The Functioning Alcoholic Paradox

Functioning Alcoholic

Disclaimer: The rhetoric on how people identify when it comes to alcohol use disorder is changing. However, in an effort to be succinct in this post, I will use the term Functioning Alcoholic to describe someone who functions daily with an alcohol use disorder.

At the end of my drinking, there was no longer anything fun about being a functioning alcoholic. I had crossed over the threshold of functioning into complete alcoholic dysfunction quite quickly. Yet, I continued to fool myself into thinking I was  “functioning” because I could pay my mortgage on time, look put together (at least some of the time), and hold down a job. Nevermind the fact that my life was anything but functional and I was an absolute hot mess. 

What is a functioning alcoholic? 

Someone who considers themselves a functioning alcoholic may have a nice house, a good career, a family, and everything else that looks good on paper. They also may not have lost anything significant as a result of their drinking YET. 

Calling myself a functioning alcoholic was how I justified my alcohol problem and prolonged seeking help for it. As long as I was functioning – whatever that looked like – I could justify drinking my face off every evening. That justification was just another layer of deep denial that I hid my problem behind. 

People who identify as functioning alcoholics are typically heavy drinkers. That behavior can only be maintained for so long before it catches up. And I have heard that functioning alcoholics aren’t a type of drinker, like a social drinker or a weekend warrior. Functioning alcoholics are in the stage of their drinking that proceeds alcoholic dysfunction — and that threshold is usually pretty thin.

“The difference between a functioning alcoholic and a regular alcoholic is time.”

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time. This could manifest in many ways such as drinking more and with increased frequency, drinking during work, hiding drinking, or drinking in the morning to “take the edge off.” 

In my 20s and early 30s, my alcoholism was more manageable because I could bounce back from a hangover quicker, which made it easier to function on a daily basis. But as I got older, and my drinking increased, life got a whole lot more unmanageable because I wasn’t rebounding as quickly. As time went on, managing my life and my alcoholism became so unbearable that I had no choice but to seek help. 

It wasn’t until I got sober that I realized I wasn’t a functioning alcoholic — I was just an alcoholic. Whatever words I used to dress up my addiction was just part of a bigger lie I was telling myself. And I did this so I wouldn’t have to give up alcohol, even though it was ruining my life.

What’s next?

There really is no such thing as a functioning alcoholic. At the end of the day, a functioning alcoholic is still an alcoholic — no matter how it’s qualified. Using the “functioning” rhetoric is just one of the many ways people fool themselves into justifying an alcohol problem. But it doesn’t have to get worse before it gets better. You can get ahead of the dysfunction, the isolation, the insanity and the nightmare that is end stage addiction and get help now — before you can no longer function.

Lastly, a better definition of a functioning alcoholic might be someone who identifies as an alcoholic, but functions because they don’t drink.

For help with an alcohol use disorder, please visit our resources page.

Did you consider yourself a functioning alcoholic? Let us know in the comments


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