7 Warning Signs of Functional Alcoholism

By on January 27, 2020
Functional Alcoholism

Although the destructive capability of alcohol addiction is well known, many people are unaware of the ways addiction can remain hidden in individuals who do not fit the stereotypical behavior of an alcoholic. For individuals with functional alcoholism, small signs are overlooked in favor of the general appearance of having one’s life together. Functional alcoholism can be just as dangerous, however. If you or someone you know is showing these warning signs, it may an indication of functional alcohol addiction.

Difficulty Sticking to Limits


Many heavy drinkers develop a high tolerance that allows for high consumption with only moderate inebriation. Many functional alcoholics will set out to have a light night of drinking then end up having several more than planned. Even when this doesn’t lead to behaving outwardly excessively-inebriated, that doesn’t stop the inability to limit from being a large red flag.

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Needing Alcohol to Relax

Alcohol is a popular way to unwind or deal with nerves and it’s used as such even by those who are not addicted. When someone begins to see alcohol as an essential part of calming down or relieving stress, however, that is a potential warning sign.

Drinking in Secret

One big behavioral difference between functional alcoholism and “regular” alcoholism is the shame associated with it. While your first thought of an alcoholic maybe someone who is extremely inebriated all day long and visibly so, many people dealing with functional alcoholism feel more shame about it and hide their drinking.

Making Decisions Around Drinking

A strong indicator of functional alcoholism is an individual who can remain outwardly composed in most settings but is still allowing alcohol to rule decision making in their life. Behavior such as avoiding an opportunity to socialize without drinks in order to stay home and drink alone, for example, can be a sign that an individual is dealing with functional alcoholism.

Irritability During Extended Periods of Sobriety

An area where functional alcoholism can be difficult to distinguish from the more traditional understanding of alcoholism is in the effect of extended periods of sobriety outside of the individual’s desired norms. While a functional alcoholic may not require maintaining the same levels of inebriation for as long, the anxiety and irritability that comes with being sober when they do not want to be are similar.

Loss of Memory While Drinking

Memory loss is a side effect of drinking that can affect anyone, but individuals become more susceptible to it with consistent alcohol consumption. When even a night of light drinking where full intoxication was never reached results in partial or total memory loss, that may be an indicator of functional alcoholism resulting in a quicker loss of memory capacity.

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Joking About Alcoholism

Humor is a popular defense mechanism in a variety of settings, and one major difference between functional versus “regular” alcoholism is the joking nature that the individual takes when discussing drinking. Often people who are struggling with functional alcoholism will make jokes about being an alcoholic. The supposedly-ironic use of the phrase is designed to cut the tension and undercut any concerns about how much they are drinking before they can be raised. By framing the idea as laughable it allows for the avoidance of any uncomfortable consideration or conversation about the actual concerns related to how much or how often they are consuming alcohol.

Although functional alcoholism may not be as easy to identify as the more traditional understanding, and may not appear to be as damaging, that doesn’t mean it is not a serious and potentially life-ruining affliction. Understanding how to identify warning signs and seek treatment options early is a key step in preventing further damage from occurring. If you or someone you love is displaying one or more of these signs, take the time to assess the situation and determine if further treatment is required.

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7 Warning Signs of Functional Alcoholism