As drinking and driving becomes less tolerated, many communities have volunteer programs, as well as paid services, to get people home safely if they’ve been drinking and shouldn’t drive. Their existence is a reminder that parties, family gatherings, weddings and other celebrations push up alcohol consumption.

A few of all the people celebrating will already be full-blown alcoholics: they may drink a bit more than their normal level, but generally will blend in with everyone else. After all, they hold jobs, serve on volunteer committees, have families and have friends. These are the so-called “functioning alcoholics.”

So what’s wrong with being an alcoholic if you can function normally? This is the first of three articles on the issue.

The functioning alcoholic is the alcoholic who can hold down a job, pursue a career or care for children while continuing his or her alcoholism. Some can do these things successfully, but how well do they handle the other functions in living? How do they function in the role of spouse, parent, driver, financial manager and community volunteer? The job or profession isn’t their only function in life.

Two famous entertainers come to mind, a very popular late-night TV host and a famous singer-entertainer: both were alcoholics, but both were also known to be wife beaters. We are all aware of other public examples: the successful politician charged with impaired driving, the wealthy businessman who abandons his family, claiming poverty.

Multiply the public examples of alcohol abuse and dysfunction by a thousand, and you get a picture of the neglect, abuse, lies and cover-up that are probably out there among the population of so-called functioning alcoholics: the alcoholic farmer who sexually abuses his young daughters, the alcoholic teacher who amasses a large collection of child porn, the mother whose children die in a house fire because she had passed out while drinking.

Consider the successful professional who pours himself a drink as soon as he gets home. Since he won’t drink and drive, he never attends his children’s games or takes them camping. Is he “functioning?”

What it comes down to is this: to function is to function in life, not just in one part of life. Ask yourself if you know any alcoholics who not only do their jobs, but are also truly functional in life. I can’t think of any, but there may be a few.

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