Recognizing the common stages of a functioning alcoholic

It starts with a drink after work a few nights a week, and soon 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, they are still looking for help in the form of alcohol.

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

aftermath-of-alcoholDetermining the Stages of Functional Alcoholism

In the first two stages the individual can still largely function, though the more their life revolves around when they can next drink, they move to the third and fourth stages that can be considered full-blown alcoholism. These first two stages feature the nuances of a functioning alcoholic, though the latter two stages are critical pieces of beginning to recover.

Stage 1: Increased alcohol tolerance due to binge drinking

People can have a varied reaction and tolerance to alcohol, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are alcoholics. However, because functioning alcoholics drink more, they develop a higher tolerance. They still want to feel the buzz, so they begin drinking more to compensate for their increased alcohol tolerance.

The significance of this stage is that normal life is still easy for the functional alcoholic. They can maintain their daily responsibilities, and they don’t feel the need to drink every day. It’s also easier to hide their growing problem from friends and family.

While many people not on the spectrum of alcoholism enjoy having a drink or two with friends, they don’t have the end goal of blacking out from consuming too many drinks. As Stage 1 functional alcoholics progress, though, they enjoy those drinks and they have the end goal of getting drunk.

Stage 2: Using alcohol as a coping mechanism

This stage is when functional alcoholics feel like they need to have a drink just to get going. Their day will revolve around when they can get their next drink, especially if it’s been a stressful day.

Functional alcoholics drink to feel better.

While their appearance may not be any different and they can still complete their responsibilities, nothing will make them as happy as drinks after a long week or help them cope with family issues like a beer.

When they begin to drop responsibilities and suffer the consequences of their actions, they move into the third stage of alcoholism.

Stage 3: Consequences begin as alcoholism develops

As your loved one reaches this stage, they’ll begin making excuses for their actions and downplaying the role alcohol has in their lives. They’ll withdrawal from social situations and are liable for legal issues like driving under the influence or making other poor decisions.

Stage 4: Physical consequences

Liver damage is the most talked about consequence, and that is a concern. However, there’s also an overall decline in physical and mental health as the individual begins internalizing their emotions and pursuing solitude much of their time.

Even though they may want to stop, functioning alcoholics often don’t know how and don’t have the resources. This is where family support, friends, and medical professionals can work together to create a team and 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.


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 or Someone You Know A Functional Alcoholic?” Everyday Health. Everyday Health Media. 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.

Recognizing The Common Stages of a Functioning Alcoholic
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