Seeing your Functional Addiction Through Someone Else’s Eyes

Seeing your Functional Addiction Through Someone Else’s Eyes

No one wants to admit that they have an alcohol or substance abuse problem

One of the most widely respected research initiatives, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, does not provide a definition for a functional alcoholic. While this resource acknowledges alcohol abuse, alcoholism and alcohol use disorder, among other categories of alcohol-driven ailments, there is no reference to functional alcoholics.

The terms functional alcoholic and functional addict may not have a solid medical or research foundation, primarily because at the root of both of these conditions you have an alcoholic or an addict. Treatment resources for functional alcoholics and addicts are very similar in practice as treatment for alcoholics and addicts.

So if there is little to no differentiation between all of these terms, how come your loved ones can see signs of functional alcoholism so clearly?

What does Functional Addiction Look Like?

Psych Central is an independent mental health social network managed by mental health professionals who create and oversee all the content published on the site. According to, there are several characteristics that many high-functioning addicts have in common, including the following:

  • Denial – Most addictions have a component of denial. No one wants to admit that they have an alcohol or substance abuse problem. However, high-functioning addicts often have a lifestyle that allows denial to go unnoticed by the addict or those around him or her. Functional addicts often are extremely successful in performing their daily living responsibilities. They take care of their families, they are punctual and effective at work, they participate in after-work social activities, and they manage their finances. Because they are meeting their obligations so effectively, they do not perceive that alcohol or substance use is a cause for concern. An addict in denial is often first challenged by a family member or friend, but because the functioning addict does not display any level of neglect, this confrontation often does not occur, which gives denial the time to create an almost impenetrable wall around the addict.
  • Uncharacteristic Behaviors – Even though functioning addicts perform effectively most of the time, the consistent use of drugs or alcohol is going to have an impact. A slight lack of focus, the inability to sleep as well as they used to or not being fully engaged with family are subtle behaviors that a watchful loved one may notice.
  • Excuses – Excuses are one of the tools that a functioning addict uses to rationalize or justify her substance abuse. Addiction’s greatest hold on people comes from denial, rationalization and justification. If you find yourself offering well-rehearsed excuses, it may be an indicator to you to look for any other signs of addiction.
  • Internal Turmoil – Even though denial, rationalization and justification have a stronghold on the functioning addict, he does know in a deep part of his thoughts, that he does, in fact, have a problem. If you are conflicted, start using drugs or alcohol in more overt ways or more frequently, or start to become isolated from friends and family, you may be a functional addict.

If you display signs of functional addiction, confront the barrier that denial, rationalization and justification have created.

What Can You Do if You Suspect Your Loved Ones is a Functional Addict?

If on the other hand you suspect that a loved one may be a functional addict, the most important thing you can do is to do not let denial or fear stand in the way of taking the steps necessary to help your loved one. Do not ignore the signs and do not enable the behavior. Recognize that your loved one and everyone he or she interacts with, is at risk because of the faulty thought processes and impaired behaviors that all addicts have.

Do your research; learn more about addiction, signs and symptoms, and strategies to address this serious issue. You may want to attempt to set the stage where you can explore some of your observations in a loving way. If your loved one is not receptive to these discussions, you may need to look at options for coming to an appropriate resolve. Start by looking at your loved one and determine what her needs would be. For example, a functioning addict will, in all likelihood, not initially acknowledge a problem. She will also require a treatment option that is accessible and appealing.

Confronting any alcoholic or addict is extremely difficult. To be as successful as possible, you may want to take advantage of the skills and experiences of a seasoned interventionist. According to, an intervention is a planned, non-judgmental and non-violent confrontation of someone with a drinking problem by his friends and loved ones.

The interventionist provides the tools for all people involved in the intervention to operate in a non-judgmental manner. As you can well imagine, an intervention has the potential to be extremely emotional and can easily get off track. Therefore, the interventionist serves as a mediator and a valuable resource throughout the entire process. Starting with the requisite planning and concluding with taking your loved one to the selected treatment program, an interventionist can be critical at each stage.

Get Help for a Functional Addict

It can be challenging to help your functional addict get the help he or she needs. But help is available, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about treatment centers near Sacramento for addiction and interventionists that can help.

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