June 14, 2018 Felicia Durling

Functional Alcoholism = Dysfunctional Family

Admitting powerlessness over alcohol is a difficult task for functional alcoholics. These types of drinkers are often mislead by the security in their lives. Not everyone is a ‘low bottom’ drunk. Each alcoholic experiences the disease in a different way. Millions of people around the world are able to hide or justify their alcoholism because they lead normal lives. They don’t lose their jobs, they don’t get in accidents, they don’t get convicted of crimes. In society’s general view, a functional alcoholic essentially does no harm. Ask their families, however, and you hear a slightly different tale. Though the functional alcoholic’s drinking may be hidden from the world, it is not hidden from the people it affects the most. Often the pain of the people closest to a functional alcoholic is being hidden just like their loved one’s drinking.

Emotional Availability

Though the alcoholic parent may be physically present, their alcoholism prevents them from being emotionally present. Children may be more oblivious at a young age. As they grow, their emotional needs become more complicated. Swept up in selfishness, depression, rage, anxiety, shame, or guilt, an alcoholic parent is unable to meet their children’s emotional needs. Emotional neglect is a form of abuse. Research has found that emotional abuse leaves the same kind of psychological scars as physical abuse. In fact, neurobiology shows that physical pain and pain from rejection, abandonment or neglect, operate in the same area of the brain.


Children learn from their parents’ behaviors, attitudes, and actions. Alcoholism creates mood swings, unpredictable behaviors, and poor decision making. Unreliable and inconsistent, a child will not be given a clear understanding of what is right and wrong. Such instability creates chaos for a child, because children, though they are remarkably resilient, need security and stability.

Knowing No Other Way

Research out of Britain shows that 70% of children raised in a functioning alcoholic home grow up to repeat their parents’ behaviors. Part of the problem with functional alcoholism, especially when the drinking takes place at home, is that children learn to hide their problems. They are usually threatened at the mention of asking someone for help; lest anyone discover their parent’s secret. 89% of children reported feeling that they grew up in a household that was ‘nothing to be proud of’. When these children grow up into alcoholic adults, they feel they too must hide their secret, incapable of seeking help.


The Center For Life Change sees miraculous transformations take place in family units rattled by a parent’s alcoholism. We offer a place of safety and security for healing. Heal here with us. Your journey is just beginning. For more information on our alcoholism treatment programs and family therapy call (951) 775-4000.

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