Living with a functioning alcoholic can be a confusing and emotionally taxing experience. Functioning alcoholics maintain a facade of stability and success, while secretly battling an addiction that remains hidden from the world (and sometimes, even themselves).
In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deeper into the unique challenges faced by those living with a functioning alcoholic and provide practical advice, resources and support to help you cope with this difficult situation.
Confirming the signs of functioning alcoholism
Living with someone who prioritises alcohol over anything else can be debilitating. However, some people are able to hide this so well that the signs of functioning alcoholism can sometimes get confusing. It is important to make sure this is what you are dealing with.
To help identify a functioning alcoholic, watch for the following hidden signs:
- Maintaining a successful career and social life despite heavy drinking
- Consistent alcohol consumption, even during inappropriate times or situations
- Frequent justification or rationalisation of their drinking habits
- Hiding or downplaying the extent of their alcohol consumption
Once you have identified these signs, you will then be in a better position to take the appropriate steps to address the situation, try to help the person and take care of yourself.
Dealing with practical issues
Living with a functional alcoholic presents various practical challenges, including:
You may have various safety concerns for the person you live with. For example, while they may make it home safely every night currently, what happens when they stop being able to function when drunk?
To address these concerns:
- Talk to them about your concerns
- Arrange transportation for them when they are intoxicated (this should be a temporary measure or it can become enabling behaviour)
- Explain potentially dangerous risks they took when drunk that they may have forgotten due to blackout
Functioning alcoholics are usually able to keep their financial orders in check but again, this isn’t likely to last.
It is important that you:
- Ensure any rent arrangements or other payments between you are laid out in a contract
- You don’t lend them any money that could enable their alcohol addiction
- Discuss investing the money in professional help rather than alcohol
Deciding whether to share the truth
As you live with the person, you are likely in a better position to notice their alcoholism than other people. This can put a lot of pressure on you, whether they are a friend, family member or housemate.
Some things to consider include:
- Weighing the pros and cons of disclosing their alcohol addiction
- Identifying the right people to help stage an intervention if necessary
- Seeking professional help and support with your decision
How to deal with denial
The ability of functioning alcoholics to hide their alcohol addiction from the world and create a facade of stability can make it easy for them to deny there is an issue, even to themselves.
As our former client, Richard, explains:
“I am a book publisher and my work enabled me to drink, as alcohol is socially accepted, which made it worse. I didn’t consider it alcoholism because I had a job but I’d been drunk in meetings before so I was definitely a functioning alcoholic. In fact, My problem was right in front of me in a San Pellegrino bottle full of wine.”
To help them see the truth, it is vital that you acknowledge the issue and break the silence that often surrounds alcohol. By openly discussing the problem, you can begin to understand the nature of alcohol addiction and seek the support and resources needed to navigate this challenging situation.
Here are some tips for how to have that conversation:
- Choose the right time and place, when the person is sober
- Use “I” statements to express your concerns and feelings
- Provide specific examples of how their alcoholism has affected you and your relationship with them
- Offer support and encouragement to seek help and treatment
- Be prepared for denial, defensiveness, or anger, and try to remain calm and compassionate throughout the conversation
- Avoid blame or judgement; instead, focus on expressing your love and concern for their well-being
- Research treatment options and resources beforehand so you can provide concrete suggestions and guidance during the conversation
How to cope with the emotional impact
For children, spouses, partners and parents, living with a functioning alcoholic can be particularly difficult. One of the hallmarks of alcoholism is the inconsistency in behaviour as they oscillate between periods of sobriety and intoxication, making it difficult to predict how they will act on any given day.
This uncertainty can create an environment offamik stress and anxiety, with the emotional rollercoaster taking a toll on the mental health and well-being of everyone involved.
Seeking support is crucial for both the person’s recovery and your own well-being. Comprehensive treatments such as alcohol detox and rehab treatment can help address the root causes of alcohol addiction and provide the necessary tools for recovery.
Family therapy can also be beneficial, offering a safe space for family members to share their experiences and develop healthy coping strategies.
If the person agrees to undergo alcohol rehab, it is very important that you:
- Are patient with the recovery process as it can be a long and challenging journey with potential setbacks.
- Encourage your loved one to explore different treatment options and find the approach that works best for them.
- Stay involved in your loved one’s recovery by attending support group meetings or therapy sessions together, if appropriate.
- Make appropriate arrangements in the home to support their recovery, such as removing alcohol from the house.
How to avoid the enabling trap
When living with a functioning alcoholic, it can be easy to inadvertently enable their addiction. This can take many forms, such as making excuses for their behaviour, covering up their mistakes or taking on additional responsibilities to compensate for their shortcomings.
To break this pattern of enabling, try the following:
- Recognise enabling behaviours and work to change them
- Set clear boundaries and expectations for their behaviour
- Encourage the person to take responsibility for their actions
- Avoid taking responsibility for the alcoholic’s actions or trying to “fix” them
- Reach out to support groups or resources such as AA to learn more about enabling and how to create healthier dynamics.
How to look after yourself
Sadly, domestic violence is also a major concern when alcohol abuse addiction is involved with two-thirds of incidents reported to police involving alcohol. This can be an especially dangerous situation if the perpetrator is a functioning alcoholic as teachers, neighbours, relatives and other people who may be best placed to spot the signs of domestic violence are unable to see past their outward appearance or public behaviour.
Whether you are a family member, a housemate or a friend, you should never be at risk of violence in your own home. If there is an instance of violence, it is crucial that you:
- Prioritise your safety: Remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. If necessary, seek refuge with a trusted friend, family member or neighbour.
- Remove any children from the situation: There are an estimated 200,000 children in England living with a parent or carer who is addicted to alcohol. These children are at huge physical, mental and emotional risk, particularly those whose parent is a functioning alcoholic as relatives and the authorities may not realise there is an issue.
- Call for help: In an emergency, call the police immediately. Reporting the incident can provide the necessary documentation for further action, such as obtaining a protective order.
- Create a safety plan: Develop a plan for what to do in the event of a violent incident, including safe exit routes, designated safe spaces and emergency contacts. Share this plan with someone you trust.
- Reach out to support networks: Seek help from local domestic violence organisations, support groups or hotlines. These resources can provide valuable guidance, emotional support and assistance in developing a safety plan or accessing legal services.
Remember, your safety and well-being come first. It is essential to take care of yourself, seek support, and prioritise your needs while navigating the challenges of living with a functioning alcoholic.
Finding hope and empowerment amidst the struggle
Living with a functioning alcoholic presents unique challenges that can seriously test your resilience and strength. Ultimately, even the most “functioning” alcoholic will become a non-functioning one and so it is crucial that effective help is sought.
To turn the situation around, communication is absolutely key. Alcohol addiction is a master at causing breakdowns in communication which serves to isolate the sufferer from their loved ones and stop family and friends from speaking out. By fostering open communication, seeking professional guidance and cultivating a sense of empathy and understanding, you can be a force for change in the person’s life and help them overcome addiction once and for all.
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction or you are concerned someone you know may be a functioning alcoholic, contact Primrose Lodge today.