Substance abusers look just like everybody else. Even individuals who appear to be successful, like those with a well-paying job, a luxurious house, new cars and are socially active, can secretly have a significant problem with drugs or alcohol. The disease of addiction knows no boundaries even when it comes to income, social class, or race.
Functional Alcoholics: Who They Are And How To Identify Them
When it comes to addiction, a person’s success doesn’t matter. Addiction is an insidious and destructive disease that only gets worse if it’s not treated.
One of the most commonly abused substances in America is alcohol.
It’s difficult to draw the line between irresponsible drinking and alcoholism. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4% of Americans over the age of 18 drank alcohol at some point in their life. 26.9% of the people surveyed claim that they binge drank alcohol in the past month of the survey.
6.2% of the people surveyed struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Unfortunately, many alcoholics believe that they’re an exception. They believe that they can manage their drinking. They don’t believe that they have an addiction at all.
For some people, their misconceptions are confirmed when they don’t appear like a ‘typical alcoholic’. They believe that they don’t have an addiction because they can still go to work, take care of their kids, etc. However, an ability to function in society doesn’t necessarily mean that one doesn’t have an addiction to alcohol.
There Are Several Different Subtypes of Alcoholics
In broad terms, an alcoholic is someone who has an addiction or dependence on alcohol. Their body heavily relies on this substance. Without it, brain chemistry levels go haywire.
In 2007, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism determined that there are five individual “subtypes” of alcoholism. In short, there is no such thing as a “typical alcoholic”.
The five distinct alcoholic subtypes include:
- Young adult subtype, which accounts for about 32% of alcoholics in America. These types of alcoholics develop an addiction, on average, by 20 years of age. They drink less frequently than the other subtypes discovered; however, they tend to binge drink in excessive amounts when they do drink.
- Young antisocial subtype, which makes up 21% of the alcoholics in America. These alcoholics are usually about 26 years old, with more than 50% of them possessing an antisocial personality disorder. This points to a co-occurring disorder. This subtype is also likely to engage in polydrug abuse with cigarettes and marijuana.
- Intermediate familial subtype, which includes 19% of alcoholics in America. 50% of these alcoholics have close relatives who are also alcoholics. Those who are in this subtype usually started drinking at a fairly young age, like 17 and became alcoholics in their early 30s.
- Chronic severe subtype, which includes 9% of alcoholics. This subtype is fairly rare. Those in this subtype are usually men. They have the highest divorce rates and frequently engage in polydrug abuse. This subtype is most likely to use illicit drugs.
- Functional subtype, which accounts for 19% of alcoholics in America. Those who fall into this subtype are usually middle-aged adults. They work, have stable relationships and higher incomes than other alcoholics.
The functional subtype is the group that we are most interested in. We’ll explore this subtype in more detail below.
A Deeper Look Into the Functional Alcoholic Subtype
The functional alcoholic subtype often makes excuses for their behavior because alcohol doesn’t seem to interfere with their life much. They say things to themselves like, “It’s only a drink and I deserve it after a long day,” or, “I’m not an alcoholic because I still have a job or a family.”
One out of every five American alcoholics falls into the “functional” subtype, with telling tendencies:
- The average, functional alcoholic is middle-aged, possesses a college degree, has a well-paying job, and enjoys a stable home life.
- One-third of these alcoholics are the product of multi-generational alcoholism within their family.
- One-fourth of these alcoholics have met the criteria for clinical depression at some point in their life.
- Approximately one-half have smoked cigarettes.
Those who fall into this subtype tend to drink every other day. They often consume five or more drinks whenever they do. This is considered binge drinking.
Many of these individuals may have wine bottles, rum bottles or Cognac bottles stashed away in their homes or at work. They may feel that they need to drink to relieve stress.
Functional Alcoholics Live in Denial
It is easy for functional alcoholics to deny that they even have a problem. They point to the fact that they’re so successful and stable that they couldn’t POSSIBLY be alcoholics. Because they have become so adept at both keeping their addiction hidden and covering up any incidents, most people are fooled by their façade.
In fact, many loved ones, like spouses, parents, or siblings, won’t even realize that the person in question is a functional alcoholic.
Functional alcoholics are masters at minimizing, denying, and giving (mostly) plausible excuses each and every time their drinking creates yet another mess. Here are some excuses alcoholics make:
- “What’s wrong with having a few drinks?”
