The Facts and Symptoms of Functional Alcoholism

A functional or functioning alcoholic appears to be maintaining a stable life and social relationships, while seriously misusing alcohol or being addicted to alcohol. Functioning alcoholics often do not exhibit the usual signs of alcoholism to indicate a substance-use disorder, but they might nonetheless meet the diagnosis criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence.

Signs of Functional Alcoholism

The diagnosis of a substance use disorder should be made by a trained healthcare professional. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that an individual may be a functioning alcoholic:

  • Amount consumed: For women, more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week; and for men, four drinks per day or more than fourteen per week
  • Fluctuations in personality/mood: Unexplained changes in temperament or mood coinciding with access or lack of access to alcohol
  • Physical health problems
  • Changing appearance
  • Risk taking
  • Joking about harmful alcohol use
  • Secrecy
  • Drinking in the morning, throughout the day, and/or alone

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.

Functional Versus “Regular” Alcoholism

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 in depth 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.

Patients will undergo a gradual, medically monitored detoxification. As soon as the patient is stabilised on their detox regime, they take part in the treatment community, attending all the therapy groups, activities and educational lectures of our inpatient programme.

How Can Family Members Help?

Is your husband, wife, partner, colleague or other close relative abusing alcohol while maintaining appearances to the outside world?

Family members can help individuals struggling with alcoholism by compassionately supporting them in professional, clinical treatment programs. There are many education and support resources available for family members of alcoholics, including local mental health professionals and trusted medical professionals such as SFAD (Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs) and Drinkaware, among others.