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Many people have their own perception on what alcoholism is and how alcoholics act and behave. However, in the case of functioning alcoholics, this perception is very far from the truth and, in turn, makes it much harder to spot the signs.

The signs can be very subtle; the person may seem completely fine to the outside world. However, there are five key signs of a functioning alcoholic to be aware of; each of these signs is addressed in this article.

Five signs of a functioning alcoholic 

A functioning alcoholic is someone who has a drinking problem but is still able to function generally well in their normal day-today life. They may be able to hold down a job and perform well at work, maintain healthy personal relationships, have an active social life, and stay well-groomed. Often, the only people who notice a functioning alcoholic’s unhealthy drinking behaviours are those who are closest to them, and even then, the signs of a functioning alcoholic can be very difficult to spot.

If you’re worried that someone you care about may be a functioning alcoholic, we have outlined the five key signs of a functioning alcoholic to look out for, and provided information on the help that’s available.

Am I a functioning alcoholic? The key signs

1. Regular drinking

The first sign of a functioning alcoholic is drinking regularly. They may frequently drink to excess and as they have built a tolerance to alcohol over time, they may not necessarily appear drunk or suffer from an obvious hangover the next day.

It may seem as though they always have a drink in their hand and they may try to justify or find excuses to have a drink, such as saying that they’ve had a stressful day at work, they need it to unwind before bed or they want to celebrate that it’s finally the weekend.

2. Having a social life that revolves around alcohol

As well as drinking alcohol regularly at home or even alone, you may notice that the person’s social life tends to revolve around alcohol. For example, you may find that they only want to go to events where they are able to consume alcohol, such as weddings and parties, and they may be less enthusiastic to go to events where alcohol consumption isn’t seen as being the norm, such as days out with their children.

Another sign of a functioning alcoholic is that they may find it difficult to socialise with other people when they haven’t had a drink. They may need alcohol to feel confident or relaxed in front of others and may seem completely different when they are sober.

3. Secretive behaviour

You may also notice that the person is quite secretive about their whereabouts or drinking habits. They may try to conceal their drinking from you and lie about where they have been. They may also start storing alcohol in strange places, such as in their car or in the garden shed, in an attempt to prevent you from finding it and seeing how much they have.

4. Showing subtle withdrawal symptoms

You may notice that they display some withdrawal symptoms when they haven’t had a drink for a couple of days, but that the symptoms don’t really prevent them from completing their normal day-to-day tasks. You may find that they become irritable and restless, and may have random angry outbursts that seem out of character for them, and which only seem to happen behind closed doors. They may also seem to be quite ‘down’ or withdrawn when they haven’t had a drink, and need alcohol to ‘perk them up’ again. If they have ever promised to try and cut back on their drinking, you may have found that after a few days or weeks, they return to alcohol.

5. Being defensive or flippant about their alcohol consumption

Another sign of a functioning alcoholic is that they can become defensive about their drinking habits if you or other people mention it to them. They may try to downplay the amount and frequency of their drinking or blame external factors for them wanting to have a drink, such as “I’m under a lot of pressure at work”.

On the other hand, the person may appear to be flippant and unconcerned about their drinking behaviours and may even make jokes about how much they drink. They might mock you for being concerned about them and try to convince you that you’re getting worried over nothing.

How to talk to a functioning alcoholic

If you think that someone you care about may be displaying the signs of a functioning alcoholic, it’s really important to have an open and honest conversation with them about their drinking. Here are some tips:

  • Speak to them in private and in a place where they’re likely to feel relaxed and comfortable. This makes it more likely they’ll open up to you
  • Don’t be judgemental or accusatory, even if you’re met with denial, as this will only make them feel ‘attacked’ and criticised. Make the conversation as much about you as it is about them by saying things like “I’m worried about you”. Be careful about the tone you use but also don’t be surprised if they get angry and don’t want to speak to you. You may both feel angry so it’s important for you to stay calm
  • Sensitively explain to the person the impact their drinking is having on other people. They may not realise that anyone has even noticed their drinking habits and this might be the wake-up call they needed
  • Let them know you’re there for them and have their best interests at heart. Letting them know you’re always there to listen to them and support them means that they’re more likely to come to you when they’re struggling instead of bottling things up or being secretive

Treatment for functioning alcoholics at Manor Clinic

It’s important that functioning alcoholics get the professional help they need to overcome their unhealthy behaviours and prevent their alcoholism from becoming worse. It’s crucial that you’re there to support them on this journey.

You could offer to contact Manor Clinic directly on your loved one’s behalf to discuss the alcohol addiction treatment that we can provide to a functioning alcoholic, and discuss how we can help them get back on track.

Our Addiction Treatment Programme provides:

  • A free, no obligation addiction assessment
  • Medically assisted withdrawal alcohol detoxification for your loved one’s alcohol problem, if this is required
  • Structured group therapy
  • A high quality family programme
  • Access to 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for life
  • Free family support for life

We are also able to provide advice and support on staging an intervention to help people enter treatment.

With evidence-based treatment at a specialist alcohol rehab centre, high functioning alcoholics can reduce their drinking, develop an understanding of the causes and triggers for their unhealthy behaviours, and take steps towards recovery.

This blog was reviewed by Jacqui Newbold, (FDAP Accredited, NVQ 2,3 & 4 in Care/Mental health, Level 3 counselling, Advance level 4 in counselling), Addictions and Aftercare Manager at Manor Clinic.

Finding the right rehab clinic for you is imperative. For more information on our alcohol rehab and alcohol detox services click here. Our specialist, Hampshire-based team of clinicians and counsellors, will help you to get your life back on track. 

Coronavirus information

While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog.

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