What is a Functional Alcoholic?

What is a Functional Alcoholic?


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I used to refer to myself as a functional alcoholic.

I said this because I managed to hold down a job (most of the time) when I was still drinking, even though other parts of my life were mostly out of control. I thought I was pretty much on top of my game if I could keep bringing in enough money to support myself, even though I was slowly self destructing every day by drinking more and more.

The term “functional alcoholic” is a mechanism of denial

Even though we might get the bills paid, have enough to spend on our drinking, and maybe even support our families, calling ourselves a “functional alcoholic” at this point is still a form of denial. We are not really functioning in a number of ways, even if we seem to be OK on the surface. Here’s why:

1) We are living a lie – by pretending that everything is OK, even though we are emotionally distraught and trying to cope with our life every day by drinking more and more.

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2) We have stopped maturing emotionally, and are no longer growing as a person.

3) We are not learning new things. We are stagnant.

4) There is a loss of integrity because we allow our own standards to slip.

5) There is a tendency to compromise our morals if we are drunk most of the time.

And the list goes on. The ideas outlined here only represent a fraction of the way in which our life is compromised when we choose to continue on in our addiction.

It is only through getting clean and sober that most of us can see the nature of our denial, and then we finally get a true picture of just how dysfunctional we were in our disease. In other words, it is easy for me to look back now and see all of the ways in which my life was distorted while I was drinking, but only because I have been sober long enough to gain this proper perspective.

So the functional alcoholic uses denial to continue on with their drinking career. They will typically point to financial stability in order to justify the idea that they are fully under control when it comes to their drinking. They will probably also make the comparison that “real alcoholics can not hold a job and end up living on the street,” while they proudly point out that they still have a job and a roof over their head.

The reason this is denial is because alcoholism is a progressive disease. Our condition always gets worse over time, never better. So perhaps we have not yet experienced certain consequences in our lives due to our drinking. This does not make us immune. If someone keeps drinking and driving, over and over again, eventually they will get pulled over and face the consequences. It is just a matter of time.

Likewise, anyone who continues to abuse alcohol will eventually experience consequences of their own, whether that be through physical ailments, loss of job, ruined relationships, and so on. The exact nature of our demise with an addiction is never clear to us, nor could we ever predict it exactly. But the fact that the alcoholic has to face squarely is that their life is getting worse over time as they continue to drink, never better. Just because they have consistently avoided certain consequences (never lost their job, never got a drunk driving, etc.) does not mean that they are not on a slow descent into madness.

We don’t get to choose our consequences when we drink uncontrollably. Some of those who continue to drink and call themselves “functional” will end up in jail. Others will end up dead. How many alcoholics are out there right now, drinking uncontrollably, and convincing themselves that they are safe because they have basically been lucky so far?

“Functional alcoholic” is an oxymoron. It is only a matter of time before luck changes…..


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