28 answers

Is It Always Bad to Be a "Functional Alcoholic"?

My husband drinks a lot. He can put away a bottle of whiskey or vodka a night several times a week. Or, maybe over a dozen beers.

This IS bad for his health, our budget, etc, etc... He's not a mean drunk. He gets his work done at the office.

I am confused about how hard to push him to change the drinking habits. I don't like THAT much drinking. And, when he's THAT drunk I feel like there's a drunk stranger in my house. He's mostly an intense, happy, obnoxious, annoying drunk.

He's recently called himself a functional alcoholic. I feel like I'm being too sensitive, needy, or selfish in asking him to give up his tool for dealing with stress. It would be one thing if the cost was putting us in the poor house, or if he was violent... but that's not the case. Is functional alcoholism(whatever that is) ever ok?

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What can I do next?

Featured Answers

No. It is never ok. I don't think I need to give any reasons why, because alcoholism in any form is a problem - no matter what kind of drunk they are.

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Using a substance to deal with stress, is a dangerous slippery slope. (I have seen it my whole life.) There is something truly wrong, if a person can't deal with stress without self medicating on substances. It's not OK, because it is still destructive. He still CAN"T live without it. He still CAN'T cope without it. Alcohol will eventually cause him to deteriorate physically, mentally, emotionally. Trust me when I say, you can't be a "functional" alcoholic forever.
It isn't safe, or healthy. It is self destructive. You are NOT being needy, for wanting him to stop self destruction. There is a physiological reason behind this addiction. There is a reason life can't happen without alcohol. One day, he will not be able to function at work. His livers will shut down. His mind will be mush. I know it's sounds dramatic, but it is the 100% truth. Just because he can put in a days work, does mean it isn't a SERIOUS, DANGEROUS, problem. Being able to function some parts of the day, does not make it acceptable.

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I guess if he doesn't care about his own health, shortening his life, etc, that's his business. But in my opinion it's not ok if he ever drives a car, because there will still be a lot of alcohol in his system when he's going back to work. He may think he can handle it if he's been doing it a long time, but he can't. He's putting everyone else at risk, unless he rides public transportation for his commute, but he may still be driving to and from that point. So for the point of public safety, even a happy drunk can take lives behind the wheel.

More Answers

Is it ever okay? Sure. But you wouldn't be asking the question if it was ACTUALLY okay in your situation. His drinking is a problem in your marriage. Doesn't matter if it's one beer or a case. A glass or a fifth. A problem is a problem (wait for it) when it's a problem.

I'm 1/2 scottish and 1/2 norweigan. I can build up a tolerance faster than most people and waaaaay higher than most people. When I was drinking for keeps many many moons ago, it took about 10 shots just to get a pleasant buzz going. My dad's the same way. But rather like I am now, my dad rarely drinks more than a single beer. But that became a problem in my parents marriage. At a certain point, he'd come home, eat dinner, have a beer and go to bed. When he didn't have a beer he'd stay up and hang out with my mum. So she asked him not to drink on school nights. So he stopped. That easy.

I'm married to an alcoholic (in recovery), who was quasi functional. Meaning he kept his very good jobs while drinking, had a 3.98 while in school, etc. But he drove drunk (NOT okay), had affairs (ditto, not okay), *never* stopped drinking (whiskey at his posh dayjob, beer at the music studio or rehearsal, shots on stage, beer at the after party, some more at the house he'd stop at on the way home), and had a memory like a sieve. I say my husband was quasi-functional, because his drinking had SERIOUS and very obvious side effects. Many functional alcoholics you don't see those side effects, because they've done the work to keep them either out of sight or at bay (like never driving).

