You may have heard the term functional alcoholic or functional addict, but what do those terms really mean? To be functional means something is working correctly. It performs and or operates in the way it was intended. For a person, it means they can get up each day, complete their assigned tasks of chores, schooling, work, and carry out necessities, such as eating, hygiene, and socializing. The functional alcoholic/addict can complete all or most of these tasks, along with use, drink, and more. This doesn’t mean they are drinking socially once or twice a week or using drugs on occasion. These are people who have legitimate substance abuse issues yet function as “normal” members of society. Why is this a problem? Because if you can abuse substance and function, you can rationalize anything. Think about it. If a person can complete basics tasks and function in their community, why would they want or even need to stop using or drinking? This argument becomes a slippery slope because it can lead to the assumption that there isn’t a problem. This is exactly what addiction aims to do. It wants you to believe you don’t need help. It wants to keep feeding its own desires. But just because you are able to function now does not mean the behaviors won’t lead to negative consequences down the road.
Who is the Functional Substance Abuser?
The functional alcoholic/addict can take many forms. Here are a few examples to help paint a picture of the various possibilities. Jeremey is 30 years old. He has an apartment with a friend in downtown Atlanta and works as an accountant for a large corporate firm. He makes $60,000 a year and has full health benefits. He has a girlfriend and loves hiking in his free time. But Jeremey has anywhere from 4-6 drinks a night, and this number is increased on the weekends. His drinking aggravates his girlfriend because they always fight when he drinks, and he has gotten himself in trouble at work a few times by showing up a little late. Overall, Jeremey is a functional person. Let’s look at Kiara. Kiara is a 16-year-old high school student that lives in a rural area of Missouri. She goes to school every day, maintains straight Cs, and runs Winter Track. She also holds a part-time job at a local ice cream shop. But Kiara is high most hours of the day. She smokes weed because she says it makes her feel good and drinks Friday and Saturday nights with friends to “let go.” But everyone in Kiara’s grade is starting to look into life after high school. Kiara says she’s content with her lot. What do you think about these two scenarios? It’s easy to make the claim that they aren’t hurting anyone, but what about the concept of hurting themselves? Yes, Jeremey isn’t necessarily causing harm to others, but his alcohol use can lead to liver damage and the loss of his girlfriend. And it’s a slippery slope when it comes to showing up late to work. Kiara seems to have it all together, but she doesn’t have any plans for the future. Her mom told her she is kicking her out by 20 if she can’t find steady work or take some classes to further her education. She reminds Kiara she can’t make a living off of a part-time job. Kiara is also on a substance for more than half of the day. So, what is she masking? That’s the key: both people are masking something in their lives. The functional alcoholic/addict may feel as if they don’t have a problem because they are able to function daily, but if they need a substance, if they are unwilling to stop the behavior, then there are underlying issues waiting to be explored that are veiled by their substance of choice.
Why People Use
The number one thing we have to remember when it comes to substance abuse is that there is no real reason for the behavior except to feel differently than we are currently feeling. People use substances as an escape, and if you don’t believe that claim, then it should be easy for you or others you know to simply stop the behaviors. But we know it’s not that easy. If it were, people would cease using and wouldn’t become physically and or emotionally addicted. But the reality is that people are in pain, have repressed traumas, and struggle to emotionally function in a fast-paced world. Who wouldn’t want to take a break from that crazy? But when we choose a substance to give us that break, we are falling into the pattern of the addict/alcoholic.
Sometimes we start taking a substance as a stress reliever, pain blocker, or a way to escape, but after some time, we realize we can’t stop. If you or an adolescent you know is a functional addict/alcoholic, and you’re struggling to quit, get help today. Call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center at (662) 478-9463 for individualized treatment plans from supportive staff and welcoming professionals. It’s our mission to help you continue functioning without substance, so you can live your best life today, tomorrow, and beyond.