When so much is good about your life, it can be hard to face up to alcohol addiction. If you’re questioning whether you’re a functioning alcoholic, some of these myths may help you understand your situation better.
This blog is about awareness, not judgment. Alcohol addiction is very common. Public Health England estimate that almost 600,000 people currently need help with alcohol dependence in this country. Alcoholism affects people from all walks of life including the most outwardly successful individuals.
This blog offers some insights into denial, which is often a feature of alcoholism. Some of this information may apply to your life, whilst other parts don’t have any relevance to you. Take the aspects that are helpful to you and disregard the rest.
Please contact Addiction Helper for a confidential alcohol assessment and alcohol counselling, detox and rehab options in the UK and overseas.
Myth 1: As a Functioning Alcoholic, You Are Still in Control of Your Drinking
This myth is number one for a reason. It’s the biggest myth of all about functioning alcoholics.
You still have a good job and your home. Or you attend all your college or university lectures and get excellent grades. Your boyfriend tells you regularly how much he loves you. Or your wife and kids want to see more of you, not less. You have money in the bank. You hit your targets at work. You go on nice holidays. You have a lot of friends.
However, status, wealth, ability and personal connections are not reliable predictors of how far alcoholism will progress or the problems it will cause over time. Addiction is similar in this respect to any other illness – such as depression, diabetes, cancer or heart disease. There are many factors that affect prognosis, including your genetics, environment, family history and lifestyle. Willingness to engage in treatment, earlier rather than later, can also influence whether you’ll have mild, moderate or severe symptoms.
It’s true that strong support networks and resources can mask or delay the worst consequences of alcoholism. But these things have no influence at all on whether you can control how much alcohol you drink once you start.
The best way to know if you can control your drinking is to see how easy it is to cut down or stop alcohol – for at least three months. If you’re a daily drinker or you binge heavily, you must seek medical guidance before stopping suddenly. If it’s medically safe to quit, then track how you feel without alcohol. Consider how much you crave or think about alcohol when you’re not drinking. These things will tell you how much you rely on alcohol.
Myth 2: A Functioning Alcoholic Is Not Unwell
As a functioning alcoholic, you may show very few or no obvious signs of mental or physical illness. In fact, you may be very committed to doing many of the right things for your health.
- You may be one of many alcoholics who take regular exercise. You go to the gym or play sports or go out running. Exercise may be a bit harder the day after drinking a lot. But you still show up and do it.
- You may have quit smoking or never smoked cigarettes at all.
- You might like to eat good food including meals that you know are good for your health. You know what vitamins to take and foods that help with a hangover. You drink plenty of water before and after you’ve been drinking.
- Your last health check-up showed no signs of liver damage or high blood pressure. When asked about how much you drink by the GP, you might have played it down a bit – but it didn’t seem important to be precise.
- You do feel stressed quite a bit but everyone in your profession feels stressed. Colleagues often complain about their workload – it’s just the way your industry is.
Functioning alcoholics are usually very capable and resourceful people. You may have an exceptional ability to adapt to the demands of excessive drinking. But this doesn’t mean you’re not unwell. If you can’t go for long without alcohol and/or you always consume a lot when you drink, there may be a dependency issue. Alcohol detox and rehab can help you withdraw safely from alcohol and address the underlying causes of dependence.
Myth 3: If You Don’t Do Things You Regret, Then You’re Not a Real Alcoholic
You’re not a chaotic drinker. You don’t get into fights when you’re drinking or say things you regret. You rarely look back on an evening of drinking and feel embarrassed about your behaviour. You never drink drive. You don’t tend to drink strong alcohol – such as spirits or high strength beer.
Your reasons for drinking are all good reasons. You’re more sociable after a drink. You make people laugh with a few pints inside you. It’s easier to have a good time and relax after work. Alcohol is often served at work events you attend. Your friends encourage you to drink and you want to join in. Your dad likes to share a decent bottle of wine with you. Fun things happen when you drink.
Functioning alcoholics can often list many reasons why their drinking is culturally and socially normal. This is sometimes a subtle internal process, including split-second decisions you make when buying an extra bottle of wine in the supermarket or deciding to stay later at the pub. Look out for making increasing justifications about your drinking – either to yourself or to your family and friends. This is often a sign of alcohol dependence if you or others are questioning your drinking more.
Myth 4: If a Functioning Alcoholic Gets into Trouble, They’ll Be Able to Stop or Cut Down
If ever things got out of hand with your drinking, you would stop or moderate. If you lost your great job or dropped out of college because of alcohol, you would change straight away. If your husband said he was leaving you because of your drinking, it would be easy to quit. If your medical check-up showed signs of liver damage, you would cut out alcohol altogether.
Whilst it may be true that you could stop or cut down your drinking in tough circumstances, if you’re a functioning alcoholic it will be difficult or painful to stay stopped. For alcohol addicts, major stressors in life are more likely to become triggers for more drinking, rather than incentives to quit.
Myth 5: Functioning Alcoholics Are More Resistant to Alcohol Treatment
As a functioning alcoholic, it’s true that you are less likely to come into contact with statutory treatment services than someone who funds their addiction through crime. You won’t be actively contacted by specialist addiction services like a homeless person who drinks. You might rarely or never go to your GP, in the way a person with an alcohol-related disease would.
However, it’s a myth that you won’t benefit as much from alcohol treatment as people with much more obvious consequences. During the process of alcohol treatment, most people uncover beliefs or past experiences that play a big part in why they drink alcohol to excess today. Gaining these insights can be as powerful and life-changing as walking away from a very chaotic lifestyle.
Having close family and friends is also very helpful for maintaining alcohol recovery after you’ve had treatment. You’re actually more likely to sustain long-term addiction recovery if you have people and resources to support you.
Get in touch with Addiction Helper to discuss your drinking and find out about alcohol treatment.