New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

What is a Functional Alcoholic?

Aug 26, 2019 | Addiction, Alcohol, Substance Abuse

The term Functional Alcoholic implies that someone has all of the characteristics of an alcoholic, but they appear to maintain a life of normalcy. They go to work and maintain a family life and look like everything is under control. To an outsider, nothing seems to be wrong. Unfortunately for the functional alcoholic looks are deceiving. If you look below the surface, you often see that the functional alcoholic is experiencing many of the same problems that occur for other alcoholics. For example, while functional alcoholics may feel that their work is not being affected, they are often performing below their optimum level. They often rationalize this as a “small price to pay” for the ability to continue to drink. They also often begin to experience conflicts in their relationships as a direct result of their drinking. However, instead of admitting that their alcohol use is causing the problems, they claim that it is their spouse or significant other that is the problem. If only they would just quit nagging them and allow them to “relax”, things would be okay.

Functional alcoholics often know that they have a drinking problem and that they should moderate their drinking. Unfortunately, most have tried to drink in moderation only to find themselves drinking “too much” again and again. It is due to these failures that functioning alcoholics frequently begin to convince themselves that drinking is a benefit and not a consequence or a problem. Typically, it is close friends or family that see the effects of drinking and its impact on the individual’s health, relationships, work, and spiritual well-being. When confronted with the truth about their drinking, functioning alcoholics either use this information as an incentive to change or deny the accuracy of the information and discount its validity. Change is most likely to occur when the functioning alcoholic begins to recognize the impact that their drinking has on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Signs of a Functional Alcoholic

  • A functional alcoholic will always have an excuse for why they need to drink. – Whether the excuse is a hard day at work, the temperature outside, or the manufactured crises of the day, the functioning alcoholic will find an excuse to drink. To not drink is inconceivable.
  • People can’t tell you what to do. – The functional alcoholic will use the defense that they would moderate or cease consumption if people would not continue to remind them of drinking or how it may be affecting the environment. Their excuse is they would not have the need to drink if others would leave them alone.
  • Change in behavior when drinking. – The functional alcoholic will, at times, behave in an unpredictable manor when drinking. Due to the excess of their drinking, their family and friends do not know what to expect at any given time or what the attitude of the functioning alcoholic will be. The people in the lives of the alcoholic tend to separate themselves when the alcoholic is drinking. The functioning alcoholic, of course, just uses this as another excuse to drink.
  • Drinking before a drinking event. – The functioning alcoholic will tend to “pre-drink” before an event in order to make sure that they have the level of intoxication that they seek. They often will even drink before events where alcohol will be served. The patience of the alcoholic also tends to run low and they frequently complain that “the bartender is too slow”.
  • Constant Fatigue. – The functioning alcoholic may complain about always feeling tired. Because their body is trying to repair itself after each bout of drinking, they tend to feel tired and irritable.
  • Drinking alone. – Since a functioning alcoholic needs alcohol to function, the idea of drinking alone no longer concerns them. They may rationalize that this is the only time they can be relaxed. In fact, many functioning alcoholics prefer to drink alone in order to avoid feeling judged by others.
  • Defensiveness. – A functioning alcoholic will always defend their drinking and will have a variety of reasons and excuses. Functioning alcoholics often defend their drinking because they get irritated that someone else has the “nerve to bring it up”, even though they have begun to question their own drinking.
  • Very seldom refusing a drink. – A functioning alcoholic seldom refuses the offer of a free drink. No matter what time of day the functioning alcoholic will take advantage of a free drink believing that what is not bought is not considered part of the problem.

These are just some of the many signs of a functioning alcoholic. If you see these signs in someone you know or within yourself, maybe it is time to stop drinking and seek help for alcoholism.

How to make a functioning alcoholic stop drinking.

There is a multitude of ways a functioning alcoholic comes to the point of changing his or her behavior. It is often said that a person must want it for themselves before treatment can be effective. This, however, is not always the case. Sometimes being fired from a job, a DWI and a nudge from the judge, a failing marriage, or some other crisis occurs that forces the functioning alcoholic to consider giving up drinking. In fact, most alcoholics seek treatment during times of crisis. During treatment, functioning alcoholics often develop insight into their drinking and begin to understand the effects that their drinking has had on the lives of those around them. As a result, it is often during treatment that the functioning alcoholic’s motivation shifts from getting help to appease others to getting help because they want it for themselves. In treatment, they often begin to discover that they are not alone in the journey toward sobriety and that it is possible to have a life without alcohol.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.