The Similarities & Contrasts between Chronic & Functioning Alcoholics

alcoholismThe vast majority of Americans drink alcohol. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86.8 percent of adults polled in 2013 admitted to drinking during their lifetimes. Alcohol just seems to be something most people take in at some point in life. Most people start drinking when they are in their teens, and they keep drinking through adulthood.

Drinking might seem normal and routine, but not everyone who starts drinking is able to handle the chaos that comes with alcohol. Some people develop very serious drinking problems that come under the heading of alcoholism. That alcoholism issue can take many forms, two of which are chronic alcoholism and functioning alcoholism.

Chronic Alcoholism

People with chronic alcoholism have the classic form of the disease. These people typically start drinking early in life, and they lose everything to the urge to sip alcohol. They exhibit behaviors such as:

  • Needing a pick-me-up drink in the morning
  • Feeling shaky or jittery between drinks
  • Prioritizing drinking above all else
  • Becoming immune to small doses of alcohol
  • Experiencing legal consequences due to drinking
  • Finding it impossible to stop

People like this may have very serious health consequences due to alcoholism, such as cirrhosis of the liver or ulcers in the stomach. They may be thin and frail, as they drink instead of eating. They may drink from the moment they awaken to the moment they head to bed, with no breaks. They may not be working due to alcohol abuse.


Functioning Alcoholism

The classic form of alcoholism may be familiar, but an article in Psych Central suggests that less than 10 percent of people with alcoholism fit this model. Others may have functioning alcoholism. People with this disease may still drink to excess, and they may still find it hard to stop drinking; however, they may:

  • Hold down jobs
  • Attend to family obligations
  • Maintain relationships
  • Have the appearance of health
  • Be adept at keeping drinking hidden

People like this may project an image of cool, clean perfection, but they may be living a double life. They may head to work and do well there, but they may hit the bar after work every single night, drinking all others under the table. They may drink as soon as they arrive home at night, and they may spend the weekends in a drunken haze. These people have alcoholism, and they may be unable to stop drinking, but they may not recognize that they have a drinking problem. They believe that their lives are too successful. If they had a drinking problem, they theorize, they would not be able to achieve such success.

Treatment for Chronic Alcoholism

Long-term, high-level abuse of alcohol can be terribly damaging to the cells of the brain. As the abuse continues, the cells become unable to function without a kick of alcohol. When the substance is gone, people may experience life-threatening seizures.

People with chronic alcoholism need medical detox programs, and Mayo Clinic says those typically last 2-7 days; however, 5-7 days is often the most common range. During that time, teams can use medications to keep the medical complications under control, allowing for a smooth transition to sobriety that comes with no serious health problems.

Once detox is complete, people with chronic alcoholism need to enroll in inpatient rehab programs. Typically, these people have many old habits and longstanding patterns that work as relapse triggers, so they cannot live in their homes and communities as they heal. They need the safety and supervision an inpatient program can provide, and they need to stay there until they have the skills that will help them to deal with relapse triggers they encounter in the community.

After inpatient rehab, people with chronic alcoholism may benefit from enrolling in a sober living community. Here, people share living space with other people who are also in recovery, and the group agrees to a set of house rules that prohibit alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Living here is safer and more protected than living at home, and it could be a good choice when alcoholism has been longstanding.

After sober living communities, people with chronic alcoholism may benefit from lifelong participation in a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. That continued participation in care could help people to avoid new triggers and challenges that could spark a return to alcoholism.


Treatment for Functioning Alcoholism

Experts interviewed by Everyday Health suggest that the proper course of treatment for someone with functional alcoholism depends on the severity of the disease. Some people with functional alcoholism can recover with simple plans that involve detox and support group work. Others need to follow a traditional path to healing that involves detox, rehab, sober living, and support groups. The depth of the symptoms and the need for care will dictate what will be best for someone with this form of alcoholism.

Those who take a low-intervention approach involving detox and support group work should be monitored carefully, as this help might not be enough to deliver real change. They may relapse to drinking right away, or they may stay sober for a month or two and then relapse.

After a relapse, it is vital for people to get back into a treatment program, and to choose a treatment option that is a little more restrictive. That way, they can get the level of help they need without relapsing a second or even a third time.

Focusing on Prevention

The best way to avoid alcoholism of any sort, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is to limit drinking. For men, that means no more than four drinks on any given day and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, that means no more than three drinks on one day and no more than seven drinks per week.

If alcoholism has taken hold, whether it is chronic or functioning, it can be addressed with the proper treatment program. Those who enroll can see that for themselves.