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What Is A Functional Alcoholic?

Functional alcoholism is a term that refers to the use of alcohol in ways that are not harmful or problematic. It can refer to an individual who drinks socially but manages their drinking, someone who has a few drinks at bedtime and wakes up refreshed, or someone with a drink while playing for better performance.

The line between functional alcoholism and problematic drinking is not always clear-cut.

Medically speaking, a functional alcoholic is referred to as having Alcohol Use Disorder. It is a diagnosed severe drinking problem.

Characteristics of Person With Functional Alcoholism

The following are some attitudes of functional alcoholics towards alcohol

  1.   Intense yearning: a person suffering from alcoholic dependence will frequently have the craving to drink.
  2.   Low to Zero Control: a functional alcoholic will seldom have the urge to stop drinking; even if they do, they can’t help it as there is no control to do so.
  3.   Heavy reliance: once a person with alcohol use disorder attempts to stop drinking, some withdrawal symptoms sets in, such as nausea, sweating, or shaking or the hands and the body
  4.   Ability to drink more or tolerate high alcohol levels:  once they start drinking, functional alcoholics will always want to drink more to get intoxicated to the level of the previous days.

How to identify a Functional Alcoholic

In general, the early stage of functional alcoholism bears no pronounce signs by which you can identify one with it, but as the case progresses, some of the symptoms you are likely to see are as follows, they include one or more of the following listed:

Repeated forgetfulness

A functional alcoholic often tends to forget things easily, such as tasks, meeting schedules, missing out on a child’s football match or recital.


There is a progressive loss of memory as a result of excessive use of alcohol. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it has been found that with aging, a functional alcoholic tends to lie unintentionally, a symptom of Korzakoff Syndrome, and difficulty with a speech indicating Progressive Aphasia, both of which are variants of Dementia.  Other symptoms include reduced thinking ability, poor judgment, inability to participate in conversations, and difficulty recognizing a familiar route or path.

Constant tiredness

Under stress, a high-functioning alcoholic would always complain of tiredness, get irritated quickly, and be fed up with complex tasks. They are constantly frustrated over little things that do not matter. Their frustration shares a thin line difference with that of chronic drunkards.

Loss of motivation and concentration

If one with alcohol use disorder is deprived of alcohol and cannot get a drink, such a person will seldom find the motivation to work. There is always a loss of concentration; he can not seem to have his mind fixed on the discussion at hand.

Talk about alcohol

Another way one could identify individuals dependent on alcohol to function is that they will always talk about alcohol and their desire to have a drink at that moment.


It is always familiar for people living with high functional alcoholism to deny their association with drinking when confronted by a loved one or family member. And because of this, they tend to cut their relationship with people that often question them regarding alcohol use. The downside to this is that they become so private and would always want to be alone to avoid any situation that would expose them.


Effect of Alcohol Use Disorder

In the US, someone with Alcohol Use Disorder is often categorized as either a binge drinker or a heavy drinker.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is a drinking habit that would see a male drink more than five glasses and a female more than four glasses of alcohol within two hours or at a go.

Within this timeframe, a person’s blood alcohol concentration is raised to about 0.08% or more. An increase beyond this threshold is detrimental to one’s mental health.

On the other hand, heavy drinking or High-intensity drinking is an example of drinking that takes the blood alcohol concentrations twice or more the threshold of binge drinking.

In general, drinking heavily can lead to an elevated concentration in blood alcohol level and can lead to the following health issues.

Occurrence of Blackout


Liver Related Diseases

Another health effect of binge and heavy drinking or high functioning alcoholic is the tendency to develop liver diseases. Generally, the liver becomes inflamed and swells.

 Functional alcoholism leads to progressive liver damage. This progression is three staged;

 Hepatic Steatosis

 Also known as Alcoholic fatty liver diseases.

 Excessive and continuous consumption of alcohol will lead to the accumulation of fats in the liver. In this stage, high-functioning alcoholics suffering from liver disease can be cured simply by regulating alcohol consumption or stopping alcohol intake.

Acute Alcoholic Hepatitis

The accumulation of chemicals present in alcoholic substances bruises the walls of the liver when being processed. The inflammation of the liver is the second stage of alcoholic liver damage. The only treatment to curing acute alcoholic hepatitis is total abstinence from alcohol consumption.

 Symptoms of acute alcoholic hepatitis in high functioning alcoholics include; weight loss, nausea, and vomiting, pain or swelling in the abdomen, jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes, fever, etc.


Alcoholic Cirrhosis is a complete bruising of the liver. It is the last stage of alcoholic liver disease in high functioning alcoholics. It leads to complete shutdown of the function and failure of the liver and is not treatable.


Other health effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism include;

    High blood pressure and damage to the digestive system

    Cancer of some organs and body parts such as breast, mouth, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum

    Reduced immune system functionality

    Stomach ulcer



The negative consequences and health challenges of alcohol use disorders cannot be overemphasized; family members should employ quick and effective treatment and management to help persons with alcohol problems.

Treatment Options for Functional Alcoholism

There are a series of ways to help one suffering from alcohol use disorder and substance use.


Medication use often proves effective, mostly when the patients are monitored and ensured they heed to it. It will only take a matter of time to see alcoholics find their way to recovery.


Conducting an intervention is one common way for family members and concerned individuals to help people with functional alcoholism. During the intervention, various treatment and management providers are present and a licensed medical practitioner who is experienced at handling people with problem drinking.

Group Therapy

Family Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Trauma Therapy

12 Step Therapy



Alcoholic use disorder is not an incurable disease. However, some of the health problems suffered might not be reversible; there is still hope for individuals diagnosed with it, and they can work their way through recovery. The intervention by their loved ones can help them live a good life by employing appropriate treatment supported with love and care. Although an alcoholic may experience withdrawal symptoms in the early stage of addiction treatment, and it may seem that the treatment is not working, with time, the withdrawal symptoms will subside, and the treatment proves effective.