Am I A Functioning Alcoholic? Questions to Ask Yourself

Alcoholism is often depicted as, and many times is, a debilitating disease. But that generalized image hides a much darker truth: Many times, those suffering from alcoholism are doing just fine.

At least, in theory.

Functioning alcoholics are able to hold together enough of their lives that they can outwardly project, and even inwardly believe, that everything is okay. But even when it’s hiding in plain sight, the problem can be much more serious than it appears.

What Is A Functioning Alcoholic?

We can all likely conjure the image of a non-functioning alcoholic: Someone who’s strung out, unsteady, unable to hold down a job or relationship; someone who needs a swig or two just to get by; someone whose life aspirations have morphed into little more than the pursuit of more booze.

But what is a functioning alcoholic?

To start, their lives look nothing like our examples above. Indeed, functioning alcoholics, sometimes called high functioning alcoholics, are often quite productive members of society who:

  • Are well educated
  • Hold down steady and sometimes high-powered jobs
  • Pay their bills on time
  • Maintain long-term relationships and close-knit families

They just do it all while also maintaining a close relationship with alcohol.
In fact, a 2007 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that nearly 20% of people with drinking problems could be considered high functioning alcoholics.

The outward signs of success often overshadow the inner struggle, but many if not most functioning alcoholics still suffer from some of the disease’s worse effects. The signs are still there if you know where to look.

Common Signs of Being a Functioning Alcoholic

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink, or maybe two.

But most high functioning alcoholics, just like most alcoholics in general, don’t know when to stop.

In fact, promising yourself that you’re going to drink less or “stop at two” but then not being able to is a symptom associated with functional alcoholism.

Other common signs that you could be a functioning alcoholic include:

  • Spending significant amounts of time outside of work buying, drinking, or recovering from drinking alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol in lieu of eating.
  • Passing on other activities you enjoy in order to drink. (Or finding ways to incorporate alcohol into other activities.)
  • Craving alcohol when you’re not drinking, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking, and feeling sick to your stomach.
  • Developing alcohol tolerance.
  • Frequently drinking to the point of blacking out.
  • Having legal problems related to drinking, such as a DUI arrest.
  • Becoming defensive when asked about your drinking.
  • Drinking when you’re alone or drinking in the morning.
  • Hiding bottles, lying about how many drinks you’ve had or being otherwise dishonest about the subject.

Aside from these more outward signs, there may also be a number of biological correlations in place.

The same NIH study from 2007 noted that about one-third of functioning alcoholics had a family history of alcoholism, and nearly a quarter had suffered from major depression at some point in their lives. (About half were also smokers.)

But even when some of these signs start showing up, it still might be hard to see them for yourself. If you can relate to many, or even all, of the points above, it might be time to consider that you may have a problem with alcohol. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment advisor and decide whether rehab is the right option for you.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Many times, it’s hard for high functioning alcoholics to see the truth. It’s easy to live in denial when there are so many signs of normalcy to hide behind. But a good way to determine if you’re a functioning alcoholic is to first determine whether you’re considered a “heavy” or “binge” drinker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “binge” drinking constitutes five or more drinks on one occasion for a woman, and eight or more drinks on one occasion for a man. “Heavy” drinking translates to eight or more drinks over the course of a week for a woman, and 15 for a man.

Functioning alcoholics may be able to lie to themselves, but statistics don’t betray the truth.

Indeed, the stories high functioning alcoholics tell themselves, and others, in relation to their drinking, are usually similar:

“I drink to help deal with stress.”

“I drink to help me relax.”

“It’s been a long day, and I did that annoying chore. I’ve earned this drink.”

Another red flag of suffering from high functioning alcoholism is often hearing people ask or even joke about your drinking habits—so you may have these types of excuses at the ready, or even be used to firing them off.

If the lines seem a little too familiar, whether you’ve said them out loud or just thought them to yourself, or if you’ve experienced any of the other common signs of functioning alcoholics described above, you might want to start asking yourself some serious questions and only settle for truly honest answers.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Am I drinking more than I’m meaning or wanting to?
  • Am I drinking at inappropriate times?
  • Do I feel I need alcohol to have fun, relax, or feel confident?
  • Do I feel the need to drink after a stressful day or event?
  • Do I feel nervous when there’s alcohol in the house?
  • Does it bother me when other people ask about my drinking?
  • Is alcohol impacting my relationships?

A long, hard look in the mirror is never easy, but that accurate and sometimes ugly reflection is often the last thing we see before realizing we need help. Although it may be hard to come to the conclusion that you may be an alcoholic, there is help available. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? and a treatment specialist can help you get the help you need without judgment.

If I’m Functioning, Why Change?

They say if something’s not broken, don’t fix it.

And paying bills, maintaining a home, and having family and friends around may seem to add up to a pretty solid picture. But there is something that needs fixing about a functioning alcoholic’s life—the “alcoholic” part.

One of the biggest problems high functioning alcoholics face is those stories they tell themselves, to convince themselves that they don’t have a problem. They don’t need alcohol. They just use it to relax. Or to celebrate. Or to deal with stressful situations. But habitually relying on an outside source for help with personal problems is still a form of dependency. When the alcohol is always the solution, it means there’s a problem. Drinking has become a crutch.

In most people, especially when it comes to physically addictive substances, the association soon becomes entrenched, and whether it happens consciously or not, we begin to believe not just that alcohol helps us relax but that we can’t relax without it.

That type of dangerous thinking makes us a slave to the substance. We’re not truly free to live our lives to the fullest, because we’re indebted, in some way, to alcohol.

Health, Finance, and Other Concerns

You can think of alcoholism—whether you’re functioning or not—like any other long-term commitment: If you decide to adopt a pet, for example, you’re always beholden to the animal. That means no more spontaneity; no more staying out late, or going away on vacation, without first figuring out how to make sure the animal is fed and watered and walked. (The extra money that needs to be spent on those responsibilities is another freedom-eroding factor.)

Yet instead of trading their time and money for the love and companionship of an animal, a functioning alcoholic does so for a substance that puts a huge amount of stress on their bodies and brains.

Indeed, all of the same physiological issues that come up in regular alcoholism are in play in the life of a high functioning alcoholic. That includes liver disease, heart disease, the increased likelihood of developing certain cancers, and the frequent participation in risky or dangerous behaviors.

High-functioning alcoholics may be able to convince themselves that they have control over the situation, but the reality is, they don’t. Addiction is an inherently unbalanced condition. And as long as the drinking continues to command a lopsided amount of your time and energy, your control over it will eventually cede.

The problem is only compounded as time goes on. When you’re used to drinking too much, the sub-par feeling that results from it becomes the new normal. You lose track of what it’s like to wake up clear-eyed, energized, and ready to take on the day. And that makes it all the easier to slip up and all the harder to keep holding it all together.

If you think you may be a functioning alcoholic, have any questions about the subject or want to find out more about potential treatment options, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to an addiction treatment specialist.

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