- “I’m just blowing off some steam because I’ve been working so hard.”
- “I didn’t pass out – I fell asleep because I’ve been really tired.”
- “I make too much money to be a drunk.”
- “I only drink beer. Certainly, that’s better than drinking the hard stuff.”
- “It’s the workplace culture. Everyone drinks a little bit.”
The worst part is that many people do believe them. This is why many functional alcoholics don’t seek help at all. They delay seeking alcohol addiction treatment because they don’t think that they have a problem. They are in denial themselves.
Many people believe that substance abuse and addiction looks the same, or they have a preconceived notion of what it looks like. This is one of the many misconceptions about addiction. A person can have an addiction without looking like they’re homeless or like their whole life is falling apart.
The Emphasis Is on “Alcoholic” Not “Functioning”
Even though a functioning alcoholic is still able to function in society, they’re still alcoholics. This means that they’re still dependent on alcohol to make it through the day.
There one inescapable truth is that they’re alcoholics at the end of the day. They can’t control or manage their drinking. They experience intense cravings, and will often succumb to their need to drink.
A person can only give so many flimsy excuses, miss or show up late for work, sleepwalk through the day with a hangover, miss important meetings, and deadlines, drive drunk, and screw up in all the glorious ways before it ALL blows up in their face.
The lies that an alcoholic tells always catch up with them. Sooner or later, their secret will be out in the open. Other people will begin to notice that they have a problem.
Alcoholism is chronic and progressive, meaning it never goes away and it always gets worse. Eventually, it will destroy any semblance of “functioning”.
It’s important to remember that alcoholism does irreparable and immense damage to the body. In worst-case scenarios, it can even cause brain damage or wet brain.
How Functional Alcoholics Are Able to Cover Up Their Addiction
Many functional alcoholics are able to cover up their addiction from others. They deny that they have a problem, and will do the following to hide their problem from others:
- Restrict their drinking to specific times, beverages or situations. Many functional alcoholics will say things like, “I only drink beer” or “I never drink on weeknights”. These things may or may not be true; however, these ‘rules’ help functional alcoholics believe that they are in control of their drinking.
- Have others cover for them. Many high-functioning alcoholics have help from loved ones. These loved ones are considered as enablers. For example, a wife may help a husband call in sick for work if he has a hangover. The enabler makes excuses for the alcoholic.
- Isolate themselves in their private time. Many functional alcoholics will drink alone because they don’t want their habits to be exposed. They may drink at home after work or they may drink alone at bars.
Many functional alcoholics will break personal commitments because of their drinking. While they are able to maintain their image at work, they may neglect familial responsibilities.
It’s often difficult to approach a functional alcoholic about their drinking problem. This is because they often are quite successful professionally. Along with their attempts at hiding their drinking, many people don’t realize how bad the problem is until it’s too late.
What Are Some of the Signs of Being a Functional Alcoholic?
A person doesn’t have to be broke, homeless, or a disheveled, shambling mess to have a serious problem with alcohol. In fact, most of the “early warning signs” are behavioral in nature.
Answer the following ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions in this functioning alcoholic test:
- Do you deny that a problem exists, even in the face of proof?
- Do you drink to ease nervousness or anxious feelings?
- Have you used alcohol to feel sociable?
- Do you drink when alone or in secret?
- Have you ever chosen to drink instead of to eat?
- Do you drink more frequently and more often than intended?
- Do you need to drink to feel “normal”?
- Have you ever felt a need to drink in order to function throughout the day?
- Have you ever finished other people’s drinks?
- Do you become irritated or agitated when alcohol is unavailable?
- Do you spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over or acquiring alcohol?
- Have you ever experienced any memory loss or blackouts after drinking?
- Have you ever called in sick to work or school because of alcohol use?
- Do you neglect important responsibilities at work?
- Has your drinking ever disrupted any family functions?
- Do you make excuses for your drinking?
- Have other people — like family, friends, and coworkers —showed concern about your drinking?
- Do you have one or more Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenses?
- Has your doctor ever talked to you about health problems caused by your long-term or heavy drinking?
- Do you make drinking a priority over your work, family or other responsibilities?
- Do you have a drink first thing in the morning?
Think long and hard before you answer these questions. It’s easy to skim over them without putting in a lot of thought.
0 to 3 ‘Yes’ Answers
There’s a good chance that your addiction has yet to become a huge problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a problem. Unless you answered ‘no’ to all questions, it simply means that your problem is still in the beginning stages.
