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What Is Functional Alcoholism and How Is It Different From The “Real Thing”?

Let’s uncover the hidden realities behind this often-misunderstood condition.

Researched, written by Amber & The Team
Updated on January 21, 2024

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Being a functional alcoholic is far from the worst kind of alcoholism out there – especially when you consider that some people drink so much they can barely even get up in the morning.

However, that does not necessarily make functional alcoholism a good alternative, either.

But what is functional alcoholism really, and is it something you should rely on as a safe step away from “real” alcoholism?


What Does Functional Alcoholism Mean?


Functional alcoholism is a term to describe somebody who is alcoholic but still able to maintain an ordinary life.

This means that their jobs are stable, their long-term relationships are healthy, and they can do most things without their alcoholism actively interfering.

However, these people still have alcohol use disorder.

This means that they are dependent on alcohol and often require it to get through the day, even if they can hide a large portion of their alcoholism from the people around them.

While this may not be a problem outwardly, it can still be a major problem for them internally.


Is Functional Alcoholism Dangerous?


While it might not be as visible as other forms of alcoholism, it is important to understand that functional alcoholism can have some serious side effects.

Naturally, the biggest concern is the fact that it is still a type of alcoholism, which means that all of the same health risks and concerns are present.

Functional alcoholism can be incredibly damaging to the body as well as the mind, even if a person can “keep it together” and avoid any outward signs of alcoholism.

Some of the health issues that can come along with alcoholism, such as heart disease, liver damage, and blackouts, can be particularly damaging, even if they seem mild at first.

In addition to the health risks, functional alcoholism can also have some major impacts on a person’s mental health.

It is not uncommon for alcoholics, functional or otherwise, to experience depression and anxiety.

These tend to get worse as the physical damage worsens, which means that functional alcoholics may gradually find themselves becoming less functional as they continue to drink in the long term.


Should You Try To Avoid Functional Alcoholism?


Functional alcoholism is often misunderstood as a “controlled” form of alcoholism since it allows a person to keep functioning and keep a lot of the side effects hidden.

However, the fact remains that alcoholism is a serious and sometimes deadly addiction, and that functional alcoholism is no exception.

If you currently have an alcohol use disorder, the best thing you can do for yourself is to try to break your addiction.

Even if you can avoid all of the issues that would prevent you from functioning normally in society, you are still hurting yourself by remaining addicted to a substance that can be dangerous to your health in both the short term and long term.

Alcoholism is a serious matter, and seeking support can be important if you feel like you need help quitting.

Fortunately, there are several resources and programs out there designed to help people just like you quit drinking, and finding a good group to join can be an important part of helping yourself recover.

Functional alcoholism might be safe, but that does not necessarily make it a healthy or safe way to live.

A functioning alcoholic still has alcoholism, and their addiction can still be incredibly harmful to their body and mind, so getting third-party support from real experts makes a huge difference to your own recovery.

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