Maybe you drink quite a bit, and various people in your life have expressed concern that you have alcohol issues. You’ve said no because you manage to hold down a job, pay your own way, and parent well. However, one or two things lately have caused you to wonder if these folks did have a point after all. The reality is that many alcoholics are high-functioning.

Alcoholism Takes Many Forms

Some people with alcohol addiction issues can barely function. Others function pretty well (or do until something bad happens). You are never too old or too young to be an alcoholic, either.

Functional alcoholics function in society despite their issues, but their ability to do so is likely time-limited. That is why many experts refer to them as “currently functioning alcoholics” rather than “high-functioning alcoholics.”

A currently functional alcoholic may not often miss work, family obligations, and other responsibilities. This person may seem healthy, but just below the surface lurk cravings that can never be satisfied and obsessive thoughts about the next drink.

The warning signs of alcoholism include denial, heavy drinking, hiding the extent of alcohol use from others, and withdrawal symptoms when going without alcohol for eight or more hours. These indicators apply to currently functioning alcoholics.

A Few Questions Are Helpful

Alcohol dependency can happen very gradually. That is one reason some functional alcoholics are in denial about the extent of their issues. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you might have a problem.

  • Do you frequently drink more or longer than you meant to?
  • Has alcohol use caused problems at work or in relationships?
  • Do you participate in risky behaviors when you drink? (Examples include driving under the influence, unsafe sex, and caring for children.)
  • Do you experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink?
  • Must you have a drink first thing when you arrive home?
  • If you cannot have a drink due to a meeting or obligation, do you get annoyed and irritable?
  • Have loved ones expressed concern about your drinking, and did it annoy you?
  • Do you use meals or the time of day to justify drinking?
  • Do you black out sometimes?

Even if you drink only, say, three or four times a year, you could still have a serious alcohol issue. A lot has to do with how much you drink and what happens when you drink.

Common Risk Factors Apply to Many Currently Functional Alcoholics

Functional alcoholics tend to have more than five drinks a day (called binge drinking) and deal with tremendous stress. They can be female or male but are likelier to be well-educated and middle-aged with stable families and jobs.

Currently functioning alcoholics, like other types of alcoholics, have high odds of a concurrent mental health problem and a loved one with alcoholism or addiction. Depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia are fairly common among alcoholics, for example.

The term, “functional alcoholic,” can be misleading because it implies someone will remain functional for a lifetime. “Currently functioning” is more accurate. These alcoholics may be gainfully employed and seemingly happy, but alcoholism has a way of infiltrating lives.