Who Is at Risk For Functional Alcoholism?

Many people think it is easy to pinpoint an alcoholic as someone who is unable to hold a steady job, take care of his family or pay his bills. However, functional alcoholism is a widespread problem that is often kept secret from friends, family members and coworkers. Functional alcoholics may not realize or be unwilling to recognize their own alcohol dependency. Functional alcoholics are individuals who are dependent on alcohol but are still able to temporarily hold a steady job, care for their families, pay their bills and contribute to society.

Individuals at Risk for Functional Alcoholism

Alcoholism does not discriminate. It can affect anyone whether he is young or old, educated or non-educated, wealthy or poor and white, black, Hispanic or Asian. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcoholism can be divided into five subtypes, one of which is functional alcoholism. The 2007 report by the NIH stated that of the alcoholics in the United States, 19.5% fall into the functional alcoholic subtype. There are several typical characteristics associated with functional alcoholics, including the following:

  • Middle-aged
  • Well-educated
  • Employed
  • Family man or woman

Most functional alcoholics are middle-aged individuals whose drinking problem may have started as social drinking, evolved from their college days or began as a way to cope with the stress of everyday life. Many are well-educated with good jobs in the fields of medicine, law or education and have families. You may wonder why people with well-paying jobs, a spouse, children and a good social network would turn to alcohol. Many factors play a role in functional alcoholism, including the following:

  • Genetics – According to the NIH, one third of functional alcoholics have a family history of alcoholism. It is important to remember that alcoholism does not have to run in a family for an individual to become an alcoholic, nor does a family history of alcoholism mean that an individual will become an alcoholic.
  • Mental health issues – The 2007 NIH study also found that of the functional alcoholics, one fourth had struggled with major depressive disorders during their lifetime. Functional alcoholics may also struggle with other addictive behaviors throughout life. Almost 50% of functional alcoholics smoke regularly.
  • Environmental factors – Environmental factors such as work, family and social circles can greatly influence an individual’s alcohol intake. Many functional alcoholics are professionals who are constantly under a great deal of stress and pressure at work and at home. After work and putting their kids to bed, they may relax with a few beers or a bottle of wine. Maybe they wind down and have some fun on the weekends by binge drinking with friends. Their business-related dinners may often involve alcohol. Drinking commonly becomes more than an occasional occurrence, but rather a part of their lifestyle.

Functional alcoholics are not typically perceived as having an alcohol problem because they perform well at work, provide for their families, pay their bills and manage their social lives. Often, functional alcoholics do not recognize their dependence issue until they try to stop drinking and experience withdrawal symptoms. Even at that point, many are hesitant to request help because thus far they have been able to manage their alcoholism without too many negative consequences and asking for help could be viewed as a sign of weakness. However, it is essential for functional alcoholics to get professional help as soon as possible so that their alcoholism does not spiral out of control and the physical and mental consequences of alcoholism do not continue to worsen.

Finding Functional Alcoholism Help

Call our toll-free helpline today if you fear you or a loved one is struggling with functional alcoholism. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions and to help you find alcohol rehab treatment. Do not go another day without help. Please call now.