What Is a “Functioning Alcoholic”? Signs, Dangers, Help

functional alcoholic

John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For some people, AUD may also mean more than physical dependence, but a stress reliever or source of psychological escape.

functional alcoholic

Because he is a member of a support group that stresses the importance of anonymity at the public level, he does not use his photograph or his real name on this website. If you are concerned about your loved one’s drinking, it can be helpful to join a support group such as Al-Anon. Such groups can offer valuable support, encouragement, advice, and information.

Why we no longer say high-functioning alcoholic

Instead, the DSM-5 has established AUD as the term to replace previous stigmatizing terms such as alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism. However, this and other related misnomers such as “functional alcoholic” are no longer used because of the potential stigma that can prevent someone from seeking help. One sign that someone may have alcohol use disorder is that clonidine withdrawal syndrome they consume excessive amounts of alcohol. This can look like binge drinking (drinking a lot over a short period) or heavy drinking (drinking a lot over a more extended period). Below are some signs that you or someone you love may be living with alcohol use disorder. These signs don’t always affect a person’s ability to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities.

  1. “Functioning alcoholic” is an outdated term that in the past was used to describe people with alcohol use disorder who appear to meet their everyday responsibilities.
  2. The National Institute of Health suggests that loved ones should start by talking about their concerns.
  3. These signs don’t always affect a person’s ability to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities.

Over time, these minor signs can snowball into more significant issues. It is not uncommon for individuals with AUD to experience conflict with family and friends, and have drinking negatively impact their job, schooling, and overall safety. For this reason, these factors are a part of the diagnostic criteria. It can lead to liver disease, pancreatitis, some forms of cancer, brain damage, serious memory loss, and high blood pressure. It also makes someone more likely to die in a car wreck or from murder or suicide.

Drinking Heavily and Excessively

In the short term, alcohol use increases the risk for alcohol poisoning, fetal alcohol syndrome, accidents, injuries, violence, and risky sexual behavior. Usually, it is only when their continued drinking becomes more painful than the prospect of going through the pain of alcohol withdrawal, will they finally reach out for help. They may try to quit independently, but the withdrawals are too unpleasant or severe.

The National Institute of Health suggests that loved ones should start by talking about their concerns. Instead, voice your concerns, share how their drinking is affecting others, and suggest ways that you can help them talk to a doctor or join a support group. Family members may feel on edge and worried about their loved ones drinking.

functional alcoholic

Since you only need to fulfill 2 or more of the DSM-5 criteria within the last year to be diagnosed with AUD, you might still be fully contributing to your home life, job, and other areas of your life. You could have AUD even if you are able to keep a relatively normal life if you fulfill at least two of the DSM-5 criteria for alcohol and migraines the condition. In “case management,” a professional may work with you one-on-one. Outpatient programs make it possible for you to get treatment during the day and still live at home. By Buddy TBuddy T is a writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

If you have AUD but are not connected with treatment, the risk of progressing to more severe AUD is much greater. People who are close to a person with AUD may need support to understand how to help their loved ones. However, a doctor should recommend the best type of treatment for each person since the severity and presentation can vary from person to person. The most well-known support group is Alcoholics Anonymous, but there are many other 12-step programs. The incredibly important first step is to recognize your need for help and move past denial.

The condition causes changes in the brain that decrease the ability to quit on your own. This makes it important to seek medical treatment and peer support in your recovery process. The longer you live with AUD, the higher your risk of developing complications that can lead to death. According to 2020 data by the CDC, nearly 30,000 people died that year from alcoholic liver disease (cirrhosis).

How to Recognize a Functional Alcoholic

However, this kind of stigma is in large part the reason the DSM-5 is no longer using the term in favor of AUD.

High-functioning alcoholic

Consider speaking to your primary care provider about your concerns or attending a support group as a first step. These therapies are available one-on-one or in small groups in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Some people with AUD may attend an inpatient recovery program, in which they stay at a facility for at least 28 days to receive concentrated treatment in a controlled environment. It can be hard to stop enabling someone you care about once you’ve recognized it. Try to talk openly to the person about your concerns, and encourage them to seek help from resources like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Media portrayal of people with alcohol use disorder is often stereotypical and does not accurately reflect the complexity of alcoholism as a disease. In this article, learn more about why the term “functioning alcoholic” is outdated and the impact of living with untreated alcohol use disorder. While the term “alcoholic” was used in the past but is now viewed dextromethorphan abuse as outdated and stigmatizing. Today, healthcare professionals would say that a person has an alcohol use disorder (AUD). If people with high functioning AUD do not get treatment, the disease may progress to a point at which their dependence significantly impacts their day-to-day lives. Some people seem to be just fine even though they misuse alcohol.

Drinking Alone, Secretly, or at Unconventional Times

In addition to the health effects of having an alcohol use disorder, it can also take a toll on relationships. Drinking doesn’t just affect the individual; it affects the entire family unit. This is why psychological counseling, such as talk therapy, is important if you’re recovering from AUD. This can help you learn new coping skills so you can turn to other behaviors instead of drinking in order to live a healthier life. Since people with high-functioning AUD can be on the milder spectrum of the condition, the earlier treatment happens, the more it may be possible to avoid a progression.

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