Living with a Functioning Alcoholic - Advice and Support
Living with a functioning alcoholic can be difficult. Whether it’s a parent, partner, or friend, the pressure of constantly being around someone you know has a drinking problem is bound to take its toll on you. Even if this person is hiding their alcoholism well and keeping up their responsibilities, this doesn’t mean they don’t need support. In reality, the strain of constantly pretending that all is fine, and concealing their real struggles, is likely to be affecting their mental health.
Here we outline what to do if you’re living with a functioning alcoholic.
Know the warning signs of a functioning alcoholic
There are certain signs and symptoms to look out for in a functioning alcoholic.
- Regularly drinking over the recommended amount of alcohol (14 units per week)
- Drinking a lot in a short amount of time (indicating a high tolerance for alcohol)
- Drinking alone (evidence of this may include avoiding events in favour of staying in alone, or used bottles in the recycling bins)
- Making excuses for their drinking (such as a stressful day, regularly finding something to celebrate, or even needing ‘Dutch courage’ for something they’re nervous about)
- Minimising the issue (e.g. saying they don’t drink during the day, that they only have a couple of drinks each evening, or laughing it off / becoming angry when you express concern)
- Showing withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking or shivering, excessive sweating and lack of appetite
A functioning alcoholic can still manage to do things like hold down a job (perhaps even performing well), maintain relationships and look after family. They may never have had any drinking-related accidents or posed any risk to themselves or others. However, even if they have managed to avoid negative consequences so far, they still need to address their drinking for the sake of their health and all other areas of their life, before the scale of their alcohol-related habits escalate. If any of the warning signs are already apparent, it’s important to talk to the person as soon as possible.
Talk to a functioning alcoholic about their drinking
It’s important to approach the subject of someone’s drinking very carefully. If they are drinking excessively, it’s likely that they are trying to mask or numb deep-rooted pain, and avoiding processing something that they don’t feel emotionally equipped for. Because of this, they may already be carrying a significant mental burden, so it’s important to show compassion.
Here are some tips to prepare for raising the subject of someone’s drinking:
- Pick a private place – A quiet setting will ensure that you remain undisturbed for the conversation, making it more likely that the other person will relax and feel safe to open up. A neutral location outside of the home, such as a walking spot or quiet coffee shop, may put you both more at ease.
- Give evidence for your concerns – Explain to the person why you think alcohol is affecting their life and health, giving examples of incidents that have occurred or when you’ve seen them drinking too much.
- Avoid starting sentences with ‘you’ – Open with ‘I’ instead (e.g. “I have noticed…”). If you show judgement or make accusations, the other person may be hurt and retreat further into denial.
- Accept that they may respond negatively – They may not react well to you bringing up their drinking. Don’t take this personally if it happens. Becoming angry or upset will only make the person shut down and avoid any future conversations.
- Be patient with the process – The person may not be ready to accept that they need help yet. If you have explained all of your concerns and they don’t want to seek support at this stage, let them know you’ll be there for them when they’re ready.
Only an alcoholic themselves can take the action to start the process of recovery, so they have to want to change. There is only so much you can do to try and help them get there.
Look after your own wellbeing
We know that living with a functioning alcoholic can create a great deal of stress for you, but you mustn’t sacrifice your own wellbeing to try and resolve their issues with drinking. You can certainly provide support when needed, particularly once they’re in the process of recovery, but you have to remember to prioritise your health and happiness.
Make time to see friends, enjoy your favourite hobbies and get appropriate rest. Create a relaxing sleep schedule to stick to each night, and a nourishing morning routine. Take regular breaks at work and regularly write down your worries and thoughts in a journal. If the pressure of your domestic situation is affecting your mental health, consider speaking to someone about what you’re going through and seeking professional support for yourself.
Help a functioning alcoholic to get treatment
Once the person you live with is willing to see someone about their drinking, you could carry out research with them to assess their options and show them what is possible. A wealth of information online will detail how others have overcome their alcohol misuse. This may motivate the person to take the steps to start recovery.
At Life Works, our experienced, highly accredited specialists have helped many people to recover from alcoholism and live a more fulfilling day-to-day life. We can carry out a free initial assessment to determine the best treatment format for each person’s needs.
The Life Works clinic is based in a striking Georgian manor house in Woking, Surrey. Our comfortable facilities and sprawling grounds create a peaceful setting for moving past the trauma of addiction.
We may recommend a detoxification process before starting treatment, to stabilise the body for the withdrawal process. This will be fully medically-assisted, with the support of a clinical team who can offer medication if needed.
The rehabilitation programme itself, ideally lasting for 28 days, helps those struggling with addiction to address and learn to cope with the underlying causes. This is carried out through various personal and group therapy sessions each day. We also offer a family programme, so that those close to the person in treatment can understand their own role in the recovery process and what it will take for their loved one to get better.