Addiction Recovery Blog

Evolution of the Functional Alcoholic

Human beings aren’t destined to become alcohol users or abusers–or so it might seem–but the annals of human history are punctuated with stories of man’s struggle with the substance.  Our ancestors, ancient hominids, discovered that imbibing water containing rotten fruit produced an intoxicating effect and subsequently taught themselves how to control alcohol production by intentionally catalyzing fermentation.  Anthropologists can only speculate as to why primitive man would promote the production and ingestion of a depressant, especially since an alert state of mind speaks directly to self-defense, but they, much like modern humans, must have simply enjoyed the effects it produced both internally– within the mind–and throughout the external, physical body.

Much like tool use and harnessing fire, modern man displays evidence of this residual, primitive knowledge–all within the context of a technocratic society.  Tool use has spawned the mega home improvement craze, fire, the modern appliance industry.  But what role, as industry contributor, has alcohol taken?  It is a bittersweet beneficiary–the world economy thrives on tax revenue generated by its sale and consumption, but alcohol’s presence and pervasiveness  has taken its toll on several institutions–namely the nuclear family.

Modern society has taken the activity of alcohol consumption away from the realm of senseless recreation in a survivalist state of existence and applied it to a world where productivity is synonymous with survival–and trumps relaxation.  At least in the case of the working class majority.  Endurance of a species now relies not on avoiding one’s natural predators, but accumulating enough wealth to purchase food, shelter and clothing.  In a situation that seems to have flipped the script on the master/slave dynamic, can alcohol now be viewed as a different class of natural predator, one that spontaneously erupted from harmless flora but was applied by man to assist in his own destruction?

Having insidiously crept into our culture’s value system is the  “functional alcoholic,” or, a figure who is often praised by other alcohol users for being able to balance addiction with responsibility–someone who works hard and plays hard.  This persona stands in the center of the spectrum of alcoholism, between the casual, social drinker and the teetotaler or frequent binge drinker. The functional alcoholic manages to provide oneself or an entire family with material necessities, all while indulging in alcohol daily.  Sound familiar?  If you have a hard time imagining ancient man lolling about in a state of fermented ecstasy without hunting/gathering as needed, well, it’s easy to see how the survival of the human race might have been promoted by none other than a paleolithic substance abuser.

The risks to today’s man don’t include the threat of feral animal attacks, but the threat of alcoholism as a hereditary trait is an inherent menace to life and social operability.  Functional alcoholics are able to maintain the equilibrium between work, home and recreation due to an increased tolerance level to the substance.  It takes more than one or two episodes of over-indulgence to convince the abuser or his or her family that a person has a problem, and sometimes lies dormant for years–a known, yet silent killer.  The functional alcoholic resides in a state of expressed denial–he or she displays no outward ill effects, but inwardly crumbles once the world turns its head.  Thus, inwardly, the question inevitably whirls within a person’s psyche : can I live, can I survive, like this?

Am I a functional alcoholic quiz: