If a person is seriously damaging their life due to alcoholism, it is obvious that they need to stop this behaviour – but what about functional alcoholics. If a person drinks too much but is still able to take care of work and family commitments, does this person really need to stop? This is a fair question but the reality is that a functional alcoholic can actually be in more danger than one who is really struggling.
A functioning alcoholic is somebody who has developed a dependence on alcohol but does not behave like the stereotypical alcoholic. This individual may have a good job, live in a nice house, be a respected member of the community, be loved by his or her family, and never appear drunk in public. Despite the fact that such individuals do not fit the usual stereotype of alcoholism, they actually belong to the most common group dealing with this problem. Only a minority of problem drinkers fit the typical stereotype of the alcoholic.
It may seem that a functional alcoholic is in a much better position than an alcoholic lying in the gutter. As long as this person is not hurting others and is still able to function reasonably well, why should he or she be expected to give up something they enjoy? The dangers of being a functional alcoholic include:
- this person has less reason to stop so they are more likely to experience physical and mental harm as a result of addiction
- there will be far less pressure on this person to get help for their problems
- this individual may feel there is more to lose by admitting to the problem – for example, the fear that it could cause harm to their reputation
- this person will not have the same financial constraints on their behaviour
- it is common for people who are addicted to alcohol to first realise this due to having withdrawals when they can’t afford alcohol – this might never happen with a high functioning alcoholic
- this person will often have a strong sense of entitlement when it comes to alcohol – the work hard play, hard ethos
- the individual may feel that he or she needs to drink due to work – for example, entertaining clients
- this type of person will be much better at hiding signs of alcoholism.
The other important thing to realise is that functional alcoholics do not remain this way forever. Individuals in this position may be working hard to hide the evidence of their excesses on the outside, but they are still going to be hurting on the inside. It takes a lot of effort to keep this type of problem under wraps, and it is unlikely to be something that the person can do indefinitely. This is why high functional alcoholics tend to hit rock bottom with a very loud bang. It can appear to outsiders that something dramatic has happened, but this falling apart will have occurred over a long period.
The cost of addiction is too high for people even if they are able to hide the worst of their excesses. It is like a lift in a building that is always going down – it would to be better to get off at a higher floor rather than at the bottom. Functional alcoholics can be in a great position to quickly repair their life once they become sober because there is far less wreckage to deal with. It can also mean that sobriety involves less of an adjustment.