What to say and do when living with a functioning alcoholic
Functioning alcoholics are often described as people who are able to maintain a career, have good relationships with family and friends and remain financially stable, at the same time as having a drinking problem.
Beneath the surface of their normality, they suffer from the effects of alcoholism where they need to drink to get through the day, a fact that they try to keep hidden from everyone.
If you are living with a functional alcoholic, or think you may be living with one, we have outlined the signs that can suggest that someone has a drinking problem. We have also looked at what you can say and do to help the person seek the support that they need.
Recognising the signs
A functioning alcoholic will often work to hide the signs of their drinking from family, friends and colleagues. Some of the most common signs you may start to notice include:
- They rationalise their alcohol consumption and use it as a reward. For example they may say they’re treating themselves to a drink after completing a project at work
- They say they need alcohol to relax and/or enjoy themselves after a busy day or week
- They are unable to socialise without a drink or make excuses to avoid socialising when drinking isn’t an option
- They deny that they have a drinking problem or become defensive if it is suggested
- They have mood changes, appearing angry, irritable or annoyed at times
- They can’t drink in moderation, but maintain the belief that they aren’t drinking to excess
- They undertake dangerous behaviours such as driving under the influence of alcohol
How to help someone take back control
Living with a functioning alcoholic can have a serious effect on your own health and wellbeing. You may be constantly concerned about the person, worn down by their behaviours or anxious about what they may do next.
As they are likely to be in denial about their dependence on alcohol, you may be concerned about how you can talk to them about their drinking. It is important to think carefully about this conversation to make sure you take the best approach.
You may want to follow the steps below to reduce the likelihood of them becoming defensive and increase the chance of them being receptive to your ideas.
- Don’t have the conversation when the person is drunk. Instead, talk to the person when they are trying to cut down or quit, as they may realise that they need to change
- Remain non-judgemental and be empathetic. Make them aware that you are genuinely concerned without placing any blame on them
- Suggest that you want to tackle the problem together and that you will support them throughout their recovery
- Try not to talk down to the person or appear angry
- Try not to collude or enable them by lying to anyone on their behalf, or drinking with them
If you are struggling to have this conversation, you may also want to think about an intervention. There are a number of different models you can use to convey your thoughts and feelings in an effective manner, so that the person you care for can see their addiction clearly.
Support and treatment for addiction at Priory
For people living with a functioning alcoholic, Al-Anon Family Groups provide support for those affected by someone’s drinking. Priory also offers 1:1 therapy to people impacted by alcoholism, and our family support programmes are available for those with a friend or relative in our Addiction Therapy Programme.
For those wanting to overcome their alcohol addiction, Priory’s alcohol rehabilitation centres have helped thousands of people. With several types of treatment available, support is delivered according to a person’s own needs and circumstances.