What is a Functional Alcoholic? | Information and Self-Test

functioning alcoholic

When you have a drink or two socially, you may not think you have a drinking problem. When that social drinking turns into something more intense, such as when you start planning your events and activities around whether or not alcohol will be present, you may be progressing toward alcoholism. If you suspect you might have an issue with alcohol, you can access information and self-tests to determine if you have a substance use disorder. You might consider yourself to be functional in your relationship with alcohol. What is a functional alcoholic? Does that truly exist?

What Does It Mean to Be a Functional Alcoholic?

If you are able to maintain a successful, normal life, or at least give off the appearance that you are doing so, while being addicted to alcohol, you may be referred to as a functioning alcoholic. That does not mean you don’t have a problem. It simply means that you are able to manage your daily activities, such as fulfilling your job or family responsibilities.

A functioning alcoholic is usually a person who has been able to achieve, or possibly even overachieve, in their life. They’re also less likely to think they need help and so less likely to seek the help they do need for their alcoholic addiction. Even though the functional alcoholic may think they have everything under control, alcohol will eventually have a negative effect on their brain, their overall physical and mental health, and their ability to function normally.


One of the signs of a functional alcoholic is denial. When you are able to keep your job, maintain relationships with family and friends, and otherwise live your life with no obvious negative consequences, your denial will run deep. You tell yourself that you don’t have a problem because you haven’t suffered financially, or you’ve never been arrested for alcohol-related misconduct. You probably tell yourself, “I have a great job and pay my bills, so I can’t have a problem with alcohol” or “I only drink expensive wine.” These are excuses that keep you from recognizing your substance use disorder and keep you from getting the help you need.

A Progressive Disease

Alcoholism does not happen suddenly or quickly. It is a progressive disease that develops as a result of increased dependence over an extended period of time. The professionals at BRC Recovery recognize alcohol addiction as a disease, understanding that if you need alcohol to feel normal or to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, you are dependent on alcohol. Even though you may consider yourself to be a functional alcoholic, you will at some point begin to experience the signs of alcohol dependency, which can include tremors, nausea, irritability, and intense cravings for alcohol.

As the alcoholism progresses, it can turn deadly. Almost 88,000 people in the US die from alcohol-related causes every year. About 31% of all driving-related deaths are linked to alcohol. Overall, alcohol use disorder affects nearly 16 million Americans.

Warning Signs – A Self-Test

Information and self-tests can help you assess whether you have an alcohol addiction. Even though you may consider yourself to be a functional alcoholic, being an alcoholic of any kind puts you and your loved ones in danger.

One online assessment asks questions such as if you consumed more alcohol or drank for longer periods than you intended, if have experienced strong cravings for alcohol, and if your tolerance for alcohol increased, meaning that you need to consume more alcohol than you once did to feel its effects. Taking a self-test and honestly reviewing the results can help you realize that being a functional alcoholic still means you have a progressive, chronic disease that should be treated.

You can also watch for other warning signs to determine if you may be a functioning alcoholic:

  • Unable to successfully stick to drinking limits – drinking more than intended in a sitting despite saying you would stop at a certain amount
  • Requiring alcohol to relieve stress or relax
  • Periodic memory lapses, or blackout events while drinking
  • Drinking while alone or in secret
  • Planning the day around drinking
  • Justifying drinking or using drinking as a reward
  • Periods of sobriety characterized by irritability, restless, agitation, and mood swings
  • Drinking and engaging in potentially hazardous behaviors (e.g., driving while under the influence or engaging in risky sexual encounters)
  • Frequent jokes about alcohol consumption or alcoholism.


You can and should get treatment for your alcohol addiction as soon as possible. The progressive disease can cause major damage to your physical as well as your mental health. A holistic approach is most effective, offering a path that encourages you to experience a joyful, fulfilling, and productive life in recovery. Over 22 million people in the US have successfully met the challenges of addiction recovery and you can be one of them.


At BRC Recovery, we know that you can find a better path for yourself. We equip you with the life skills, proven psychological treatment, and spiritual practices that will empower you to recreate and reclaim your life. We are committed to holistic healing, understanding that real recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol takes more than just detox and abstinence. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery 1-866-461-1759 to speak to our team.