There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to easily get your drinking back under control. In these situations, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or an outpatient program is all that’s usually needed.
These programs offer a moderate level of care. You can pick and choose when you would like to receive substance abuse treatment. With a standard outpatient program, you can receive as much or as little treatment as you desire. With an IOP, you’re required to commit at least 9 hours of therapeutic contact each week.
6 and more ‘Yes’ Answers
When at least six of these above symptoms are present, it demonstrates two bedrock qualifying tenets of addiction.
FIRST, your drinking is beyond the limits of your control. It’s clear that your drinking has become unmanageable. It’s time to own up to the fact that you cannot control your drinking habits.
SECOND, that your life is starting to become unmanageable as a result. Your drinking problem is slowly bleeding into your life.
If you are ready to admit that those two facts are true, then you have taken an important first step towards your road to recovery. With proper professional addiction care, your journey to sobriety can begin to start.
Depending on how severe your addiction may be, you may want to consider trying a residential inpatient treatment program or a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). Both offer a high level of care that can get you back on the right track.
The more severe your addiction is, the longer your treatment will be. Standard residential inpatient treatment programs take anywhere from 28 to 90 days to complete. A PHP can take anywhere from several months to up to a year to complete.
Different Types of Functional Alcoholic Tests
If you’ve gotten this far, there’s a good chance that you think that there’s something wrong. You might have started to wonder whether you or a loved one has a drinking problem.
To determine whether or not you’re an alcoholic, you need to be completely honest with yourself. There are many different types of self-assessments that can give you a better insight into your situation.
You can even take one of our addiction quizzes to see whether or not you need to contact our addiction specialists for a more in-depth assessment. There are several other self-assessment tests that you can take. They include:
- The AUDIT alcohol assessment. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed this 10-item screening tool.
- The CAGE Alcohol test developed by Dr. John Ewing. This short test only has four questions. Despite that, it’s been able to accurately identify 9 out of 10 alcoholics.
- The MAST (Michigan Alcohol Screening Test) alcohol assessment. Developed in the early 70s, this test consists of 22 yes or no questions.
Although a self-assessment can provide you with some details on your condition, it’s not a thorough diagnosis. Have an addiction specialist from AspenRidge Recovery call you for a free phone consultation about addiction. Our staff can help you determine whether you need to seek addiction treatment.
Don’t worry. Everything that’s shared on the phone conversation will be kept 100% confidential.
How to Help a Functional Alcoholic
If you’ve noticed that someone near you may be a functional alcoholic, one of the best things that you can do for him or her is to stage an intervention. There are many different types of alcoholism intervention methods.
An intervention is when people gather to confront the alcoholic about his or her behaviors. The goal of the intervention is to help the alcoholic see how their drinking has harmed himself or herself and his or her loved ones. It’s also to present the alcoholic with a plan for recovery and to help them find an addiction treatment that works for them.
It’s vital to have consequences in place for the alcoholic if he or she refuses to seek treatment. For example, a husband may decide that a legal separation would be the consequence if the wife does not seek treatment. Parents may decide to cut their children off financially.
Anyone who has been affected by the alcoholic’s drinking can take part in the intervention. In most cases, an intervention is usually hosted by an addiction specialist, a family therapist or a substance abuse counselor.
It’s important for all parties to stay calm during the intervention despite how the alcoholic may act. It’s also important for the intervention to be held in a calm and peaceful environment. Everyone that attends should hold off on being judgmental.
If You Suspect That You Have a Problem, Take a Functioning Alcoholic Test and Get Help
AspenRidge Recovery is conveniently located just minutes away from Denver, Colorado. This addiction treatment facility is located near Lakewood. This rehab facility can offer addiction treatment care in a serene therapeutic residential setting. Heal both your body and mind while receiving counseling and engaging in fun, sober group activities.
By combining 12-Step recovery philosophies with the latest evidence-based mental health treatment protocols, AspenRidge can maximize your chances of returning to a TRULY successful life without alcohol or other drugs.
It’s important to note that the road to recovery is long and arduous. Without professional help, you’re prone to relapses and to withdrawals. Alcohol withdrawals can be dangerous and life-threatening. It’s best not to attempt sobriety alone.
With our help, you can easily break free from alcohol addiction and get your life back on the right track. [/vc_column_text]