When most people think of an alcoholic, they picture someone with tattered clothes, unkempt hair, no job, and is most likely on the streets. This is not always the truth. Contrary to this stereotype, alcoholics can be very successful and well educated, but simply have a drinking problem that they cannot control, even if it seems like they have control everywhere else in their life.
We’ve probably all heard of the term “functioning alcoholic” before, but what does it really mean? The only difference between an alcoholic and a functioning alcoholic is that a functioning alcoholic can still hold down a job, keep their families intact, and adhere to most of their responsibilities while maintaining a very intimate relationship with alcohol.
Below are some of the most common misconceptions about highly functional alcoholics that people who do not have the disease of addiction may not understand.
Myth #1. High-functioning alcoholics do not need treatment.
This is the most common misconception. Just because someone seems to be able to control their responsibilities and drink at an alarming rate doesn’t mean that they do not need help. Functioning alcoholics may have graduate degrees and a high-ranking position within a corporation, but behind the scenes, there are sections of their lives that are unraveling. They may forget a loved one’s birthday or their anniversary, and while this seems innocent, instances like this may be an indicator that things are not functioning as well as it seems.
Myth #2. High-functioning alcoholics just drink to relax after work.
This may be true, but the more concerning issue to this statement is why they feel the need to have a drink after work every day. Many functioning alcoholics suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety without realizing it. The hectic lifestyle and amount of responsibility that they have at work might distract them from their personal issues, and when they get home they feel justified to drink because their day was stressful. However, they are only just putting their unresolved issues to the side, while relying on a physically and mentally unhealthy coping mechanism. These things will eventually surface and having a drink after work only adds more pressure to the bottled emotions that are already there.
Myth #3. High-functioning alcoholics aren’t true alcoholics because they are able to limit themselves.
This statement is yet another myth. If you or someone you know is a functioning alcoholic, you may say that you don’t drink during the week, or that you only drink wine or beer. However, these “limitations” are exactly what makes a person a functioning alcoholic because he or she is just justifying the alcoholism through these self-imposed rules. By presenting boundaries to outsiders, they make it seem like they have a handle on their situation when in reality they break their own rules when they are out of the public eye. Functioning alcoholics will often avoid social events or family gatherings so others do not see their real habits. This is yet another aspect of their lives that they can effectively control.
Myth #4. High-functioning alcoholics know when they need help.
Sure, many high-functioning alcoholics are highly educated and very successful in their lives. However, they are either too ashamed of their habits or blind to alcoholism to ask for help. Their pride can make it nearly impossible to talk to them about their alcoholism because they are usually deep in denial by that time and cannot be convinced of anything. Many people will naturally take offense to someone trying to tell them what they need to do, especially when they feel that they have everything under control.
Myth #5. High-functioning alcoholics do not display the same behavior as low-functioning alcoholics when they do not have a drink.
Though you may see a calm and smiling person on the outside when he or she realizes there is no booze at the party, there is a storm raging on the inside for the high-functioning alcoholic. This is a part of the façade that functional alcoholics try to maintain to keep others from suspecting their alcoholism. Functional alcoholics will become irritable and may cancel plans that do not involve alcohol since most need the substance around to feel relaxed.
Functional alcoholism is a growing problem. Many high-functioning alcoholics will joke about their condition, but the truth is that at the end of the day, an alcoholic is still an alcoholic. High-functioning alcoholism needs to be treated with a specific treatment plan tailored to meet the pressing demands of a functioning alcoholic’s life. These individuals must be able to still control the important things in their lives like family and careers while receiving treatment for their disease.