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What Does an Alcoholic Look Like? The Functioning Alcoholic

You probably know what TV and movie alcoholics look like. They have red noses and they slur and stumble. Their clothes are rumpled and dirty. They abuse people and scream. They pass out.

But, those are dramatic stereotypes and the alcoholic in your life may not share any of these traits.

Sometimes, focusing on the ways someone doesn’t look like a cliché alcoholic can be a way of denying that a problem exists. Opening up your understanding of what an alcoholic looks like may allow you to more honestly assess the relationship your suspected alcoholic has with alcohol.

If you read what follows and you become more certain that you are connected to a functioning alcoholic, you need to urge them to get treatment. Although they are meeting the daily requirements of their life, they are also putting their health and well-being at great risk. Call our helpline at 800-721-8114 for placement into a treatment program.

We provide is a great resource to use as you learn about the many realities of alcoholism. You can get questions answered, be directed to resources, and connect with treatment facilities that will work. When your loved one is ready to get treatment, you can show them all that you learned and help them take the next step.

Alcohol Dependence and Subtypes

Functioning Alcoholic

Nearly one fifth of all alcoholics are considered to be functional.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported the findings of a new study. A national sample of individuals with alcohol dependence were analyzed and the results exposed five separate subtypes of the disease. They are:

  • Young Adult
  • Young Antisocial
  • Functional
  • Intermediate Familial
  • Chronic Severe

Based on the names, you can probably guess where the alcoholic in your life falls. But you may be surprised to learn that 19.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics studied fall into the third group: functional. That is roughly one fifth of all alcoholics.

Of them, the NIAAA writes they are usually “middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families. About one-third have a multigenerational family history of alcoholism, about one-quarter had major depressive illness sometime in their lives, and nearly 50 percent were smokers.” Does this look like the alcoholic in your life?

How Much Is Too Much?

You may be in denial and that may cause you to think that your loved one is consuming alcohol moderately. Learning how moderate and heavy drinking are defined may allow you to better gauge your loved one’s level of intake.

Moderate consumption: up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men is—according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Heavy drinking: “drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.”—The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA)

Characteristics of the Alcoholic

Heavy drinking in and of itself is not an absolute indicator of alcoholism. It couldn’t possibly be. You need to look for additional signs and help the potential addict in your life let go of denial.

Try sitting down with your loved one and asking the following questions:

  • Is it a struggle to view yourself as an alcoholic because you don’t feel you fit the stereotype?
  • Does the fact that you are a success make you think you can’t be an alcoholic?
  • Have you ever used alcohol as an incentive and/or justified drinking to ease stress?
  • Does a single drink set off a longing for more?
  • Do you frequently think about your next drinking opportunity?

Ask yourself:

  • Do your loved one reveal personality changes and/or compromise their values when drunk?
  • Do they repeat undesirable drinking patterns and behaviors?

If you and your loved one answered “yes” to many of these questions, it is time to reassess what it means to be an alcoholic. The fact that your loved one doesn’t look just like an alcoholic stereotype doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a problem.

You don’t need to live in denial a moment longer. You and your loved one can begin making progress toward recovery by learning more about alcoholism and treatment. We can help. Just call 800-721-8114 and speak with someone today.

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