Exactly What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Learning specifically what is a functioning alcoholic and how to identify the warning signs

Not all people who struggle with alcohol addiction have problems with the law or are affected so much in their daily life that they cannot hold down a job or maintain a family. A functioning alcoholic is a person who can maintain a job and often excel at their career and family life. However, they still struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. Sometimes a functioning alcoholic may be so good at concealing their problem that even those very close to them may not know they have a problem. This article helps to define what is a functioning alcoholic so friends, family members, or even the alcoholic themselves can recognize the signs and symptoms.

High Functioning Alcoholic Symptoms

High functioning alcoholic symptoms aren’t as outward or as obvious as they are for most alcoholics because a person lives a fairly normal life other than their drinking. They are able to hold down a job and do not usually suffer from affected friends and family relationships. However, a major symptom is denial on the part of the person. Because the person isn’t suffering in their everyday life, they may not believe they have a problem with alcohol. Other symptoms of what is a functioning alcoholic include:

  • The person can drink as much and as often as they did when they were younger, such as in college. While other people may have slowed down on partying and drinking to access, a functioning alcoholic hasn’t slowed down with how much they drink.
  • They have a significant tolerance. A functioning alcoholic may brag about drinking a person “under the table.” They can drink much more than is normal for their height and weight. Functioning alcoholics take a lot of alcohol to get drunk. They may never actually appear to be drunk in public because they would have to drink so much to get that way.
  • The person’s life revolves around drinking or getting to the bar. A person often talks and thinks about drinking, heads straight to the bar after lunch and/or always has a drink (or three) in quick succession after getting offer work. They often avoid events that do not serve alcohol.

Could You Be Living With a Functioning Alcoholic?

Often, those who are functioning alcoholics do not recognize they have a problem until the disease is in more advanced stages. Someone living with a functioning alcoholic may start to notice some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawals when the person hasn’t had a drink in a while. Examples may include shaking, memory lapses, and facial flushing. While a functioning alcoholic for the most part can make their way through life without those around them noticing their drinking problem, they will eventually start to lose control. Their behavior while drunk may start to become erratic, dangerous, and even embarrassing to their loved ones.

Conclusions on What Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

The answer to what is a functioning alcoholic can be different things to different people. According to WebMD, if a woman drinks more than three drinks a day of seven days a week, this is considered heavy drinking. If a man drinks more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks a week. If a person drinks more than this, they are at risk to be a functioning alcoholic.

A high-functioning alcoholic will eventually experience the severe health side effects associated with chronic and serious alcohol abuse. Examples include liver damage, pancreatitis, cancers, brain damage, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and/or memory loss. Those who are high-functioning alcoholics are also at increased risk for death from accident, such as from a car accident or suicide.

Although a high-functioning alcoholic may have different symptoms associated with their alcoholism, the treatments are similar. These include getting medical help for the detoxification process, seeing a therapist, and participating in 12-step programs.