While it can be hard to detect when someone has become a functioning alcoholic, there are a number of telling signs. Learn more, below.

It may start with a few drinks after work a couple of nights a week. Soon, that develops into hangovers every weekend. The functional alcoholic is exactly that, functional. Though they can often make it through the day without forgetting responsibilities or being visibly drunk, a functioning alcoholic is usually self-medicating with alcohol to deal with either internal issues, such as untreated mental health conditions, or external factors, like a job they now hate.

While it can be hard to detect when someone has become a functioning alcoholic, there are a number of telling signs of alcohol abuse.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sudden bouts of anger
  • Increasing financial burdens
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Sexual and emotional problems
  • Withdrawing socially

Identifying the Signs of Functional Alcoholism

If you’re concerned a loved one may be a functioning alcoholic, here are four signs that may help you identify the disorder.

Sign 1: Using Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

While many people enjoy having a few drinks occasionally, a functioning alcoholic takes this a step further. They begin to rely on alcohol to manage the stressors of a normal workday or to numb the effects of mental health issues like depression or anxiety. They may use alcohol “just to get going” or to “take the edge off.”

Functional alcoholics drink to feel better.

While their appearance may not be any different and they can still fulfill their responsibilities, you’ll start to see a pattern develop of turning to alcohol to cope with family, work or personal issues.

Sign 2: Increased Alcohol Tolerance

People can have a varied reaction and tolerance to alcohol and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are alcoholics. However, as functioning alcoholics drink more regularly, they develop a higher tolerance. They still want to feel the buzz or numb out from their problems for a while, so they will begin drinking more as their tolerance to alcohol increases.

You may begin to notice that a couple of beers after work has turned into a six-pack or even a case. Or, a glass of wine has become the bottle. As time goes on and tolerance increases, they may attempt to hide the growing problem, and a growing number of empty bottles or cans, from friends and family.

Sign 3: Excuses

As their reliance on alcohol increases, you may begin to notice that your loved one downplays the role alcohol has in their lives and makes excuses for their actions, especially their drinking.

They may also withdraw from social situations and find excuses to miss events or optional commitments where drinking is not available or possible.  There may also be new legal issues arising for them, like driving under the influence or making other poor decisions.

Sign 4: Physical Consequences

Liver damage is the most talked about physical consequence and that is a concern almost immediately. Alcoholics can go on to develop heart, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. There can also be declines in their mental and overall health, especially if they’re not eating healthy diets or engaging in physical activity.

Even though they may want to stop, many functioning alcoholics often won’t know where or how to begin the process. This is where family, friends and medical professionals can work together to create a plan to help end this cycle before they do more harm to themselves.

While this can be a challenging time, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and neither are they. Are you ready to begin the journey? Call the Recovery Village® today for more information on our unique alcohol detox and alcohol treatment services.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Jessica Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Parnegg, Jamie S. “The Functional Alcoholic.” Ellen L. Donaldson, M.H.R. Private Practice. National Marriage Counseling Directory. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.

Gupta, Sanjay. “Are You A Functional Alcoholic?Everyday Health. Everyday Health Media. 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.


Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.