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Addiction Behavior Lifestyle

The Myth of the Functioning Alcoholic

11 months, 1 week ago

12019  0
Posted on Aug 31, 2021, 4 p.m.

While it might be easy to assume that all people who experience alcoholism fit a certain mold or satisfy a particular demographic, it turns out that the issue is far more complex. A study from The National Institute of Health revealed a surprising range of features among alcoholics, including stable income, no known family history of the disease, and ages in the early 20s. 

These findings speak against the stereotypes of alcoholism in the minds of those unfamiliar with the complexities of the disease. However, while the demographics or characteristics of alcoholics may vary, the dangerous and destructive result remains the same across the board: The notion of a functioning alcoholic is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Here’s how we can dispel the myth and why it matters. 

How to Identify the Dysfunctions Externally 

One way to identify this myth is alcoholism’s breakdown of work-life balance. Work-life balance is the pursuit of balance between things like spending and sleep, travel and toil, the family, and the firm. Alcoholism destroys this balance and, as a result, the things that make up that balance. In professional life, the issue goes well beyond whether someone shows up to work with a BAC beyond the sober limit. It goes without saying that alcohol intoxication has a negative effect on work performance and productivity that lasts for days after the point of intoxication. Attempting to function with an ongoing pattern of excessive drinking carries with it an excessively diminished work performance.  

As work becomes harder and performance grows weaker, the downward journey to greater levels of alcohol abuse follows as well. A study of over 300,000 working individuals published in the British Medical Journal concluded that work-related stress leads to an increased risk of consuming harmful levels of alcohol. As alcohol abuse contributes to increased stress at work and increased stress fuels deeper patterns of abuse, the situation grows dire.

The other myth of function is seen in family life. Breakdowns in family systems are sometimes explained as issues of finances or communication, but those issues are often first caused by alcohol abuse. These points are important in the overall framework of understanding the pursuit of living as a so-called functioning alcoholic. Since alcohol negatively impacts the two main categories of the human experience (work and life) and destroys them if left unchanged, a truly functioning alcoholic becomes more and more mythical.

The Internal Dysfunction of Alcohol Abuse

Tragically, the emptiness of alcohol abuse is experienced as a revolving door in the life of someone who depended on alcohol as the cure to problems both present and potential. But why is this? Even if external issues of life at home and at work can be identified, are they enough to illustrate why attempting to live as a functioning alcoholic is not only mythical but dangerous?


To put it plainly, the danger of alcohol abuse is that it brings on widespread health deterioration. The more obvious health deterioration includes the compromise of vital organs in the body, such as the liver and pancreas, contributing to various forms of cancer. As excessive drinking breaks down life at home and at work, the functioning alcoholic must now contend with this internal breakdown, making the situation much more grim. 

But the internal breakdown is not limited to the operation of organs. Alcohol abuse also includes psychological disorders, a roller coaster of emotions often leading to violence towards others and oneself, depression, and an overall decrease in cognitive ability. These are clear warning signs to take to heart especially when encountering loved ones who are losing the addiction battle. This also highlights the crossover between the external categories of work and life and the internal categories of the body and the mind; dysfunction is not limited to an isolated category, but multiplies and intensifies.

Avoid the Double-Life

The negative effects of alcoholism on the body inside and out create an impossible scenario for ongoing abuse, making the pursuit of functioning alcoholism a ticking time bomb that could go off at any second. Even if an alcoholic is able to maintain a high-performance lifestyle, it requires the impossible task of maintaining a double-life, an unrealistic compartmentalization of one’s addiction on a daily basis.

But alcoholism remains dysfunctional as a rule, because it leads down a path of negative health effects that take a dangerous and deadly toll on the body if left untreated. This is why identifying the external and internal warning signs is an important part, because being stuck inside a ticking time bomb is not functional, it’s deadly. And if you find yourself in that place, it’s imperative to get help. Anything else is a mythical pursuit too dangerous to attempt for a moment longer.

This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

National Institute of Health. (2007, June 28). Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes. Retrieved from

National Institute of Health. (2012, January 1). The Morning After: Alcohol Misuse and Employment Problems. Retrieved from

The Guardian. (2015, January 14). Does Overwork Lead to Problem Drinking? Retrieved from

National Institute of Health (2013, July 27). The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Retrieved from

CDC. (n.d.) Alcohol Faqs. Retrieved from

Mayoclinic. (n.d.). Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.) How to Tell If Your Family Member Suffers From Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved from

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.) How to Recognize a High-Functioning Alcoholic: Signs & Symptoms. Retrieved from


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