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Signs and symptoms of a functioning alcoholic

A person with a drinking problem will often try to hide their alcoholism. If you are concerned about someone’s drinking, find out the common signs and symptoms of a functioning alcoholic.

Living with a functioning alcoholic can be stressful. Along with dealing with the daily effects of their destructive drinking and the ongoing consequences of their alcohol use, you are likely trying to get them to access professional help. As discussing addiction and any form of rehabilitation with a functioning alcoholic can be difficult, we have also outlined the best ways to talk to the person about their drinking and the addiction treatment that is available at our rehab clinics.

Warning signs and symptoms of a functioning alcoholic

Alcohol abuse can sometimes be confusing and difficult to spot. The person may perform well at work, have a pristine appearance and enjoy an active social life. While they may seem okay to the outside world, it is likely that warning signs and symptoms are appearing within the home.

Some of the most common signs of a functioning alcoholic include the following:

  • Drinking heavily and excessively
  • Drinking alone and at odd times of the day
  • Justifying their drinking as being a reward or celebration
  • Claiming they drink expensive alcohol to ‘prove’ they don’t have a problem
  • Being unable to socialise without alcohol and avoiding social scenarios without alcohol
  • Struggling to remember previous nights or days as a result of heavy drinking
  • Making jokes or having a flippant attitude about their heavy drinking
  • Becoming aggressive, short-tempered and impulsive after drinking
  • Storing alcohol in strange places, such as in their car or garage
  • Becoming irritable and restless if they are unable to drink for a day or two

If the person has previously promised to cut down on their excessive drinking but has been unable to, this is also a sign of alcoholism.

How to talk to a functioning alcoholic in denial

While someone you live with may display the signs and symptoms of a functioning alcoholic, they may not want to admit there is a problem or they may believe that their drinking is under control.

If you’ve tried to talk to them in the past, and have been met with anger, denial and irritability, here are some strategies that that you can use when starting another conversation:

  • Discuss their drinking when they are not under the influence – talk to them when they are experiencing and understanding the physical and emotional ramifications of their drinking, so they’re more likely to be able to think clearly and take on board what you’re saying
  • Express how their drinking is affecting you and the rest of your family or household – rather than focusing on the person, emphasise how their drinking is impacting other people, including yourself. For example, you may want to say that their drinking is scaring you and the children within the household, and explain why it does so
  • Speak with compassion – it is understandable to be stressed or even angry. However, remember that the person is likely ashamed, frightened and lost, even if they don’t show it, so try to be empathetic. Being confrontational will likely just result in the person becoming angry or defensive
  • Share your knowledge – the person may not see themselves as having a drinking problem, or may be in denial, so share the signs and symptoms of a functioning alcoholic with them
  • Do not accept excuses or promises – they may make excuses for their drinking, or promise to stop or cut down. Try to avoid this from happening. When a person is addicted to alcohol, promises can quickly fade into the background when they feel that they need a drink
  • If the person does become confrontational, walk away – you can always have another conversation at a different time. By starting to talk about your concerns and the effect their drinking is having, you are planting a seed that could result in the person eventually recognising that they do have a problem
  • Acknowledge that the person probably wants to control their alcohol use but finds it hard (and at times impossible) to do so - instead of demanding that they stop, suggest that they speak to a trained professional who can understand the problem from their perspective

Seeking addiction treatment for a functioning alcoholic

If the person comes to see that they have a problem and needs support, there is professional treatment available to help them give up drinking.

At Priory Group, you and the person can come in for a free, initial assessment* where a specialist will determine the level of care that will be most appropriate. This also provides you both with an opportunity to find out more about the team and your nearest facility.

We are able to provide a residential treatment programme, which gives the person time and space away from their day to day life to start their recovery. Through group and one-to-one therapies, seminars, workshops and key individual working time, they have the opportunity to learn about the causes and effects of their drinking, and develop strategies for remaining alcohol-free going forward.

Day and outpatient treatment programmes are also available if needed.

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a consultant psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.

Blog reviewed by Steve Roberts, Lead Therapist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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