If You’re Functioning, You’re Not An Alcoholic

January 22nd, 2007.

I’m sitting in a restaurant booth across from Mark when he suddenly turns somber.

“V….” he says to me, “I think I may be an alcoholic.”

I eye him suspiciously, “When did this happen?”

“Probably college.”

“I don’t get it,” I answer, “Are you having a hard time at work?”

“No. Work is good.”

“Your girlfriend? Is she upset with your drinking?”

“No. Christina is fine.”

“How’s your family? You’re health? Your finances? Is your liver about to explode? You’re not driving drunk, are you?”

“No, no no. Nothing like that. It’s just that I drink every day.”

I sigh deeply and ask, “So? If it’s not interfering negatively with your life, then what’s the problem?”

“I’m a functioning alcoholic. That’s the problem.”

Functioning alcoholic. What the hell does that even mean? I was always under the impression that alcoholics were those sad sacks that who blew every dime they had on bottles of Jack Daniels at the expense of their families, their jobs, their health and their dignity. An alcoholic is the guy who ends up toothless and sleeping in the gutter because cheap vodka has a sinister grasp on his soul. My friend is a young accountant in a shirt and tie with a sweet girlfriend and a loving family.

“Mark,” I answer, “If you’re functioning, then you’re not an alcoholic. The entire point of alcoholism is that you’re not functioning.”

“Then how to you explain the fact that I drink every day?” he asks.

“Maybe you’re just a guy who enjoys the taste of beer?”

Only in America. Only in America do we have to label every vice a ‘disease.’ Only in America are all our hobbies suspiciously probed until we can figure out a way to classify them as an ‘affliction.’ Are Americans so reluctant to admit to any sort of personal responsibility or decision making capability that they can’t even enjoy a glass a wine with dinner without wondering if they should seek treatment? The whole goddamn concept of functioning alcoholism is bullshit. Functioning alcoholic equals NOT A FUCKING ALCHOLIC.

Made up afflictions like ‘functioning alcoholic’ are insulting to the people who actually have a problem with alcoholism. The guy in the hospital with a failing liver doesn’t give a fuck that you prefer a beer to a glass of milk to wash down your chicken pot pie. He’s actually experiencing real, tangible, tragic consequences from his habit. You, on the other hand, aren’t hurting yourself nor are you hurting those who come in contact with you. So drink your beer and shut the fuck up already.

“You know, V,” Mark suddenly insists, “I think you may be a functioning alcoholic, too.”

“Not me. The only reason I drink is to wash down all this vicodin.”

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