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Functional Alcoholism: What You Need To Know

Over 14 million Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism can impact all areas of your functioning. It can disrupt your relationships, impact your physical and mental health, and shatter your self-esteem.

That said, many people hold misconceptions about what constitutes an addiction. As a result, functional alcoholism often flies under the radar- people don't suspect they have a problem if they're able to adhere to their usual routine.

This insidious sense of false confidence can lead to devastating consequences for individuals and their loved ones. Let's get into what you need to know.

What Is Functional Alcoholism?

Although it isn't a formal diagnosis, functional alcoholism refers to maintaining a semblance of normalcy while drinking a high volume of alcohol. Someone with functional alcoholism may be able to hold a high-paying job, have a robust social life, and essentially look great to the outside world.

Even if they occasionally drink too much in public, others may dismiss their habit as simply 'partying' or 'letting loose.' Additionally, many functional alcoholics shield their consumption by only drinking privately.

Other common symptoms of functional alcoholism include:

  • denial: assuming they don't have a problem because they have a high-paying job, no medical issues, a home, etc.

  • lying about alcohol consumption

  • taking great lengths to mitigate hangovers or other alcohol-related effects

  • restlessness in social settings: feeling uncomfortable when alcohol isn't available, or when they're trying to moderate their drinking around others)

  • making frequent jokes about alcohol consumption

  • saving calories to drink or using mealtimes as an excuse to begin drinking

  • feeling a persistent sense of depression

  • feeling like a fraud and experiencing immense shame over drinking

Functional alcoholism exists everywhere. It's in religious sectors, suburban neighborhoods, college campuses, and successful, wealthy companies. Most of all, it exists in people who otherwise appear "normal."

What Makes Functional Alcoholism So Dangerous?

Functional alcoholism can be one of the first signs of a progressive alcohol use disorder. Some people remain in this phase for several years or decades. But that doesn't mean the individual isn't exempt from concerning consequences.

Any form of excessive alcohol consumption can dramatically impact the quality of someone's life. Some main issues include:

  • relationship problems, particularly in intimate relationships

  • lack of consistent or appropriate parenting when taking care of minors

  • declining work performance

  • lethargy and fatigue during the day

  • mood swings

  • feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness

Additionally, heavy drinking is associated with numerous health issues, including:

  • liver disease

  • cancer

  • pancreatitis

  • immune system deficiencies

  • brain damage

  • gastrointestinal problems

  • ulcers

  • malnourishment

  • premature death

Functional alcoholism remains dangerous because people are more likely to deny the problem. For instance, they might point to someone who loses their job or receives a DUI and justify that their drinking isn't so bad. They might feel embarrassed to reach out for professional support because they don't think anyone will take their situation seriously.

What Should You Do If You're Struggling?

Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards profound change. It's a crucial step because you can start to take action once you have insight into your patterns.

Remember that alcoholism can be both tricky and sneaky. It's normal to want to discount your drinking or bargain with yourself. Bargaining can sound like statements like I'll only drink on weekends from now on, or I'm only going to have two drinks each night. You might even acknowledge the problem to someone else only for them to tell you, You don't even drink that much!

In some cases, if you can commit to your hard rules, this kind of moderation is possible. Harm reduction remains a viable approach in treating alcohol use disorder. Additionally, some people who struggle with periods of binge drinking find that stress exacerbates their alcohol cravings. By focusing on stress management, they tend to drink less.

But if you consistently break your own rules and consistently struggle to moderate your consumption, it may be time to consider professional treatment. Whether you have a conversation with your primary care physician, contact a therapist, or research a local detox, simply reaching out for help can make a tremendous difference.

Many experts agree that addiction progressively worsens over time. It's often easier to treat your struggles before losing things you value, rather than the other way around.

Only you can decide your recovery, but you owe it to yourself to live a healthy and fulfilling life. If you have a family or career that you value, this pressure may be even more paramount.

Treating Functional Alcoholism Effectively

Functional alcoholism often requires a comprehensive treatment plan. Recovery is possible, but it's important to acknowledge your drinking and find the willingness to make a change in your life.

At The Resurface Group, we are here to support you on your journey. We understand the complex nuances of alcoholism, and we help people every single day. Contact us to learn more.

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