A functional alcoholic is a person who isn't a bum. Who keeps their jobs, keeps their relationships, the whole nine yards. It's very very common. And just as huge a problem, but far far more difficult to treat. Because while a "normal" person (like my dad) gets presented with "Honey, this is a problem for me, can you ________", and they go "Oh. Sure. No problem." While the alcohlic (functional or non) takes the whole thing either as an attack or like the person they love, coming to them with a problem is delusional and starts listing out all the reasons why it's NOT a problem, or says no problem... but never actually changes anything... because they can't. The major difference between alcoholism and problem drinking, is that non-alcoholics can remove alcohol from the situation without any trouble whatsoever. Just a habit to break. Not a compulsion to overcome, like breathing. Telling an alcoholic or and addict to stop is like telling you or I to stop breathing. I mean, we can hold our breaths... but it become physically painful. We HAVE to breathe. The same feeling of *have to* (and all the symptoms... pain, dizziness, rage, and the gasping relief of finally breathing in/ taking a drink... are identical.).

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You are obviously not happy with the situation, and will do yourself a tremendous favor, not to try to change him, but to invesitgate your part in this family dysfunction. Get a good book or two on enabling (one good one is "Co-dependent No More"), and consider joining an Al-Anon group, which you will find supportive and life-changing. You have valid reasons to be concerned, and you are letting your husband's insistence on his "need" talk you out of your need to want something more from your relationship with him.

Many blessings. Take care of yourself.

4 moms found this helpful

YES YES YES it IS bad!!! Here's my biggest reason for thinking so: My FIL is a highly functioning alcoholic. You'd never know he was on his 7th beer or that he's been drinking all night. You would never ever guess. He's a great man and a self-made bazillionaire who gave away his entire income to charity last year. He volunteers at church and would go to anyone's house to fix their dishwasher or car. He's the most generous and responsible person on earth. He's nice. I've never heard him say one rude thing. Ever. And I spend a lot of time at his house.

The downside? He's modeled TERRIBLE habits for his children. Two of his three sons have no ability to put the breaks on their own drinking. It's not possible to predict that your children will handle constant drunkeness well. It's been the only (and very huge) wedge in my marriage. My hubby isn't drunk constantly because I would take the kids and leave. But he has had a dui which cost us 4K, and I'm actually pissed that he got out of it. My husband no longer drinks excessively (I told him I'd leave if I ever saw him drunk again and he knows I don't make empty threats) but it took 40 years to get to that point. My daughter remembers a two week period when she was 2 years old where he was actually drunk the whole time. No bad behavior or anything, but this is her image of her daddy. She's nearly 8 and she still says, "Remember when daddy used to drink fire water all the time?" Yeah. Nice.

I tell him that some day she will meet someone who smells like daddy did and that smell of alcohol will muster feelings of security in her. How sick is that? And Lord knows what kind of a drunk that guy will be. And it will be HIS fault. I tell him that clearly. Because of the physical construction of our brains, smells harbor memories more than any other sensory experience. And he's programed alcohol=security connections in her little brain. I'm sick over it.

Aside from this, my husband is THE ideal man. His father's example has caused him marital problems, boundary issues, and God knows how it will manifest in our children. It is a shameful example to set.

One more thing: My husband is a happy, romantic, sweet drunk too. I don't like that man. I don't respect that man and I don't respond well to him. I'll take a stressed out sober responsible man over the drunk romantic idiot every single time. And as far as you taking away his coping tool... you're not. He isn't using a coping tool, he's using something that is destructive to your marriage. He's ignoring your happiness and your feelings. He needs to find a different coping tool. If he cares enough about his family, he can find one.

good luck to you.

