There is a third critical factor to bear in mind when questioning the functioning of a so-called “functioning alcoholic.” The first factor to consider was whether the alcoholic is functioning generally in life, or just in one aspect of life, like his job. The second factor was whether the alcoholic is achieving his potential and pursuing his dreams, not just getting by.

The third factor has to with how long the “functioning,” at whatever level, can last in the presence of alcohol abuse.

Excessive alcohol consumption was affecting my health. If I hadn’t changed to a healthier lifestyle when I did, I would have been dead years ago. And what I have brought to others over the past thirty years would simply never have existed.

I had a good friend who was a brilliant youth psychiatrist. He would go back to an apparently productive afternoon after a lunch of five double-martinis. But he left his wife and two children and potentially thousands more young clients by dying far too young. Liver cancer ended his functioning.

I lost two alcoholic colleagues to suicide. They left young families. Recently several friends, significantly younger than me, died of health repercussions of alcoholism. And two of my adult children died of the heath repercussions of their alcohol abuse. With all of these untimely deaths most people were too polite or too embarrassed to even mention the alcohol factor in their deaths.

The notion of the functioning alcoholic is mostly myth. The phrase “functioning alcoholic” is an oxymoron.

To function is to function in life, not just in a part of life. Functioning means fulfilling your potential and pursuing your dreams as best you can within the actual limits of circumstances. And functioning is a long-term matter, not just a temporary condition.

Since none of these descriptions of functioning is consistent with being an alcoholic, I must conclude I have never met a truly functioning alcoholic. Have you?

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Neill Neill, psychologist, author and columnist, maintains an active practice with a focus on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic - A Woman’s Survival Guide. From time to time life presents us all with issues. To find out what insights and guidance Neill shares about your particular questions, go to