By : Izzy Capelin
Original Source: www.netdoctor.co.uk
Alcohol is becoming a staple of British culture, with the average Briton drinking 151% more alcohol in 2001 than in 1951. With more and more of us reaching for a drink on the regular, is alcoholism becoming more acceptable as long as it doesn’t appear to affect our day-to-day lives?
Nine million people in England drink more than the recommended daily alcohol limits (2 units) while nearly 2 million adults are thought to have some form of alcohol dependence. A person’s financial situation is often associated with excess drinking, but adults living in households with the highest incomes are in fact twice as likely to drink heavily as those with lower incomes. When it becomes alcohol dependence, it can have a huge impact on the individual’s behaviour and mental state.
What is a functioning alcoholic?
There are 5 main subtypes of alcoholism:
- Young adults
- Young antisocial
- Intermediate familial
- Chronic severe (archetypal alcoholic)
As with any mental illness, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’: it can manifest itself in different ways and to different degrees. According to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren of the Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Fenchurch Street, London the ‘functional’ subtype accounts for about 20% and describes it in the following way:
“The ‘functional subtype’ were least like the typical group, often well-educated, middle-aged and with stable jobs and families. This functional category highlighted the hidden nature of problem drinking for many people.”
Functioning alcoholics are often able to hold down a job (often well-paid) and appear in control of their lives. These individuals are often extremely well experienced at hiding their drinking habits and due to the seemingly minimal consequences of their drinking will be unlikely to see it as a problem.
“I see many so called “functioning alcoholics” at The Blue Tree Clinic. Functioning in some ways but maybe not others, what it really means is they can get to work and home again without people noticing they are craving alcohol or getting drunk within 9 to 5. Come home time it’s a different story. One glass of wine turns into one or two bottles”
While they may think they are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, those closest to them will most likely be completely aware of how much they drink. However, like their partner/friend/loved one, they too may be in denial about it all as Dr McLaren explains,
“A well-recognised pattern is for one parent to be a functional alcoholic and the other an ‘enabler’, who either recognises the growing problem in their partner and chooses to deny it, or makes excuses, or just does not recognise the problem at all. Functional alcoholics are masters of deception and persuasion.”
What’s the potential impact on their children?
This kind of behaviour can cause disruptions in the family dynamic that the functioning alcoholic is completely oblivious to. Dr McLaren explains,
“Just as they can perform well at work, they may be able to run a tight ship at home particularly when children are younger. The family routines may, however, come to be dominated by the alcoholic’s need to drink. Young children may be unaware but an alcoholic parent will be less emotionally accessible to them than a sober parent and this may become more apparent as they get older and their emotional needs become more complex. Alcoholic parents, functional or not, will be more likely to suffer with anxiety and depression which may impact negatively on their parenting. Drinking will sooner or later take its toll on the parents’ relationship and increase the risk of angry arguments and embitterment, which has the potential to cause the children emotional harm. A functional alcoholic parent may not physically neglect or abuse their child but emotional neglect can occur and leave significant scars.”
The psychological effect this can have on children can be profound, sometimes carrying on well into adulthood. The behaviour an alcoholic parent exhibits, whether they are functional or not, can be incredibly confusing for young children; mood swings, inconsistency and unpredictability all contribute towards an unstable environment for children to grow up in. Andrew, 35, looks back on how this kind of environment has affected him:
“I was never allowed to be a child: I had to spend every night keeping my parents from fighting. I never learned to play. Now I can’t make friends; I never learned to let people close to me. Even my relatives seem to live in a different world.”
June, 25, also struggles with how alcohol impacted her family:
The long-term effects are well documented, with 70% of children following the patterns of their alcohol-dependent parents who successfully hide their drinking from the people around them. Sadly, this means they most likely won’t ask for help, and will most likely feel incredibly isolated and alone. A perhaps unsurprising 89% of children claimed that their childhood household was not a place to be proud of, leading them to imitate their parent’s secretive behaviour.I am convinced that these experiences have played a major role in allowing my life to be consumed by misery, fear and despair
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics not only offer a free helpline for anyone affected by these issues, but also offers practical advice on how to help those you suspect are suffering in silence,
“Having as many sources of support as possible can help children and adults cope with their parent’s drinking and the knock-on effects of growing up with parental alcoholism. Everyone can make a difference including parents, step-parents, carers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and parents of friends, neighbours, teachers, counsellors, and professional or voluntary organisations.”
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