Functioning Alcoholics

What’s really wrong with being a functioning alcoholic? As in: doesn’t affect work performance, doesn’t affect relationships/societal interactions. Just drinks a lot more than most people. What do you all say?

Well, it can still affect your relationship with your liver if it goes on for long enough.

The problem is: many functional alcoholics are not functional, they just think they are.

For example:
A close family member of mine is in a love-less marriage that he refuses to leave. He copes with this by drinking. What was, in my childhood, two to three beers a night, has now grown to a pint of whiskey on the rocks and passing out in front of the TV. Every night. Often, he’ll stop by his favorite watering hole before driving home.
He thinks he’s functional. Yeah, he slurs his speech, but he’s cool to drive. Yeah, his co-workers know he does this, but its cool because they can see he’s “in control.” That promotion he’s been stalking for the last 8 years must keep slipping through his grasp because he and his wife hate each other too much to go to work social events and you can’t climb the corporate ladder if you don’t socialize. Not because he keeps typing his promotion paperwork when he’s three drinks in. Cause he can hold his liquor. He’s fine. He’s functional.

Opium addicts have a similar question. Various derivatives of opium are actually cheap to make and when given an unlimited supply addicts tend to do just nicely.

Except for the fact depending on what form the opium comes in they overdose on it.

I’m assuming alcohol would be something like that.

You could make similar arguments for someone who smokes or eats way too much. As long as he’s happy what’s the harm. None, except for his loved ones he leaves behind and have to go on without him

You could come up with all sorts of round-about arguments against it.

As a very overweight co-workers said, “I like to eat, if I die young well at least I went happy.”

It can be an expensive habit. And it’s not good for your mental health. Although alcohol often creates a temporary sensation of improved mood, it acts as a depressant, and can worsen depression symptoms that the functional alcoholic may be trying to cope with. Long term drinking can lead to memory problems.

I’d never encourage alcohol as a coping mechanism for more than a week.
And after watching a friend’s sweetie literally disintegrate before her eyes <and mine; I saw the changes more abruptly since I only saw him once every couple of weeks> as his liver failed, well…yeah. I’ve never desired to date anyone who drinks often, but after watching that, I would run like hell from anyone who did. It’s just not…sane.

That being said…my dad was possibly borderline while I was growing up. I don’t think he and my mom would have stayed together as long as they did <for the kids> without their individual coping strategies, and his was beers or gin after work, at least 4-5 nights a week.
He ‘grew out of it’ with no physical damage, didn’t bring it home or anything, but…I can see it might have been a close thing, and am glad he stopped…which he did, right after the divorce. :stuck_out_tongue:

Well no matter how “functioning” you are you aren’t functioning at 100% capacity or anything like it. So you are short changing everyone you deal with family, kids, workmates, teammates, friends, clients, lovers. You are only letting them experience some attenuated version of you because you are X% of the time pissed, Y% of the time recovering from being pissed and Z% of the time thinking about getting pissed.

So really you are just not putting in. You are like the guy who always fucks up the big play when the game is in the balance, the guy who just misses the tackle, can’t quite reach down for that ground ball, was a step too slow getting back down court. You could be better but you can’t be bothered.

don’t ask has it exactly.

Does it affect them if they can’t get their drink? Then there you are! That’s what’s wrong.

Does not? Then they’re not alcoholics.

There are many different levels of “functioning” alcoholism. I have an aunt who has a family and holds down a job but still needs a few beers everyday. My mother can still drive*, cook, take care of my grandmother and do her whole daily routine but there is no way she’d ever be able to hold down a job that requires her to go without drinking more than four hours.

Like a lot of dopers already mentioned, most functioning alcoholics only think that they are. In reality they do a sloppier, poorer job than a sober person. They can be a danger to others on the road. It’s an expensive disease that takes away money that could’ve been used for something useful. Even though they’re functioning, my four alcoholic relatives look much older than their actual ages and tend to get sick or injured more often.

I think the worst part above all is how selfish of a disease it can be. As I mentioned above, the momster could hold do some basic routine activities but not before getting a few beers in her system and not before noon of any day. She thinks that she’s fine to drive when she’s not. Although she was given a hefty allotment of money to use on bills, food for the family, and miscellaneous things every month, it all went to beer. The bills were hidden and it was pretty rare for our fridge to have stuff in it. Even when she received over $30,000 in settlement from the divorce that she could’ve used to get help or return to school, it was all wasted on alcohol in a year. When she didn’t have my father’s money anymore, she moved on to stealing from my brother and my grandmother.
While she was physically around, her dependence on alcohol kept her from being mentally there. Sometimes I still get sad when I think of all of my accomplishments she didn’t care to see, or my most important presentation and how she couldn’t be bothered to get off the couch that day. And I’m the oldest of three, she was barely there for my little sister. All around, it’s a disease where the person thinks that they can handle it, but they’re completely unaware of just how poorly they do and just how much it affects everyone else.

