Functioning Alcoholic

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Symptoms of a Functioning Alcoholic

The lines between social drinking and alcohol dependency can often blur.

What may start as an innocent indulgence can sometimes spiral into a complex issue that is difficult to recognize and even harder to address. One such problem is functional alcoholism.

Functional alcoholics, or high-functioning alcoholics, are individuals who maintain seemingly normal lives despite their excessive alcohol consumption.

They often hold down jobs, engage in social activities, and fulfill familial responsibilities.

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It’s this ability to maintain a facade of normalcy that makes functional alcoholism so insidious and challenging to identify.

This blog post aims to shed light on this often-overlooked issue. We’ll explore the risk factors for functional alcoholism,

delve into the telltale signs, and discuss the impact it has on an individual’s life. In addition,

By understanding the nuances of functional alcoholism, we can foster a more informed and empathetic approach toward those grappling with it. Let’s dive in.


The signs of alcoholism

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by a person’s inability to control their drinking.

The signs and symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are common indicators to watch out for.

According to Mayo Clinic, unhealthy alcohol use can range from mild to severe, including binge drinking, which places health and safety at risk1. Some of the key signs include:

Regularly drinking more than intended

Being unable to cut down on drinking despite trying

Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, or recovering from alcohol use

Craving or thinking about wanting a drink or having the urge to use alcohol

Failing to fulfill major duties at work, school, or home due to repeated alcohol use

Continuing to drink even though it’s causing relationship troubles with your family or friends

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Giving up or reducing activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, to drink

Drinking even in situations where it’s physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving or mixing alcohol with prescription medication against doctor’s orders

Additionally, the American Addiction Centers mention physical and behavioral signs of alcohol addiction. Physical signs may include weight loss, chronic fatigue, redness of the face, and frequent stomach issues.

Behavioral signs can be secrecy about drinking, making excuses for drinking, and choosing to drink over other responsibilities2.

It’s important to note that alcoholism is a progressive disease that moves through stages. Early-stage alcoholism often involves increased tolerance and frequent drinking. As the disease progresses,



individuals may start to lose control over their drinking and may develop a strong desire to drink. In the end stage, the effects of long-term alcohol abuse are apparent, and serious health problems may develop 3.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use, consider reaching out to a helpline like SAMHSA’s National Helpline. It’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service4.


What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

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A high-functioning alcoholic, also known as a functional alcoholic, is someone who can maintain their outside life such as jobs, academics, and relationships while exhibiting alcoholism.

Despite appearing to have it ‘all together’, they might be dealing with serious alcohol-related issues.

Key characteristics of high-functioning alcoholics can include:

  1. They drink alcohol to relax or feel better.
  2. Their alcohol consumption has led to recurring problems.
  3. They set drinking limits but fail to adhere to them.
  4. They spend a lot of time thinking about and planning drinking events.
  5. They behave out of character when they drink.

It’s important to note that being a high-functioning alcoholic doesn’t mean the person isn’t in danger. Over time, the effects of heavy drinking might catch up with them,

leading to health problems, impaired functioning, and damaged relationships. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, it’s crucial to seek professional help.


How to deal with a functioning alcoholic

Dealing with a high-functioning alcoholic can be challenging due to their ability to maintain an exterior of normalcy while battling addiction. Here are some steps you can take:

Recognize the problem:

High-functioning alcoholics often discredit their drinking problem because they’ve succeeded in certain areas of life. However, frequent excessive drinking is a problem irrespective of outward achievements. Accepting this is the first step.

Educate Yourself:

Understand the nature of alcoholism. It’s a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol. This knowledge will help you approach the situation with empathy and understanding.

Open Communication:

Initiate a conversation about their drinking habits. Do so when they’re sober and in a non-confrontational manner. Explain your concerns, using specific instances where alcohol caused problems. Keep the focus on the effects of their behavior rather than labeling them an alcoholic.

