With over fifteen million people in the US suffering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it’s very likely that you have a friend or loved one grappling with a serious drinking problem, and it’s even possible that that person is you. But sometimes it can be difficult to tell who has a problem and who doesn’t, because not all alcoholics fit the stereotype with out-of-control behavior, violent outbursts, or trouble with the law. With the lines being so ill-defined at the outset of the illness, how do you know if you are living with a functional alcoholic?
Determining whether someone is on the path to full-blown alcoholism can be difficult, because many people who are, in fact, addicted to alcohol don’t fit the traditional stereotype. These people are often called “functional alcoholics,” because from the outside, they seem to have their lives together. They get up in the morning and go to work, they take care of their kids and households – their relationships are, for the most part, intact. However, despite being able to keep their lives in order, if they have a physical and/or emotional dependence on alcohol, then they are, by definition, alcoholics, and it is likely just a matter of time before this dependence will being to impact their functionality.
Living with a Functional Alcoholic – Know the Signs
Whether it’s your husband, wife, child, parent or roommate, alcoholism can only go on for so long, before it starts to have an impact.
Here are some indicators that you’re living with a functional alcoholic:
- Does the person drink more than what is considered “moderate”? According to the Center for Disease Control, moderate drinking consists of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
- Does the person get drunk unintentionally? If you notice your loved one often getting drunk when everyone else is drinking moderately, this may be a sign of alcoholism.
- Does the person hide their drinking? Sometimes functional alcoholics will try and cover up their drinking by hiding the evidence at the bottom of the trash or drinking before coming home from work.
- Does the person drink during the day or when he or she is alone? If a person needs alcohol to get going in the morning, this is a big indicator of a problem.
- Does the person drink and drive? Drunk driving kills thirty people each day in the United States alone. If your loved one frequently drinks and drives, it is just a matter of time before he or she ends up with a DUI – or worse – ends up causing an accident in which others are seriously injured or killed.
- Does the person forget what they did while drinking? Lapses in memory regarding behavior, words, and events indicates extreme intoxication. Meanwhile, blacking out is a dangerous sign that a person’s drinking has gotten out of control.
Is it possible to be an alcoholic and not have the addiction ruin your life and your health?
The problem with alcoholism is largely one of control. If you don’t have control of your drinking, then eventually, the alcohol will have complete control of you. And when this happens maintaining normal functionality becomes difficult to impossible. It may be that a person can drink excessively for many years before it impacts their job, their relationships and their overall stability. But eventually, if left unchecked, it will reach a tipping point.
If you or your loved one is dealing with an alcohol addiction, eventually it will negatively impact both your relationships and your health, and at that point, the only way out is absolute sobriety.
What is the difference between someone who enjoys drinking in a way that is manageable and someone who is on a path that will eventually lead to addiction?
The essential problem is that no one starts out as an alcoholic, and it is very difficult to pinpoint that exact place on the timeline where drinking crosses over from manageable to unmanageable. Everyone’s tolerance levels are different and while some people can enjoy a lifetime of moderate drinking without it ever becoming a problem, for others, what starts out as a social outlet quickly spirals into an out-of-control addiction.
However, scientists have found that some people are more prone to becoming alcoholics than others. For example, psychiatrists have discovered a link between alcoholism and depression and other mental health issues. Additionally, people who experienced childhood trauma are also more likely to suffer from alcoholism later in life. Very often, alcohol is an attempt at self-medicating, and this is why it’s so important to seek medical help for mental health issues as soon as they are discovered.
Are You an Alcoholic?
Try to Stop Drinking and See What Happens
It’s a good idea for everyone who drinks to take stock of their habit from time to time to make sure it hasn’t become unmanageable. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about Dry January and the benefits of taking the first month of the year off from drinking to clear the system and make sure there is no addiction developing after a season of holiday parties and stress.
This is a great way to start the year, but if you feel like you or a loved one need to reevaluate now, there really is no time like the present. Have everyone in the family participate and even see if members of your extended social group would like to take part as well. If it’s difficult or impossible to cut alcohol out of your life, the best time to find out and do something about it is right now, because every day you feed the addiction, it gets stronger and takes a greater hold of your life.