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What Is a Functional Alcoholic?

Posted on January 20, 2021

What Is a Functional Alcoholic?

By definition, a “functional alcoholic” is someone who appears to handle their work and personal responsibilities despite drinking daily. You may know someone who drinks every day and still manages to get to work and take care of their responsibilities. Alcohol doesn’t appear to be harming their family, friendship, or job at this point. This doesn’t mean their alcohol use isn’t a serious issue. Today, let’s talk about what it means to be a “functional alcoholic” and how to get someone that term describes the help they need.

Being a functional alcoholic does not mean drinking is not affecting a person’s health and well-being. Someone who drinks every day may be in denial over the dangers of their choice to consume alcohol.  Physical signs of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may appear as shakiness, sweating, or dilated pupils. For someone with an AUD and co-occurring mental health disorder, holistic treatment is recommended. A standard first step for these patients is a safe, medical withdrawal of alcohol from the body.

How can someone with an alcohol use disorder seem functional?

A person who drinks heavily or drinks daily can appear “unaffected” by it if they continue their daily routines and handle their responsibilities at home and at work. It may be clear they have a high tolerance for alcohol. They may not appear intoxicated after several drinks, for example.

What risk factors may be adding to a drinking problem?

Risk factors for excessive drinking can come from the environment or from within each person. Peer pressure from friends to drink is one example of an environmental risk factor. Having a parent or someone in the family with an alcohol use disorder is another. Stressful situations can be an environmental risk factor, too.

Mental health is considered one of the single biggest risk factors for developing a drinking problem or struggling to end one. Undiagnosed anxiety, depression, or trauma can make it harder for a person to quit drinking, even when they can see it’s hurting them. These mental health issues may have appeared before the drinking started and the drinking became a way to self-medicate.

What signs suggest someone has an alcohol use disorder?

Physical clues and certain behaviors can be signs of someone hiding a drinking problem. When asked directly about their drinking, they may deny there’s a problem. Drinking may be the first thing they do when they get home. They may keep alcohol stocked up at home or hide how much they’re drinking.

The way they behave socially can show some signs of an alcohol use disorder. It could be making a joke about heavy drinking or staying longer than expected at gatherings where alcohol is served. They may feel nervous or irritated in social situations where drinking isn’t an option.

One of the biggest clues that someone has a drinking problem can appear during the times they’re not drinking, too. These physical clues can appear within a few hours of their last drink. You might see shakiness, sweating, or dilated pupils. They might mention having a headache, a faster heart rate, or feeling fatigued.

What kind of help is available for someone with an alcohol use disorder?

Holistic treatment programs for someone with an alcohol use disorder include residential options where personalized plans are created for each patient. Medical detox provides a patient with a safe withdrawal from alcohol before starting treatment. When mental health is a factor, a treatment team integrates care for both substance use and the co-occurring mental health disorder. Care goes beyond the patient to involve the whole family in the healing process. Continuing care is important, too. Patients can begin to create valuable support systems in their own communities for a smoother transition.


Origins Behavioral HealthCare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296.