What is a Functioning Addict or Alcoholic?

What is a Functioning Addict or Alcoholic?

Written by Heidi Rain

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December 9, 2021

Being in a relationship of any kind with an addict or alcoholic causes an emotional, physical, and psychological rollercoaster. It’s crucial that you have BOUNDARIES! My latest on demand master mini course lays the foundation of how to set and hold a boundary with an addict. You will get the exact step by step formula and the insight, wisdom, and guidance you need to set a boundary and FOLLOW THROUGH.


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We’re going to talk about functioning addicts or alcoholics. What is it? What is the impact and what are you going to do about it now? If you’re new here, I want to take a minute and say welcome home. I’m really glad you’re here. We’re dedicated to co-dependence. Understanding it. Making sense of it. It’s just a way to function in dysfunction. We talk about all things, toxic relationship recovery and dysfunction. Welcome. I’m so glad that you found me. This is a tough topic. This is such a difficult thing to understand, this functioning addiction. What the heck is that and is there even such a thing as a functioning addict?


My first experience with a functioning addict was my own relationship with my father, who was an alcoholic.  To me, what functioning meant was he went to work every day. He got up at the same time. He was a coal miner and then he worked his way up in the coal mine. You saw him progressing through work. He got up every morning at the crack of dawn, five o’clock in the morning and he worked his butt off. Hardworking man. He’d come home, soon as he got home, he’d have dinner. He cracked a beer and drink, drink, drink, and just not stop drinking until he went to bed and he drank a lot. He’d be at that point where he’s getting drunk.


You can see the writing on the wall, but he wasn’t belligerent and he wasn’t mean.  He wasn’t horrible or any of those things.  He just drank himself until he was ready to go to bed. He’d go to bed and he’d wake up the next morning at five o’clock in the morning. Seems pretty functioning and go back to work and start all over again. On the weekends, he would drink more. So that looked pretty functioning and for a while, it stayed that way. In fact, as I got older, he would still go to work every day. He was still functioning, but the drinking got worse. To the point where it was causing issues when friends would come over. It would be embarrassing or I would be mortified and not want him to be around when my friends are over, out of left field.  Not knowing what the heck he was going to say or what he was going to do.


He would fall down and hurt himself more often. He would be belligerent sometimes. He would be inappropriate other times or make inappropriate jokes and things like that. But he still got up at five o’clock in the morning and he still went to work every day. Then we’d have Christmas, he would fall into the Christmas tree or find a way to ruin Thanksgiving or embarrass me at the Mexican restaurant or embarrass the family in other ways. But he still got up at five o’clock in the morning and went to work every day.  For his whole entire life, we called him a functioning addict, a functioning alcoholic.


My second interaction with a functioning alcoholic was me.  I was the type of drinker where I was a binge drinker. I would march into the corporate office and make millions of dollars for that company. I would go home at the end of the night and whatever city I’d flown into and drink or take some Adovin to relax and drink so much that I would just checkout and forget everything. But I woke up on time and put my heels on and my suit and marched into that company and made millions of dollars and did that over and over and over again. Now mind you, it was impacting other areas of my life. I was lonely, I didn’t have any relationships, but when we think about functioning addicts or alcoholics, the last place we look for pain is in money.


We judge functioning by money. As long as somebody is working and providing for themselves or their family. We think they’re a functioning addict or alcoholic. It’s not like they’re the guy on the corner, homeless, drinking all day from sun up to sun down with nothing to his name. This is a person who’s successful. They’re functioning. That is probably the biggest crack of shit ever known to man because while it’s not showing up in our pocketbooks and that keeps us functioning.  The dysfunction shows up in areas of relationships. I know from my dad as a young kid, I would look at my father and I would think, it’s harder for a kid to make sense of a functioning addicted parent than it is for a totally checked out drunk parent that has nothing.


The degenerate parent, a total absent parent. It’s harder for a kid to make sense of a functioning alcoholic or functioning addict because they look and they say, how can my dad get it together for work but he can’t get it together for me? How can my dad make work function and put on the face around his boss and act like he’s fine, but he’s falling down and embarrassing me in front of my friends? Does he just value work more than me? Does he just save his drinking for me? That’s what you start to wonder. If you’re in a family with a functioning addict and dad’s going to work every day and he’s paying your bills and he’s taking care of your family, I’m going to tell you, your kids are still up in their room, crying, wondering why dad saves his drinking for them. That’s what they’re wondering.


