The Double Life of an Alcohol Addict

Did you know that close to 20 percent of those who are considered to be ‘problem drinkers’ hold a university degree, have a great career, and a stable family life? A functioning alcoholic can be a productive citizen of society while also maintaining their alcohol abuse disorder (AUD).

When the term ‘alcohol use disorder’ or ‘alcoholic’ come to mind, many stereotypical mental images come to mind. Some people associate an alcoholic with a sloppy and unkept individual who has lost touch with their physical appearance. Others see a homeless person begging for money on the side of the street. The reality is that an alcoholic can look like any regular person walking down the street.

So what makes a functioning alcoholic? A functioning alcoholic can maintain a job and a relationship while also having a drinking problem. These individuals drink very regularly and consume large amounts of alcohol yet are able to sustain a steady professional life and social life.

The Unaware Alcoholic

Those who classify as a functioning alcoholic often know that there is some sort of alcohol abuse problem happening, but are unaware of the true severity of their problem. Since they do not fit the typical image of an ‘acoholic’, they feel as though they don’t have that large of a problem. According to a recent study by the National Institute of Health, almost 19.5 percent of Americans who have a drinking problem are high-functioning alcoholics. The typical age group that falls into this category are middle-aged, well-established, family-oriented individuals.

Alcoholism is considered:

  • The compulsive abuse of alcohol
  • No longer having control of your drinking
  • Experiencing negative emotions while drinking

Alcohol is considered a depressant and has a negative effect on the central nervous system. Alcohol works by interacting with ‘feel good’ receptors in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin which work to relax you. Despite this, long-term alcohol abuse alters the chemical balance in your brain and modifies that way in which your brain functions. What this does, then, is make your body think that alcohol makes you feel ‘normal’. This is where the addiction comes in.

Over the course of time, a heavy drinker or functioning alcoholic will build up a high tolerance for alcohol, creating dependence on it. Not all who drink alcohol will develop alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, of the approximate 136 million individuals who consume alcohol, around 15 million will develop alcoholism. This translates to roughly five percent of the U.S. population struggling with alcoholism.

Signs of a Highly Functioning Alcoholic

There are various criteria that have to be met in order to diagnose an individual as a functioning alcoholic. Some signs that may point to a severe drinking problem are:

  • Consistently joking about how much they drink
  • Drinking to excesses at social events
  • Making an excuse to have a drink
  • Drinking alone (isolated drinking)
  • Drinking to relax or enhance confidence levels
  • Leveraging alcohol as a reward for a stressful day
  • The mindset that you have earned the right to drink after work
  • The occasional but often too frequent ‘blackout’
  • Memory lapses when under the influence of alcohol
  • Downplaying how much they drank

It can be difficult to spot a functioning alcoholic despite the fact that they do in fact having a drinking problem. Too often, friends and family will simply make an excuse up for them such as ‘they just have a high tolerance’ and ‘that’s the way they always drink’.

Just because a functioning alcoholic can manage all of their responsibilities does not mean that they do not need help. They require treatment in order to overcome their need for alcohol.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.