

But you can only give semi-plausible excuses, call in sick, show up late, nurse a hangover, miss deadlines in meetings, drive after drinking, blow off family dinners and obligations, and mess up in all the spectacular ways that only alcoholics can before it all blows up in your face.

Alcohol addiction ALWAYS catches up with you – it never goes away on its own. Sooner or later, the “alcoholic” overtakes the “functioning”.

Functional Alcoholism Warning Signs

You don’t have to be a stereotypical out-of-control homeless and penniless derelict to have a serious drinking problem. Your behaviors can the early warning signs. Do you:

  • Deny you have a drinking problem – even though drinking is CAUSING problems?
  • Drink when you are nervous?
  • Drink to feel sociable?
  • Drink alone or in secret?
  • Drink instead of eating?
  • Drink more often than you mean to?
  • When you do drink, do you consume more alcohol than you intended?
  • Drink to feel “normal”?
  • Find it difficult to function during the day unless you’ve had a drink?
  • Finishing other people’s drinks?
  • Become anxious or irritated when you can’t drink?
  • Spend a lot of time thinking about drinking?
  • Count the hours and minutes until you can drink again?
  • Plan your off time around drinking?
  • Drink until you black out?
  • Frequently call in sick because of drinking?
  • Miss deadlines or ignore important responsibilities because of drinking?
  • Skip or disrupt family functions when drinking?
  • Make excuses or blame other people for your drinking?
  • Argue with loved ones because of alcohol?
  • Have any DUIs?
  • Suffer alcohol-related health problems?

Here is a major warning sign – has someone else close to you (spouse, family member, friends, coworkers, employer) expressed concern about your drinking?

If you can answer “YES” to six or more of these questions, then two truths ae evident:

FIRST, your drinking is has gone beyond your control.

SECOND, your life is beginning to become unmanageable because of alcohol.

If you can admit those two facts, then you have taken the first, most-important step towards getting better. The next step is to talk to a professional specialist about where to go from here.

Since 1978, Chapman House has been the premier alcohol recovery program in Orange County, California. If you need help for a drinking problem, Chapman House uses evidence-based treatment strategies to help you restore a life of sobriety, stability, and serenity.

by Albert Fontenot


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