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Healing, Strengthening, and Advancing the Lives of LGBTQ People Seeking Recovery

Symptoms of a Functioning Alcoholic: 14 Signs to Look Out For

Androgynous person drinking alcohol

When you hear the term “alcoholic,” what image comes to mind? Many envision a disheveled older man guzzling cheap liquor from a paper bag. However, this stereotype doesn’t reflect the reality. Indeed, popular culture would have us believe that alcoholics are all downtrodden individuals way past the point of help. 

But nothing could be further from the truth. 

In fact, a study from the National Institutes of Health found that 19.5% of those with an alcohol use disorder can be classified under the functional alcoholic subtype. These are educated, middle-class individuals leading seemingly stable lives with careers and families —  a far cry from the traditional stereotype.

Yet, appearances can be deceiving, as their alcohol use still poses significant problems.

They’re still at risk for health issues, strained relationships, and legal troubles. This article looks at 14 symptoms of a functioning alcoholic to help you identify either yourself or a loved one. 

Find out more about La Fuente Hollywood’s comprehensive alcohol treatment program by calling 888.903.9898.  

What Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Functioning alcoholic (also referred to as functional or high-functioning alcoholic), is a colloquial term that describes individuals who struggle with alcohol dependence while maintaining the appearance of a stable life. They may be well-educated, excel professionally, and have a seemingly happy home life. Despite their outward successes, functioning alcoholics drink heavily, often in secret.

What sets them apart from other alcoholics is their ability to hide the negative consequences of their drinking from others. Often, that means masking signs of intoxication during work hours or at family functions.  At the same time, they consume alcohol behind closed doors or during specific times of the day. 

Despite their seemingly well-put-together lives, functioning alcoholics are still at risk for various health problems. These include liver disease, heart issues, and mental health disorders. Moreover, their alcohol consumption can strain relationships, lead to legal troubles, and ultimately jeopardize their overall well-being. 

14 Symptoms of a Functioning Alcoholic

Because functional alcoholics are so good at hiding their drinking, it’s tough for outsiders to see the warning signs of alcohol abuse. Still, there are plenty of clues if you know what to look out for. Here are 14 symptoms of a functioning alcoholic. 

  1. High alcohol tolerance: Functional alcoholics can usually drink others under the table without seeming intoxicated. 
  2. Escalating consumption: No one starts out as a functional alcoholic, it’s a level of alcohol abuse that develops over time. This involves drinking more and more over time to achieve the same level of inebriation.  
  3. Can’t stop at one: Despite their best intentions to moderate their drinking, functional alcoholics are unable to stop after the first drink. One drink becomes two, then five, and before they know it, they’re blackout drunk and the bar is closing. 
  4. Excessive secrecy: They hide or lie about their drinking habits. For example, they might stash bottles around the house, throw empty bottles when no one else is home, or sneak alcohol into events. 
  5. Denial: Oftentimes functioning alcoholics downplay the amount and severity of their drinking. You might hear a functional alcoholic say things like “Everyone drinks like I do, it’s normal” or “I pay my bills on time and have a good job, so how can my drinking be out of control?”
  6. Defensiveness: They may get defensive when questioned or confronted about their drinking habits, telling others that there’s nothing wrong with how much they drink. They might even go so far as to say that alcohol helps them manage stress, making them a better partner, parent, or employee.
  7. Justifying: The kids were rowdy, the new boss was a nightmare, or traffic was crazy. Any of life’s complications is a reason to drink.  
  8. Joking: Instead of denial, defensiveness, or justifications, some functional alcoholics opt to make light of their drinking habits when confronted. People exhibiting this symptom might say things like “rehab is for quitters” or “why go to the gym when I can lift pint glasses?”
  9. Scheduled drinking: From having a drink as soon as they get home from work to attending boozy brunches every Sunday morning, functional alcoholics may have all kinds of rituals around their drinking. 
  10. Irritability without alcohol: If a functional alcoholic goes even a day or two without drinking, they might feel cranky, irritable, or on edge. Additionally, they could get set off by minor inconveniences or snap at loved ones for no reason.
  11. Blackouts: Struggling to remember past events as the result of excessive alcohol consumption.  
  12. Withdrawal: These symptoms include morning cravings, nausea, fatigue, and headaches.
  13. Increased isolation: Functional alcoholics often avoid friends, stop attending religious services, or neglect community events in favor of staying home to drink.
  14. Failed attempts to quit: Deep down, many functioning alcoholics know their drinking is abnormal. As a result, most have tried (and failed) to quit at least once. This cycle repeats itself over and over, with the drinker refusing to accept help from others.

Keep in mind that some functioning alcoholics may only experience a handful of these signs. What’s more, these symptoms vary in intensity from person to person. If you have any doubts, seek professional help. 

Get in touch with La Fuente Hollywood online or by calling 888.903.9898.  

How To Help a Functioning Alcoholic

White man drinking from bottle

Once you understand the symptoms of a functioning alcoholic, providing support is the next step. This process is delicate, yet essential. As a first step, approach them with your concerns. Do so in an empathetic, rather than judgemental, manner. In many cases, they might not realize the extent of their drinking problem, so having a compassionate conversation could serve as the wake-up call they need. 

From there, suggest some resources to assist them on their recovery journey. Popular options include:

  • Inpatient or residential alcohol rehab: The most intensive type of treatment, in which individuals stay at a facility for the duration of their treatment (usually 30, 60, or 90 days). This option is ideal for those needing intensive support as it provides a structured environment with frequent monitoring and professional care. 
  • Outpatient care: Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) allow clients to benefit from the services (therapy, support groups, and life skills training) of a treatment center while living at home.  
  • Peer support and self-help groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the best-known support group for functioning alcoholics, but it’s far from the only one. For instance, SMART Recovery uses evidence-based principles to encourage abstinence. Women for Sobriety challenges women to tackle the emotional issues contributing to alcoholism. 

The next step is to help your loved one choose the right treatment plan based on their lifestyle and preferences. Everyone’s situation is different, so this may take some experimenting. Try your best to stay patient and supportive throughout this process. It may seem like a small act, but finding the right form of treatment is a huge step in recovering from functional alcoholism.

La Fuente’s Treatment Options for Functioning Alcoholics 

La Fuente Hollywood offers a range of treatment options for functioning alcoholics who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. 

For those needing the highest level of support, we recommend our 24/7 residential addiction treatment program. Our Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) is one step down. In it, clients receive about six hours of treatment before returning home for the evening. If six hours is too big of a time commitment, then our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a great option. Clients spend a few hours per day at our Hollywood, California treatment center before resuming school, work, and other daily tasks. 

Regardless of the nature or severity of the problem, our intake counselors will help you and your loved ones choose the program that’s right for you. 

Give us a call today at 888.903.9898 and feel better tomorrow. 

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