Married couple talking about being a functional alcoholic and alcohol abuse

Is Your Partner a Functioning Alcoholic? 4 Helpful Tips

It’s not easy to realize and accept that alcohol abuse has become part of your partner’s life. Are they a functioning alcoholic?

You may see it more quickly than your partner does. You may recognize that drinking is increasing in frequency and amount. Your partner may seem irritable or nervous when they haven’t had a drink for a while. This could be a sign that your partner is having memory lapses related to alcohol use. Or you observe them doing things that are dangerous or out of character when they’re under the influence.

Because of the portrayal of alcohol dependence in popular culture over the years, the word “alcoholic” is more likely to conjure a picture of a person who can’t seem to get their life together rather than someone managing a career and relationships.

The truth, though, is that alcohol is an equal opportunity affliction. A study reported by the National Institutes of Health notes that almost 20% of people with alcohol dependence fall into the functioning alcoholic category. They have stable jobs and families and are typically well-educated.


Talking About Alcohol Abuse

In order to have the motivation to address a problem, the negative consequences of it need to be clear, and the more functional someone is able to be in the face of alcoholism, the harder it is for them to see their need for help

You, as the partner undoubtedly, realize that your loved one isn’t functioning as well as they think they are and are feeling consequences they don’t acknowledge. Helping them to see that is a loving thing to do, but they may not always interpret it that way. Approach the conversation carefully. Here are some tips:

Keep your main goal in mind.

It’s natural to be angry and frustrated by your partner’s behavior. Even so, if your main goal is for your partner to get treatment, it’s best to avoid communicating in a way that’s likely to cause defensiveness.


Remember how alcohol affects the brain.

It damages areas associated with judgment and memory, making it harder for people to associate alcohol abuse with their behavior, or even remember what they’ve done. 

Someone associated with Al-Anon shared this perspective: “The alcoholic may experience blackouts. He appears to be functioning, but he usually doesn’t remember what he did or said. He suspects that something did happen, and his anxiety and nameless guilt are almost unbearable. If you’re sorry for him, you might think it’s unfair to torture him by telling him what his drinking led to. But it’s kinder and more constructive to relieve his mind and tell him frankly what he needs to know. He has a right to know what his drinking is doing to him. If you go to him without anger or reproach and tell him quietly what happened, you’ll be helping him to see himself as he is. My wife did just this for me, and it was the single most helpful thing that ever happened to bring me to sobriety.”


 Use “I” statements.

You’re more likely to be met with defensiveness and argument if you start statements with “you” (“You always . . .” or “You make me . . . “) than if you simply state your own experience (“I was really scared when the phone rang late the other night because I was afraid it was the police calling to tell me you’d been in an accident.”)


 Be ready with treatment information to share.

If you suspect your partner might be a functioning alcoholic and is ready and willing to get help, it’s good to have a potential plan already in place. Do your own research on treatment so that you are prepared to support their next steps whenever they are ready to take them.


We can help you help your partner. Give us a call at 844.675.1628 and let us talk about your options. There’s help and hope waiting for both of you.

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