Set Boundaries:

Define what behavior you’ll tolerate. Make it clear that while you care about them, you won’t enable their drinking. This could mean refusing to make excuses for their behavior or not bailing them out of situations caused by their drinking.

Encourage Professional Help:

Encourage them to seek treatment from professionals who specialize in addiction. This could be through therapy, support groups, or rehab programs. Offer to accompany them to appointments if they’re comfortable.

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Practice Self-Care:

Dealing with a high-functioning alcoholic can be emotionally draining. Ensure you’re taking care of your own mental and physical health. Seek support from others in similar situations through support groups or counseling.

Remember, you cannot force someone to recognize their problem or seek help. They must make these decisions themselves. However, your support and understanding can make a significant difference.

Risk Factors for Functional Alcoholics

Functional alcoholism, also known as high-functioning alcoholism, is a subtype of alcoholism where an individual can maintain their outside life such as work, academics, and relationships while still having an alcohol addiction.

Here are some risk factors associated with functional alcoholism:

Genetic predisposition:

Genetics plays a significant role in alcohol addiction. Individuals with a family history of alcoholism are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

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Mental health disorders:

People suffering from mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of becoming functional alcoholics. Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for these conditions.


High levels of stress can lead to increased alcohol consumption. Professionals who face high stress in their jobs may turn to alcohol as a way to cope, leading to functional alcoholism.

Peer pressure and social environment:

Individuals who are in environments where heavy drinking is normalized are at a higher risk. This includes certain professions, social circles, and cultural practices.


Experiencing traumatic events can increase the risk of alcohol addiction. Some people may use alcohol to self-medicate and deal with feelings of trauma.

It’s important to note that functional alcoholics often don’t fit the stereotype of an alcoholic. They might appear to have their lives under control, but they’re still battling an addiction.

If you suspect that you or someone else might be a functional alcoholic, it’s crucial to seek professional help.


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The dangers of self-detoxing

Self-detoxing, or attempting to quit alcohol or drugs without professional help, can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. This is due to the severe withdrawal symptoms that can occur,

which can range from mildly uncomfortable to severely dangerous1.

One of the primary dangers of self-detoxing is the risk of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can start as soon as six to twelve hours after the last drink and can include anxiety, shakiness, nausea, and insomnia.

In more severe cases, individuals may experience hallucinations, seizures, high blood pressure, and delirium tremens, a condition characterized by confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever23.

Another significant risk of self-detoxing is the potential for complications, including seizures, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder due to thiamine deficiency,

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and various neuropsychiatric complications4. Moreover, an individual attempting to self-detox may not be able to adequately manage these complications, putting their health, and even their life, at risk.

In addition to the physical risks, there are also psychological dangers associated with self-detoxing. The process of withdrawal can be emotionally taxing and without proper support,

individuals may experience severe depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness5.

Despite these risks, some individuals might be tempted to try self-detoxing because of the stigma associated with addiction or fear of seeking treatment6.

However, it’s important to remember that recovery is not something to be ashamed of, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Instead of attempting to self-detox, individuals struggling with substance abuse should seek professional help. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7 service that can provide treatment referrals and information1.

Many treatment centers offer medically supervised detox programs, where withdrawal symptoms can be safely managed under the care of medical professionals 7.

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In conclusion, alcoholism is a serious and complex disease that can have severe physical, emotional, and social repercussions. Recognizing the signs of alcoholism is the first step toward seeking help.

However, it’s crucial to remember that self-detoxing from alcohol or drugs can be extremely dangerous due to severe withdrawal symptoms and potential complications. Instead, those struggling with substance abuse should seek professional help.

There are numerous resources available, including treatment centers that offer medically supervised detox programs and national helplines that provide free, confidential treatment referrals and information.

Overcoming addiction is not a sign of weakness but a testament to one’s strength and commitment to health and well-being.

Disclosure Statement: At, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. This means that when you purchase through our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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