3 moms found this helpful

i'm married to a functional alcoholic, and the daughter of another. fortunately for me, both have decades of recovery behind 'em. but i know very well your situation.
i'm appalled at those who are blaming YOU for 'enabling.' it is affecting your life and that of your children, but it is not your *fault* and you do not need to take on responsibility for his drinking along with everything else you have to cope with.
of course al-anon should be your next step. i suspect you know that. do it today.
functional alcoholism is sneaky. since your dh is nicer, funnier, happier, and no doubt much more productive at his job while he's a drunk, it's very difficult to interrupt. ugly violent drunks are much easier to point fingers at.
stop taking on all the pejorative attributes to yourself. you're not being needy or selfish or any of the other clubs you're using to beat yourself up with. you're also not in a position, sadly, to get him to do anything. hopefully he'll want to at some point. it's pretty much on him.
that doesn't mean you're powerless. go to al-anon. learn what tools you do have and how to use them effectively.
and not to be an alarmist, but you really need to prepare yourself for the nasty shock of sobriety. men like yours (and mine) do not become nicer people when they sober up. happy drunks tend to become frustrated stressed angry sober people. the stressors in their lives don't go away with the alcohol, and replacing the booze with healthy coping techniques is a long slow process. he will be MUCH harder to live with in the meantime.
in the long run it has been a blessing beyond description. i pray that it will be the same for you.

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From what I have witnessed from other's life experiences,this type of alcholism is the most dangerous because it presents opportunities to their loved ones and co workers to enable their dependence innocently. These alcoholics often coax others into compromising positions and often their addiction can move from alcohol to sex, food, prescription drugs, etc and become deadly without notice. Do not be deceived by your eyes. You may see a person that works hard and is a contributing member of the household...what you don't see... is the years of emotional and verbal neglect. You don't see the huge amounts of money set aside for the addiction that could benefit financial security...and ultimately you do not see that they were more committed to the addiction than other personal and family relations as a parent, spouse, or lover.These innocent dependencies can escalate under pressure and become deadly. More importantly their enablers can spend a lifetime justifying their compromises to this dependence outside of their relationship. Do not fool yourself; this type of dependence will affect every aspect of their life and yours, it is a sleeping giant that can be easily aroused.Take back your power to empower yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually by seeking an alanon or similar group in your area and/ or a local counselor to listen and contribute a neutral ear so that you gan continue to make wise decisions for yourself and your loved ones

2 moms found this helpful

No. It is never ok. I don't think I need to give any reasons why, because alcoholism in any form is a problem - no matter what kind of drunk they are.

2 moms found this helpful

I went through something very similar.
The functioning alcoholic will become a non-functioning alcoholic. Sadly, the wife may be the last to know. No one wants to be the one to call the wife. Honestly, he may THINK he's doing a good job at work, but they may be planning his exit right now.

I know this may be tough, but can you talk to people close to him? They may actually be relieved that you open up. (Some won't) If his friends and family see his problem, and will support his recovery, that will help you more than you know. Then think about having an intervention? (I WISH I had done this.) However, before you do any of this, you need to decide that you will no longer tolerate this behavior. Even without intervention, that's what I has to happen. You can not change him, but you can take action for yourself and your children. You have to help yourself first.

You're not needy, selfish or sensitive. He's manipulating you into thinking that. Addicts are great at lying and manipulation. It's what they become with the addiction of choice...right now, he is no longer the sober person you knew. You can not push him into slowing down the drinking. He has to change his mind, you can't. He'll see it as nagging. The 'nagging' will probably be the thing that he uses to blame you for his problems. That's what they have to do to feel good about themselves. It could even cause him to get violent.

I did think my marriage was over. I thought there was absolutely no way we would ever work. My husband went into rehab a few months after I left. Somehow, with help, we made it. However, when you make your boundaries, you can't make them thinking that your actions will make him staighten up his life. When I left, I was leaving for good. You just need to live for yourself and your kids. Just live the best way for you and your children.

If you need information, feel free to contact me. I don't check the site every day, but I do check pretty often.

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Please, please, please, please, please go to an Al-Anon meeting.


Please go to at least 3 meetings before you make any choices of how to act. By going to an Al-Anon you'll meet people who are learning and teaching each other how to live with or choose to not live with someone with drinking issues. By taking care of yourself you will teach your husband how you deserve to be treated and your children how to protect themselves. You can not change him and only you can change you and how you respond to your husband's choices. Go, listen, learn, grow, feel supported and understand that you are not alone.

Good luck.

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