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For many, addiction falls into the background of the day-to-day. Anyone who stopped drinking coffee can tell you about the headaches and sluggishness of withdrawal. While we associate alcoholism with blacking out at parties and drunk-driving, many people are addicted to alcohol without it ever truly “coming to light” in such catastrophes. Just like caffeine, your dependence on alcohol might be most visible in its absence. If you don’t “feel yourself” without a drink, if you prioritize drinking over other responsibilities of your life, or if you use alcohol as a medicine, then you might be a functioning alcoholic and a good rehab program could be life-changing.

Alcoholism as a Sense of Self

We’ve all seen novelty mugs, shirts, and stickers around a culture of drinking: “Mommy needs her wine” or “Call me Old-Fashioned,” beneath a half-filled glass. While many people can enjoy an occasional drink, others might not feel complete without one. The self-deprecating humor we see in drinking puns, jokes, and products is a way many of us downplay or make light of just how much of our sense of self revolves around drinking. While it may seem harmless, it should at least raise the question on just how important alcohol is for us to function in our daily life. A clear symptom of alcohol addiction is when cravings for alcohol become an impediment on your day to day. If you’ve ever questioned whether or not you could get away with a quick drink on your lunch break, or if you can handle one more shot before you drive home, it’s a sign of your brain’s dependence on alcohol.

Functioning Alcoholism

Alcoholics aren’t all blackout drinkers, reckless partyers, or even unhappy in their lives. Many people hold fulfilling jobs and have loving and supportive families while still relying on alcohol to cope with the stress and emotions of life. Think of when you’ve had to go without a drink for extended periods of time. Have you been moody halfway through a workday because happy hour is so far away? Have you been frustrated at a “dry” wedding or birthday party? Have you gifted someone a bottle of fine wine and been aching inside, waiting for them to pop it open and share it with the group? Alcohol addiction can make you take silly risks, introduce unnecessary stress in your life, and make you more self-centered as you spend more time and energy thinking about your cravings than being present in the moment. While you might still be living a high quality of life and see no immediate problems with your relationship with alcohol, it could be having subtle effects on your career, your social life, or the way you’re perceived by others.

Alcohol as Medicine

The old adage says “vodka is cheaper than therapy.” It’s not always a deep, traumatic wound or mental scar we’re trying to suppress with drinking. Sometimes it’s just that we’re reminded of an ex, or we see a coworker be promoted above us, or we just can’t unwind after an argument with our spouse. Burying these stressors, insecurities, and negative emotions rather than letting our bodies process them is how they become splinters in our gut. We’ll have to pluck at them sooner or later, but for now, we just drown them. This numbing “self-medicating” is how we learn to drink not for fun or pleasure, but to manage our human emotions—a dangerous precursor to addiction.

If you see these behaviors in yourself or someone you know, it would be worth your while to talk to one of our Orange County detox and rehab specialists. A full rehab program might be excessive, but therapy, part-time treatment, or even Alcoholics Anonymous might be a great place to explore just how alcohol affects you and your life, and we can help you find the right option for your lifestyle.