Kids are affected and impacted whether the bills are paid or not. The marriage is impacted whether the rings come and the hair can get done or not. Money, shouldn’t be the last place we look to check around and see, is this an issue? Lots of addicts and alcoholics have lots and lots of money. It’s such a lie that we tell ourselves that if you’re an addict or an alcoholic, you have to be homeless and not have any teeth and you have to be able not to provide for yourself. Do you know how many addicts and alcoholics, are rich, loaded, highly successful? There’s those quotes again, highly successful. Why is it that in our country and in everywhere else and a lot of places too, we measure success on our financial ability to provide and not on the relationships and the wake of damage and destruction that we’re causing to our children, our spouses and generations to come?


In my own relationship, I was making a lot of money. Traveling around the country and being a business consultant and acting like I had it all together and behind closed doors, I was falling apart. I was drinking. I was doing things full of shame.  Not even remembering what I was doing.  In the meantime, I was creating havoc in my relationships. Making the people that loved me, worried about me, concerned about me.  My argument was, well, I’m fine. Look, I just bought a house. I just bought a car. I’m fine. Relationships that I was in, intimate relationships. Boyfriends that I was with, making them Google search is my girlfriend an alcoholic. She just binge drinks, like what’s that?


We make binge drinking okay. We think, well, as long as you don’t drink every day, you’re a functioning addict. If you can go days in between, you’re fine. I was an overachieving binge drinker. I would drink to the point of not knowing where the heck I was and I’d wake up the next day and drink a green smoothie, go to the gym and feel like I’m good now. Then a couple of days would go in between I’d binge drink, fall down, forget my own name, wake up, drink a green smoothie and go to the gym. I’m not an alcoholic, see. Can we just get rid of addict, alcoholic, functioning, not functioning, substance use disorder. Get rid of all the titles and ask yourself. Hey, can we look around and ask ourselves, what’s the fallout? Who am I impacting? Whether I want to put a label on myself or not a label. I’m not for that anyway, because I think at the end of the day, that’s what gets us in trouble.


I could argue I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t need it. I can go without it. I can take it or leave it. Meanwhile, my relationships are falling apart. That should be your barometer for whether you’re functioning or not. That’s the discussion I want to have today. What makes you a functioning person? Are you surrounded by dysfunction? If there is dysfunction in your relationships with people in any way, shape or form. Dysfunction, you are not a functioning addict or an alcoholic and I don’t care how much money you make. That’s a good barometer from now on. As a relationship person and knowing the impact of addiction on our own lives, the own self abuse we inflect, but just the abuse we inflict on other people too, with our drinking. That’s the barometer to whether you’re functioning or not.


My dad brought home a paycheck, but I’m going tell you what.  The lasting impact that he left with his drinking, from growing up in that environment, whether he brought home that money or not has taken a lifetime to undo. You got to become aware of the impact. It doesn’t matter how often or how much your relationships are impacted. People are wondering why you’re picking alcohol over them? Why you can stop, but you start again? Why you binge and black out, but then you’re going to the gym? It’s very confusing for the people that love you to understand and you’re still arguing with them, you’re not an alcoholic. Why are they fucking unhappy? Are you hurting people? I know that’s harsh.


I know my language can be really to the point, but I want you to understand, we’ve got to stop this delusion that we’re fucking functioning. Where there is dysfunction, there is no functioning. Let that be the barometer and ask yourself.  If it’s you and you say, okay, I see, all right, yep. If we’re talking relationships, then no, I am not functioning. Some people are still delusional thinking I don’t drink that much and so they’re not really that impacted that much. You don’t need to fall down fifteen times. You can fall down one and have somebody to be scared shitless once and have it be enough. You can make a jerk out of yourself at a party one time and not ten times and have that one time, leave a mark.


We don’t need to be repeatedly hurting people. Hurting people once is enough. If your drinking is causing an impact or the drinking of somebody else is causing an impact, we all need to get well. We all need to take a look around and say, okay, what can we do? So this is a plea to you to help you understand that functioning alcoholism isn’t real. Functioning addiction isn’t real. The proof is in the dysfunctional family. The proof is in the dysfunctional relationship. Show this to somebody you love. I’ll take the heat, throw me under the bus, or if it’s you and I’m making you hot, then good. That’s a good first step. Awareness is the first step. I just want to encourage you to keep taking the next step.


Over at lovecoachheidi.com we have a ton of resources for you. If you want help in your family and you need answers specifically, and you want one-on-one type of support, or you want a group setting type of support, go over to lovecoachheidi.com and check out some of our courses and programs that we have to offer. If you’re new here, welcome, this is the start of something wonderful between us. I’m really glad you’re here. If you’ve been here for a while, let’s deepen our relationship. Why don’t you all think about allowing me to come alongside of you and hear what you have to say and work with you in a deeper way? All right. I love you. Take excellent care of yourself.



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