18 February 2019

Life as a Functioning Alcoholic in Britain’s Drinking Culture

is it possible to be a functioning alcoholic nowadays or is it a myth
In the UK, it’s generally perceived as the norm to drink alcohol, usually from teenage years into adulthood and old age. Britain’s drinking culture can sometimes be a cover for the functioning alcoholic, however. Surrounded by friends, family and work colleagues who drink, it can sometimes be hard to tell who is addicted and who isn’t.In February 2019, BBC Stories broadcast a short documentary film about life as a functioning alcoholic. In the film, CEO and Founder of UK Addiction Treatment Group, Eytan Alexander, said: “In the UK, we have a drinking culture, so it’s normalised across the board. So it’s very difficult to spot who has a problem and who doesn’t.”Molly Foges, Mel Curtis, and Suzi MacDonald also contributed to the BBC Stories film. They explained what it’s like to be a functioning alcoholic – as a teenager, a city worker, and as a mother respectively.

What Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

The OED define a ‘functioning alcoholic’ as a ‘person who is dependent on alcohol but is capable of functioning in the professional and social roles expected of him or her.’

Though a functioning alcoholic may still be earning well, looking after their children or achieving good grades at college, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t suffering ill effects. Typically, functioning alcoholics have periods of time where they feel depressed, anxious, lonely or sick, but they have developed strategies to hide this from other people.

Often, people around them suspect or know that they have an alcohol problem. However, as a functioning alcoholic, fewer people tend to directly challenge them – assuming or hoping they still have their drinking under some control.

Britain’s Drinking Culture – Being a Teenage Functioning Alcoholic

Molly Foges became addicted to alcohol as a teenager. Today, she is in recovery from alcoholism and works as a therapist at UKAT.

in the BBC Stories film, Molly explained the difference between her drinking and that of her peers. “A lot of my friends at the time could have several drinks and stop and go to bed and go to sleep,” Molly said. “I never wanted the party to end.”

Common to every alcoholic, Molly experienced overwhelming cravings to drink more and more alcohol. She said: “I felt so good when I drank and I’d have this intense craving for more – the next one, the next one – and when I was coming to the point where I’d be running out, I’d start to panic and think, right, where am I going to get more?”

Britain’s Drinking Culture – the Alcoholic Worker

Contributing to BBC Stories, Mel Curtis described having a successful career in an industry where drinking alcohol was the norm. “The very first job I ever had was in media,” Mel said. “The whole drinking culture was not just accepted but expected.”

Mel also spoke about how she hid her alcoholism from colleagues. “I would get into work and I knew that at 10 o’clock there was a shop around the corner that opened that sold alcohol. So, quite often I would put a meeting in my diary that would give me a reason to be out of the office for half an hour. I would come back and there was a disabled toilet and I had my supply kit. There was a little hiding place and I would go and put my bottle of vodka there – there was a toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash and perfume.”

Britain’s Drinking Culture – the Alcoholic Mother

a happy femily without alcoholism

Mother of two children, Suzi MacDonald, said: “No Mum wants to say, ‘I have a problem with alcohol.’ But some people do. And it’s okay.”

Suzi explained how her social drinking progressed to alcoholism. “I did drink socially a lot. I have a lot of friends that drink. It would take all my anxiety away. I would be able to talk to people more. When everybody had gone home and was suffering from a hangover, I was going back to the shop and buying two bottles of wine and sitting indoors on my own.”

In the end, Suzi needed alcohol to get out of bed. “I would wake up in the morning, swig some vodka, just to get myself up,” she said.
Recovering from Alcoholism in a Drinking Culture

UKAT CEO Eytan Alexander highlighted the challenges in early recovery from alcohol addiction, in a society where drinking is so commonplace. “For the alcoholic who has just gone through treatment and going back into society, it’s a massive problem being surrounded by alcohol because it’s so normalised and legal,” he said.

Mel Curtis pointed to alcohol advertising and social media promotion, as one of the ways that drinking is glamorised. She said: “On my Instagram, adverts for vodka [come up] and they make it look really glamorous and all these funky coloured gins and beautifully decorated boxes of champagne. It plays into the whole romanticising that people do around drinking.”

Suzi MacDonald talked about societal assumptions around drinking. “I took my daughter into a supermarket before. She’s had a tantrum and someone will turn round and say, ‘oh, I bet you can’t wait for that glass of wine when you get in.’”

Molly Foges said that recovering in a drinking culture can be challenging at times. “I often refer to [alcohol] as my ex-husband and he was the most gorgeous thing in the world. This person still loves me and wants me – even after all these years,” she said.

If you need to recover from alcohol addiction, know that there is help available. Eytan Alexander appealed to alcohol addicts in the BBC Stories film, to take the first step towards getting treatment and support. “Call a helpline. Speak to somebody,” he said. “You’re not the only person. It’s about for the first time coming out of isolation and being a community where you can express what’s truly going on.”

BBC Stories “Going to Work Drunk Everyday” is available to view until January 2020.

To speak to UKAT about treatment for alcoholism, please contact our friendly Admissions team today.

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