Is there really such a thing as a functioning alcoholic? This concept sometimes can spark heated discussions, because people can get quite upset and heated about such debates, especially when it hits close to home.
It is true that many alcoholics do function for years or even decades while managing to hold together some sort of life while drinking alcoholically. I did it myself for over a decade, though admittedly I was spiraling out of control at the end. But I can definitely see how some people do manage to hold down a job (I still had mine) even though their drinking continues to worsen over time.
Friends and family members might beg to differ from this classic analysis, because they see more of the truth, and realize just how big a toll the addiction is taking on the alcoholic. For example, even though the person might hold it together enough to keep their job, they might become more and more isolated over the years, and drift further and further away from friends and family. Is this really “functional?” Some would argue that it is not. Sure, they are still keeping a roof over their head and they may even hold down the job, but from a social standpoint they are falling apart.
It might be enlightening to remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid when thinking about the level that an alcoholic is functioning at. Remember the old pyramid that has basic needs and survival at the bottom, then as you move up there are the family and friends, then things like higher purpose, love, self esteem, and so on? Any alcoholic who is still drinking can honestly take a look at that pyramid and see how they have dropped down at least a level or two. Think about it: eventually an alcoholic who is really bad off will be living on the streets, eating scraps, begging for money for their next bottle and simply digging out a mere existence. Forget about all those higher levels on the pyramid and things like self actualization and achieving goals and living with purpose….that stuff becomes out of the question. Eventually, the alcoholic who spirals out of control does not even want people around. They prefer to drink in isolation and simply medicate themselves.
Sure you can say that such a person is still functioning, as they are managing to stay alive and have at least some enjoyment in life. But essentially the alcoholic is miserable at this point, and they only get to that “happy drunk place” for maybe an hour or two out of every week (if that). The denial that keeps people drinking is that they hold on fast to that hour or two of happiness, believing that it is the only path that they have to ever be happy again, and that no path in sobriety can ever give them that same level of passion or pleasure again. This is the trap of denial that keeps the alcoholic from giving sobriety a chance.
So yes, it is possible to stay completely smashed for ninety percent of the time and still be able to keep yourself alive and possibly even employed. But if you are truly alcoholic and your condition gets progressively worse, then your quality of life will continue to drop until you become a shell of a human being, only fit for a cycle of endless consumption….never contributing anything meaningful to society. Functional, but only at a very basic level.
And it’s not much of a life.