Better Addiction Care

Living with a Functioning Alcoholic



Alcoholism is a disease that affects millions of Americans. Alcoholism can manifest in many ways and affect many types of relationships, threatening the marriages of those living with a functional alcoholic husband or wife and causing psychological damage to children being raised by an alcoholic parent. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has separated alcoholism into five subtypes in an attempt to better understand this diverse disease. The subtypes are:

  • Young Adult: Young adult drinkers typically do not have a co-occurring substance use or mental health disorder or a family history of alcoholism. They will rarely seek help for drinking.
  • Young Antisocial: Half of these people in their mid-twenties have a dual diagnosis of alcoholism with antisocial personality disorder and other co-occurring disorders. Many have a history of alcoholism within their family. They are more likely to seek help for their drinking habits.
  • Functional: Middle-aged and generally well-educated alcoholics with stable jobs and families fall into this group. They may have a history of alcoholism within the family and a depression diagnosis.
  • Intermediate Familial: Middle-aged and more likely to have a dual diagnosis, these alcoholics are also very likely to smoke cigarettes. This subtype is less likely to seek treatment.
  • Chronic Severe: Mostly middle-aged individuals with early-onset alcohol problems, this group has the highest rates of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, and a great number of them come from families with a history of alcoholism.

These subtypes illustrate what sets a functional alcoholic apart from the rest. These people are least expected to suffer negative effects due to their alcoholism, and they are generally the demographic that is best at hiding their alcohol use. Functional alcoholics do not experience the same side effects that others do: They find a way to keep their jobs and perform well. Research shows that about half of the people who meet the criteria for alcohol dependence are high-functioning.

Living With a Functioning Alcoholic

Alcohol use may be concealed from everyone but the people living with a functioning alcoholic. It is often these family members who are most painfully aware of an alcohol use disorder. Children, spouses, and siblings are all at risk of codependency with the functioning alcoholic. This means that a person puts their own needs aside in order to cover for the alcoholic. For example, someone living with a functional alcoholic husband may find themselves saying he's too sick to attend a party or excusing his irritable behavior.

Codependency takes many forms. A family member may have to cover expenses accrued due to the alcoholism and hide the consequences. Sometimes, they may find themselves resorting to emotional manipulation to try to curb the alcoholic's drinking using guilt and passive-aggressive behavior. Children often have to pretend their own needs don't matter in order to survive the situation. Alcoholism can trap anyone who has to come into contact with this disease.

Find Help for a Functional Alcoholic

If you need guidance and you want to help your loved one get sober, call BetterAddictionCare. We understand the struggles of alcoholism and the need for highly personalized addiction treatment. Speak with our compassionate addiction care counselors to get assistance with finding a cost-effective rehab near you that will meet your needs. Call today or fill out our contact form and we can help you take the next step.


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