*technically drunk, all the time.

That’s a good possibility. A brother-in-law managed to conceal his heavy drinking even from his fiancee. He’d drink no more than anyone else when he was at our family get-togethers, then go chug vodka when no one was around. Ended up in the ER at age 39, coughing up blood, the doctor telling his fiancee to call his parents and everyone else because they didn’t know if he was going to make it. Diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis, and no chance of getting on the transplant list because he was an “active” alcoholic. He was fortunate enough to live, but he’s still considered disabled after a long hospitalization in the ICU and a physical rehabilitation period.

This can occupy quite a bit of a person’s mental energy. “Where is my next fix coming from?” is something the heavy drinker has on his mind every day, especially if he/she is out of town or in a situation where drinking is prohibited. It’s amazing the lengths a person goes to ensuring the next drink will be there. I lived it for a while.

Another vote for “they’re not as functioning as you think”. A couple of months after I quit drinking, one of my kids totalled their car in the wee hours of the morning. I was able to spring out of bed and handle the situation quickly. Had it been back in my drinking days, I’d probably have gone to jail for DUI and the situation would not have been resolved in a pleasant manner.

Well said! I absolutely agree with this.

In a way, I had the “ideal” alcoholic dad. He had the money so that his drinking never endangered us financially. He was a kind, gentle, man so there was no violence of any sort. He was very loving, decent, smart, considerate, all of the things that make a great dad.

And at the same time, he was unpredictable and strange. He’d get home and I wouldn’t know if he would be sober. Would he be happy? Would he be furious? Would he be angry that no one started dinner or angry that someone started a dinner he didn’t want? Would he go straight up to bed? Would he give everyone the silent treatment or would he bounce around like a puppy?

I always knew he loved me. I always knew where my next meal was coming from and that I had a car and parents who were together and everything enviable. I just had to change my personality every day to fit whatever it was he wanted that day, and I had to tread very carefully all the time to avoid setting him off.

I was essentially a functioning alcoholic, and as don’t ask said, a lot of my time was spent either recovering from drinking (always at work on time!) or thinking about when I can start drinking again and how. I only really spent about two hours drinking a night. I drank fast and hard and passed out by 9 pm.

I was never 100% in anything. I’d always drink more on the weekend and the weekend went by with me in bed recovering half the time. My dogs didn’t get walks every day because I was tired and sick. I didn’t exercise, and I love to be active. I ate horribly to try and get rid of the nausea. I avoided going out and being social so I could stay home and drink by myself, so I had no social life and was losing friends.

The ultimate problem was my relationship with my fiance, and that was the catalyst that made me go into rehab, but for the purposes of this, I won’t discuss.

It usually takes a huge toll on your body. Like smoking, but worse because in addition to your liver it affects your nervous system.

Alcohol often changes the way you think. Functional alcoholics often have really illogical thought patterns.

It almost always impacts your relationships. Because an alcoholic will usually value the drink over his family and friends.

Now, if you don’t mind killing yourself slowing, having subpar relationships with people, and being unable to think clearly…there probably isn’t anything wrong with it.

The “is it affecting your life” question is always presented as a simple way to diagnose addiction, but IME it doesn’t work at all–after all, we are always making choices based on our habits and preferences. For example, the local private Baptist school asks you to sign an agreement not to drink, anywhere, while employed by them, and I wouldn’t do that–even though I hardly drink at all (less than one drink a month, lately, and maybe 2 drinks/week at my most). Those drinks aren’t vital to me, but I enjoy them, and the job isn’t attractive enough to give up that option. So do I have an alcohol problem? I don’t think I do, but it’s hypothetically affecting my life.

There’s lots of gray area: if there are people you might like, but they are non-drinkers so you never hang out with them, because you have other friends you also really like and who will drink with you, is it affecting your life? After all, you still have plenty of friends you really like. If you avoid “sober” hobbies you might enjoy but that you don’t enjoy as much as you enjoy drinking, is that affecting your life? You’re still having fun.

I don’t see how it could not affect your relationships, really. That sentence in the OP doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

These two posts nailed it.

A thread about drinking on the SDMB. Here we go…

Why don’t you think it’s possible to like to drink more than most people, and not be functional 100%? Are we talking about the functionality who is drunk non-stop, or someone who is not, but drinks often? it looks like you’re claiming that when a heavy drinker is not drinking, he is hungover or thinking about drinking. Why do you think that?

Why don’t we stick with the OP here? If someone is functional, and is not driving drunk, and is not late/hungover for work, what is the problem?

The question was: What’s wrong with drinking more than most people if you’re still functional throughout the rest of your life?
The response was: No such thing.

Yes, there is. The only real problems are it’s bloody expensive, and your liver will hate you. If you’re not interested in saving money or having a healthy liver, have at it.