It’s all too easy to grab a couple of glasses of wine when you get home after a stressful day, or regularly enjoy a few beers in the pub with your mates. But at what point does enjoying a frequent tipple become functioning alcoholism?
It’s a slippery slope, and one that former model Chrissy Teigen has admitted she was once on. In an Instagram post reminiscing about living in New York years ago, she recalls: “I’d sit there with my multiple double vodka sodas and get day drunk by myself (this is not a brag lol I was basically a functioning alcoholic) then buy hats I didn’t like or need.”
At the end of last year Teigen (35), who has two young children with her husband John Legend, gave up drinking alcohol completely, revealing on Instagram: “I was done with making an a** of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like s**t by 6, not being able to sleep.”
She added: “I have been sober ever since.”
But what’s the difference between just enjoying a frequent drink and being a functioning alcoholic, where you may even hold down a successful job and have a happy family life, but rely on alcohol, perhaps even more than you realised?
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, warns that just because you don’t fit into the stereotypical image of an alcoholic whose life is falling apart doesn’t mean you aren’t a problem drinker.
“Many of us have an idea in our heads of what an ‘alcoholic’ looks like, but the reality of alcohol dependency often doesn’t match up,“ he says. “This stereotype can be a real problem – we might find ourselves drinking very heavily, in ways that are damaging our mental and physical health, but because we don’t match up to our mental image of an ‘alcoholic’ we don’t see ourselves, and aren’t seen by others, as having a problem. That’s a big barrier to getting help.
“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘Am I an alcoholic?’ it’s better to ask, ‘Am I happy with my drinking?’ There’s no sudden moment when someone goes from being fine to having a problem, and you can get help at any point.”
A spokesperson for The Priory Group, which treats addiction including alcoholism, adds: “Alcohol abuse can sometimes be confusing and difficult to spot. The person may perform well at work, have a pristine appearance and enjoy an active social life. While they may seem okay to the outside world, it’s likely that warning signs and symptoms are appearing within the home.”
The Priory says signs you could be a functioning alcoholic include…
1. You drink heavily and excessively.
2. You drink when you’re on your own, and not just when you’re socialising.
3. You drink at odd times of the day – perhaps justifying it by saying ‘It’s wine o’clock somewhere in the world…’
4. You don’t want to socialise if alcohol isn’t involved, and actually avoid events/social situations if you can’t drink.
5. You drink so much that, the next day, you can’t remember what happened. While many people may have experienced this once or twice in their lives, if it happens regularly the chances are you have a drinking problem.
6. Justifying your drinking to yourself or to others as simply being a reward or celebration.
7. Joking or being flippant about your drinking, and trying to make light of what’s actually a serious problem.
8. Keeping alcohol in weird places which might be seen as hiding it, like in your car or in the garage.
9. You get aggressive, bad-tempered and may be impulsive (and regret it later) after drinking.
10. If you can’t drink for some reason, you become irritable and restless.