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How to Spot a Functioning Alcoholic

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Identifying a functional alcoholic is not very easy. Alcoholism is a very insidious illness that can be hidden away for many years – especially if this sufferer is a successful person at work, has a functional family and are is generally just known for how well he or she handles the drink.

There are, however, a few tips that people can follow when identifying someone as a functional or highly functioning alcoholic.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Functional Alcoholic?

Alcoholism, as an illness, has some dead giveaways. The first is that the person tends to drink a lot. That does not mean that he or she drinks every day. Binge drinkers can also be alcoholics. This means that they could drink three drinks for every drink that someone else will drink. Functioning alcoholics enjoy drinking and will therefore also surround themselves with others who also enjoy drinking. This behaviour will also make it more difficult for a person to confront the alcoholic because he or she will point out that other people also drink and they are not accused of being alcoholics.

The functioning alcoholic is the master of denial and will be able to cleverly rebut every argument that one may have. It is very difficult to point out that their behaviour is problematic if they can show that their drinking is not (on the surface of it) not affecting their (or anyone else’s) life negatively.

Alcoholics obsess over alcohol. They continually plan their lives around their next drink (for example, a three-martini lunch followed by a quick drink at the bar after work). They may also want to have a drink before going out and even sneak drinks while at a restaurant or pub.

One drink is never enough. Functioning alcoholics need to drink more and often do not have control over how much they drink once they start drinking. They may also finish the drinks of other people when left unfinished on the bar or the table.

Occasionally, they will lose their control over their behaviour when drunk, and they will then display some shame or embarrassment over that behaviour. Often, though, they will be able to consume large quantities of alcohol without it affecting their behaviour in any way.

Even though they know what the physical and emotional consequences of their alcohol abuse could be, they do not care. They may even justify their drinking by saying that they deserve a drink after a long day at the office.

What Do You Do When You Know Someone Who Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Confronting a functional alcoholic is very difficult and could lead to anger and violence. It is best to consult the professionals in alcohol rehabilitation, such as Alcohol Rescue, to help you prepare for and implement an intervention. Give us a call. The sooner, the better. The longer you take to get help and treatment for the alcoholic, the greater the chance that he or she may get into trouble or cause harm to themselves or someone else.


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