ELLEN L. DONALDSON, M.H.R.
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THE FUNCTIONAL ALCOHOLIC
“He/She doesn’t look like an alcoholic!”
By Janee S. Parnegg
•The functional alcoholic IS a:
-husband -wife -doctor -lawyer -priest -bishop -mother -father butcher -chief of-police -secretary -boss -carpenter –artist
-son -engineer -realtor -sister -brother -laundryman -mailman
-The President -The First Lady -teacher -blue collar worker
-contractor –banker -computer expert -janitor -daughter
-soldier -truck driver -psychiatrist –sailor –grammar school teacher -high school student -college student –dentist -golf pro -ski instructor -movie star -waitress –minister -nurse –cousin and everyone else.
The functional alcoholic
DOES NOT NECESSARILY:
§ Get drunk every time he/she drinks or drink a large amount.
§ Have hangovers.
§ Miss a lot of work.
§ Drink during the day, or even during the week. Drink every day, week or month.
§ Look bleary-eyed.
§ Have slurred speech.
§ Get unpleasant or belligerent with other people. Drink in the morning.
§ Become physically abusive.
§ Become verbally abusive.
§ Crave a drink.
§ Show up late for work.
§ Have any kind of withdrawal symptoms. ‘Get a DWI,
§ Ever LOOK drunk.
§ Have blackouts.
The family usually sees the first symptoms but is frequently unable to evaluate what those symptoms mean and often attributes them to other causes.
The functional alcoholic DOES have personal problems that are caused by or related to the use of alcohol such as:
§ Sleep problems
§ Flash anger problems
§ Financial problems
§ Relationship problems
§ Sexual problems
§ Social problems
§ Thinking Problems
§ Emotional problems
§ Mood problems
§ Self-esteem problems
§ Health problems
§ Family problems
§ Spiritual problems
§ Legal problems
All of these problems usually do have alternative and very plausible explanations. How then, does anyone identify a developing addiction problem? Certain things do begin to happen and when examined carefully, a pattern slowly emerges. The following list is by no means complete but it is indicative of the types of things to look for. Remember, the alcoholic is often a brilliant super achiever, is employed and frequently is an admired citizen (right there in the midst of his/her problem).
•The family sometimes notices that their functioning alcoholic MAY:
•Drink the first couple of drinks quite rapidly, but that isn’t such a big deal, is it?
•Fix a drink first thing upon arriving home to relax, to calm down, after a hard day. It seems to be an innocent enough ritual.
•Require a drink before dealing with any family problems, i.e. Johnny’s report card, washing machine breaks down, Aunt Matilda coming to visit, etc.
•Consume a “drink or two” more even after others have quit.
•Have a ritually important night-cap “in order to sleep.”
• Frequently seem unable to have just one or two drinks, but doesn’t seem to get really “drunk.”
• Show discomfort in situations where no alcohol is available, i.e. dislikes going to restaurants where no liquor is served avoids even fun activities where there is no chance of a drink.
• Make an excuse to leave a party early where the alcohol flow is moderate, even though his/her companion is having a good time.
• “Draw a blank” about conversations or happenings which occurred while drinking, which would normally be remembered (blackouts).
• Explain his/her drinking, even though no one asked.
• Make a big deal out of not drinking for a few days, weeks or even months.
• Make promises that aren’t kept,
•The functional alcoholic MAY miss work, at first sporadically, because of:
§ The 24-hour flu, especially popular on Monday.
§ Sinus headaches
§ Food poisoning
§ “Allergy flare-ups”
• Minor accidents (sprained ankle, broken toe and he/she usually asks someone else to make the excuse call to the place of work)
§ Upset stomach
§ Severe illness in family
§ Death in family
§ Bad cold
§ Back pain
§ Illnesses that are often related to excessive use of alcohol but provide legitimate excuses all by themselves ie: ulcers, gastroenteritis, diabetic crisis, carditis, hypoglycemia, colitis.
§ Illnesses where clear-cut medical determination cannot always be made. Most doctors are rather reluctant to say to the patient that their pain in the head, neck, back, shoulder etc. does not really exist, even when they cannot identify the cause.
The functional alcoholic may have the family convinced that THEY are the cause of such symptoms as:
• Disinterest in family projects, home repairs, gardening, meal preparations, auto upkeep, kid’s school work or special school programs, going out or staying home
• Irritability - “throwing a fit” over trivial things, and their argumentativeness
• Aloofness, sarcasm
• Ever-wider mood swings - super happy or very down
• Melancholy and/or extremes of anxiety
• Forgetfulness, i.e. appointments not kept, errands not done
• Disinterest in sex or an aggressive attitude toward sex
• Spending more time alone, any change in personal appearance, weight loss, weight gain (bloat), skipping meals or picking at food
· Annoyance over or evasion of any discussion of his/her drinking
· Complaints over the use of or lack of money
· Becoming more and more withdrawn and isolated
And still none of these signs may seem to be directly connected to excessive drinking. There are always other explanations, such as the death of a friend or relative, job pressure, health problems, divorce or separation passages.”
As the early stage functional alcoholic slides into the middle stages, we begin to see more obvious signs.
-Flushed face or grayish pallor
-Eyes less clear
-Nervous symptoms, i.e, high-keyed; possibly chain smoking; constant coffee drinking; a very uptight appearance
-His/her drinking becomes less and less predictable.
Sometimes drinks “normally.” sometimes really ties one on”
-He/she makes sure there is “enough” liquor in the house. Buys in large ‘economy’ sizes. He/she is very upset if it runs out and goes to elaborate and frequently inconvenient lengths to replenish supply; might even arrange a sudden visit to a friend where drinks are sure to be offered.
-He/she may be having more frequent memory blanks (blackouts)
-When confronted about his/her drinking, becomes irritable, defensive, angry or belligerent and tries to blame the confronter. Might have a morning drink - a beer or two “to get going”
-Explains (rationalizes) his/her drinking. i.e.:
‘drank on an empty stomach - it really hit him/her.
-By accident, had to switch drinks gin to rum, etc. “Someone spiked the drinks”
-Wasn’t drunk, I had low blood sugar ‘Not drunk – was coming down with the flu.
-He/she only drinks wine or beer. No one could be an alcoholic on such “mild” drinks, could they?
-He/she shifts the issue to you: if you weren’t so nagging, penurious, extravagant, thoughtless, picky, cold, demanding, etc., he/she wouldn’t be forced to drink so much.
One l2oz. beer has………………………………………… 42 oz. of alcohol
One 4 oz. glass of wine has........................ 40 oz. of alcohol
One 1 oz. jigger mixed drink has................. 40 oz. of alcohol
In Other Words….
A Drink is a Drink, Alcohol is Alcohol
ELLEN L. DONALDSON, M.H.R., LMFT, LADC