Is My Partner a Functioning Alcoholic?

If you or a loved one are a functioning alcoholic, it’s important to note relevant consequences, risk factors, and treatment options.

The Prevalence of Alcoholism

About 15 million people over the age of 12 in the U.S. have some form of alcohol use disorder. Of the five different subtypes of alcoholism, functional alcoholism accounts for about 20%. There are several differences between a functioning alcoholic and a non-functioning alcoholic. Finding out precisely if your partner is a fully functioning alcoholic can help you provide them with the care they need. 1
Functioning Alcoholic

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What Is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

The stereotypical picture of an alcoholic is an individual who exhibits instability or aggression due to a drinking problem. This is, however, not always the case, as there are people who struggle with alcohol-based substance abuse while leading seemingly perfect everyday lives. 2
This category of individuals is called high-functioning alcoholics, unlike non-functioning alcoholics who display all the outward signs of alcohol-based substance use disorder. High-functioning alcoholics can maintain control of their lives. Several fully functioning alcoholics can manage day-to-day activities well and have no issues with personal and work relationships.

Consequences of Living with a Functional Level of Alcoholism

As a result of the control high functioning alcoholics seem to have over their lives, it can be challenging to spot an alcohol-based substance use disorder or functioning alcoholic behavior. As a result, it could take an extremely long time to notice the effects of alcohol dependence.

Most people living with a functional level of alcoholism live in denial and refuse to acknowledge a problem with alcohol. While they may seem to have everything figured out, individuals with functional alcoholism may experience issues such as depression, insomnia, and panic attacks. They may also exhibit aggressive behavior and anger issues.

Risk Factors of Functioning Alcoholics

While there are no proven causes for functional alcoholism, a few factors have been shown to indicate a greater risk of developing functional alcoholism. Studies have also revealed that about a fifth of people living with functioning alcoholism can have good jobs and families in their middle ages. 2
The following could contribute to the chances of developing functional alcoholism:

Are You or Your Partner a Functioning Alcoholic?

Life as a high-functioning alcoholic in denial can be challenging, for both the individual and their loved ones. There’s the pressure to maintain a positive public image while still being dependent on alcohol to self-help and drown issues that need to be addressed. This can take an exhausting toll on every aspect of an individual’s life. This eventually seeps into personal and work relationships, causing cracks and fractures that will eventually burst if not appropriately addressed. 3

Symptoms of Functional Alcoholism

The following are functional alcoholic symptoms that may indicate either you or your partner may be dealing with functional alcoholism:

How to Discuss Health Issues with a Functional Alcoholic

It can be tricky to approach the issue of alcoholism with a functional alcoholic. This is caused by the fact that they are usually in denial about the extent of their drinking. The following tips can help you get through to a high-functioning alcoholic in denial.

Talk When They Are in a Good Mood

The best time to talk to a fully functioning alcoholic about their substance use problem is when they are sober and in a good mood. This helps you ensure that they do not take you out of context or react based on their current circumstances. You will also have the greatest chance of success in getting them to seek treatment. 4

Share Your Past Knowledge

Before you decide to talk to a fully functioning alcoholic about their substance use disorder, you should do sufficient research on the topic. Then, you can consider becoming part of a support group for loved ones of individuals with alcohol-based substance use disorders. Here, you meet with people in your shoes who can share their experiences to help you better understand the condition.

Stand Firm with Your Words

One of the characteristics of a functional alcoholic is denial. While they will always try to prove that they do not have any problems controlling their drinking, you have to stand firm with your words and make them see reason.

Use a Compassionate Tone to Pass Your Message

When talking to a functional alcoholic, you shouldn’t make it seem like you accuse or blame them for substance abuse. Instead, it would help if you took an honest, compassionate, and direct approach in passing your message.

Leave Immediately

This may not be easy when the person is a loved one. It might, however, be the best line of action if the person begins to get violent or exhibit domestic abuse while showing signs of a high functioning addiction.

Downsides of Being a Functional Alcoholic

There are several functioning alcoholic behaviors and health problems. They are made worse because functional alcoholics often fail to see abnormal consumption of alcohol as a problem. This is primarily because they can continue leading everyday lives and functioning properly.

Yet, although they seemingly have everything under control, they still fall victim to the effects of the misuse of alcohol. Over time, consumption of highly alcoholic substances may elicit several health conditions, including liver damage. 4


Certain functional alcoholics use alcohol to numb the effect of mental burdens, including depression. This, in the long term, can worsen and lead to severe forms of depression. At the same time, others may experience mental health concerns due to their drinking. Some mental health issues experienced by functional alcoholics include anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Low Productivity

While high functioning alcoholics’ personality traits may exhibit stability, their day-to-day activities suffer from it without realizing it. As time goes by, the signs of a high functioning addiction become apparent with resultant issues at school, work, transcending into financial problems, and even unemployment.

Living in The State of Denial

Denial is one of the most common functional alcoholic symptoms. This generally revolves around the inability to admit an alcohol problem exists. By keeping parts of their life hidden from loved ones, they are often unaware of the damage being done to their health and relationship with others.

Treatments for Functioning Alcoholism

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Several stages are employed while properly treating high functioning alcoholic health problems, including a combination of medications, therapy, and support groups. 5


Detoxification may be necessary depending on the severity of alcoholism and functioning alcoholic behavior. Medical specialists will regularly evaluate withdrawal symptoms during detox and may prescribe drugs to address any severe side effects. This is required since alcohol withdrawal can be deadly in some circumstances. In addition, medication-based intervention may be necessary in severe cases of withdrawal due to long-term alcohol or highly alcoholic use.

Residential Care

Individuals can live in a treatment facility full time if they need intensive treatment, expert care, or medication intervention to prevent relapses. In addition, relating with other individuals with substance use disorders can offer additional support and assist functional alcoholics in breaking past denial and starting the recovery process.

Support Groups

Peer support or self-help groups can also help people with drinking problems recover from addiction. This typically includes alcohol anonymous meetings, which are commonly used at the stage of therapy.

With a site in Montecito, Stillwater Behavioral Health is a cutting-edge drug and alcohol treatment facility. Our programs are custom-made to provide each client with a one-of-a-kind therapy experience. As a result, treatment for substance use does not come in a “one-size-fits-all” package. Instead, we think that the best approach to long-term, sustainable rehabilitation is completely tailored care that incorporates traditional, modern, and holistic therapies.