The Facts and Symptoms of Functional Alcoholism

What is a “Functioning Alcoholic?”

The terms “functional alcoholic” and “functioning alcoholic” refer to individuals who appear to be able to maintain (or are in fact actually maintaining) a high degree of life stability while seriously misusing or being dependent on alcohol.

While substance use-related functional impairments (difficulties at work or school, strained relationships, family disruption, health problems, financial issues, violence towards self and others, among others) are usually significant markers of alcoholism, not all individuals who meet criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence manifest these other lifestyle indicators of a problematic relationship with alcohol. 

How is it possible to function as an alcoholic?

For some individuals, the nature of their circumstances, lifestyle, financial resources, and support systems makes it easier for them to continue functioning (or appear to be functioning) even though they are abusing or dependent on alcohol.

For example, an individual whose job does not require attention to detail, high levels of structure, or frequent interpersonal interaction is less likely to have negative job-related consequences from drinking than a person whose same symptoms might be more readily apparent in a different employment setting. According to the USA’s National Institute of Health, functional alcoholics tend to be of middle age, well-educated, and have stable jobs and families.

How is functional alcoholism different from alcoholism in general?

The ICD-10 (The World Health Organization’s classification of physical and mental health disorders) does not differentiate “functional” alcoholism from other types. Specific categories do include Acute Intoxication, Harmful Use, Dependence, and Withdrawal. The clinical diagnosis of alcoholism is made based on objective analysis of specimens and self-report of usage. 

Functional Alcoholism Diagnosis and Treatment

People who believe they are experiencing functional alcoholism or know a functioning alcoholic should seek professional help. Our residential programme for alcohol addiction starts with a thorough assessment of the patient’s medical history, their substance use and indepth diagnosis. This is followed by an individualised treatment plan devised by the multidisciplinary team of professionals involved in the patient’s care and tailored to the patient’s personal needs and diagnosis.