Functioning Alcoholic Myth: The Truth About Alcohol Use Disorder

Functioning Alcoholic Myth: The Truth About Alcohol Use Disorder

Where Does the Functioning Alcoholic Myth Come From?

The term “functioning alcoholic” is often used when describing those who are living with an alcohol use disorder. Though the term challenges our understanding and perception of the individual suffering from an alcohol use disorder, it is a myth and misrepresentation of a serious disorder.

When you think of “alcoholic,” you picture someone whose life is in shambles; who cannot hold a steady job, or has a string of broken relationships. However, this is not always the picture of someone living with an addiction to alcohol. It may be surprising to some that people who appear successful can equally deal with alcoholism. The outward appearance of success perpetuates the myth of “functioning alcoholism.”  However, a person cannot function long-term or in a healthy manner while dealing with alcohol addiction.

Excessive Drinking Defined

To understand alcohol use disorder, it helps to understand what excessive drinking is. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking is characterized by binge drinking, drinking heavily, and/or consuming alcohol if pregnant or under the age of 21.

It is important to note that the CDC defines heavy drinking differently for men and women. The baseline for men is having 15 or more drinks per week. For women excessive drinking is having 8 or more drinks per week. Excessive or binge drinking increases the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder.

The Dangers of the Functioning Alcoholic Myth

Labeling anyone with an alcohol use disorder as “functioning” is a both misleading and dangerous myth. While one may appear to be functioning as a typical healthy person, the dependency on alcohol is anything but. When left untreated, alcoholism can be life-threatening. Untreated alcohol use disorder is extremely dangerous to those suffering, as well as for those around them. Someone with an alcohol addiction may continue to be unaware of their condition due to misleading terms like “functioning alcoholism” because it downplays the severity of the situation. Furthermore, it allows people who genuinely struggle with this disease to continue to live in denial about the need for treatment.

The term “functioning alcoholic” perpetuates the myth that a person can still be functioning while an alcoholic. Someone struggling with alcohol addiction may seem to be able to function, but this is usually not the case. Their dependence on alcohol has the ability to negatively affect each aspect of their lives. When left untreated an alcohol use disorder can be devastating. What may begin as a drink here or there, can develop into something beyond your control. 

Some active alcoholics may seem like they have themselves under control. However, their actions as a result of excessive or binge drinking can be incredibly dangerous. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which may cause an alcoholic to engage in risky behaviors, like drunk driving. Additionally, unaddressed alcohol misuse can lead to health issues, such as:

  • Liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain damage
  • A higher risk for some types of cancer

Characteristics of the Functioning Alcoholic Myth

A person who would might be seen as a “functioning alcoholic,” may not consume alcohol on a daily basis. They may not fit our understanding of what an alcoholic may do, act or the role they play. Typical signs of someone dealing with “functioning alcoholism” can include:

  • The need for alcohol in order to feel relaxed or calm down
  • Drinking in secret, alone, or early in the day
  • Black out drinking
  • Viewing alcohol as a reward

Other signs of an alcohol abuse disorder may include joking about having a problem, neglecting responsibilities at home or work, denying a problem or getting angry when help is offered. 

Substance Abuse Treatment in Colorado

When labeled as “functioning alcoholism” seeking treatment may seem unnecessary. If alcohol has yet to control all aspects of life, it doesn’t mean you’re in control. When alcohol controls any part of your life seeking treatment is vital.

Everyone dealing with an addiction has unique needs and will need an individualized treatment plan. Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado offers a range of programs to support you on your recovery journey. If you think you or someone you love might have a problem, please contact us to speak to one of our trustworthy addiction specialists today.