Anyone with an alcohol use disorder—a condition that makes people unable to control their drinking—can benefit from an alcoholic treatment program. Their symptoms don’t have to be severe. Many people who need treatment may fit the definition of “functioning alcoholics” or people with alcohol use disorders who appear successful in daily life. During Alcohol Awareness month, learning the signs of a functioning alcoholic can be the first step in healing.
What Makes Someone a Functioning Alcoholic?
A functioning alcoholic usually doesn’t display any symptoms of alcoholism at first glance. They can hold a job, pay their bills, maintain strong relationships with family and friends, and have a social life. But their drinking habits still meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorders.
For instance, someone can function well in society while still being a heavy drinker or binge drinker on a regular basis. For women, heavy drinking is defined as at least three drinks per day or eight per week. Whereas for men, heavy drinking is defined as four drinks per day or 14 per week. And binge drinking, or consuming more than five drinks in two hours, can put anyone at risk.
Over time, this level of alcohol use can lead to dependence, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms when the person stops drinking. Even if a functioning alcoholic doesn’t experience problems because of their substance use, they may be setting themselves up for long-term health consequences like liver damage, depression, high blood pressure, or cancer.
Symptoms and Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic
Functioning alcoholics may have a physical dependence on alcohol, where their body is so used to the substance that they have to drink to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
They often develop a psychological dependence on alcohol as well. With psychological dependence, drinking is a significant part of their activities, plans, and even their thoughts. They might sneak drinks at work, drink frequently during the daytime, or attempt to hide their drinking.
Other symptoms of alcoholism in functioning alcoholics may include:
- Consuming alcohol more frequently and in greater amounts over time
- Minimizing or joking about their drinking habits
- Prioritizing alcohol over important obligations
- Continuing to drink after alcohol has caused them health, relationship, or social problems
- Drinking large amounts without appearing intoxicated
- Needing alcohol to relax, feel confident, or have a good time
- Hiding alcohol consumption from others
- Drinking alone on a regular basis to avoid detection
Functional alcoholics may deny having a drinking problem or become defensive when confronted about it. This can make it challenging for family, friends, and loved ones to intervene.
Treatment Options for Functional Alcoholism
Fortunately, early detection and intervention can prevent functional alcoholism from becoming a more severe, life-threatening problem.
There are a variety of treatment options depending on the individual’s needs. Primary care doctors may screen for alcohol use disorders and identify the best treatment resources.
Outpatient programs are a common option, letting clients receive treatment while still living at home and keeping up with work or school. These programs typically involve behavioral therapy, which teaches clients how to manage cravings and handle distress without resorting to alcohol. Peer support groups help participants hold each other accountable. Educational components of treatment increase alcohol awareness and arm clients with information to make better choices for their health.
After treatment, many functional alcoholics lead a successful life in recovery. Good programs keep clients connected to a support system after their treatment ends since recovery is a lifelong project.
Alcohol Awareness and Recovery at GBAC
The facilities at Greater Boston Addiction Centers provide first-class, evidence-based treatment for functional alcoholism. Clients can attend daytime or evening intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), where they’ll meet others struggling with similar substance use issues. The partial hospitalization program offers more comprehensive care for clients who need a higher level of support.
If you or someone you love seems to exhibit the signs of a functional alcoholic, early intervention works: call us at 877.920.6583 to learn more. Our expert, compassionate staff members are here to guide you or a loved one towards recovery.