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These are the four signs you could be a functioning alcoholic, according to a doctor

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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For many of us, drinking alcohol is just a regular part of our lives.

From gin to prosecco and all the weird and wonderful combinations in between (lemon drizzle gin, anyone?) we’re partial to the odd drink or three from time to time.

But at what point does our relationship with alcohol become less of a treat, and more of a problem?

While we might think it’s fine to abstain during the week and binge at the weekend, or drink every day if we only have a restrained glass or two, we might actually have more of an issue with alcohol than we realise.

And in case you’re not sure, a doctor has spoken out about the signs of being a functioning alcoholic – and there are four main ones to know.

At what point does our relationship with alcohol become a problem?

At what point does our relationship with alcohol become a problem?

When diagnosing a functioning alcoholic, experts use the four letters in the acronym CAGE.

C – Cutting down - do you ever think you should probably drink less?

A – Annoyance - do you ever feel annoyed by people complaining to you about your drinking?

G – Guilt - do you ever have feelings of guilt about your drinking or what you do when you drink?

E – Eye-opener - do you ever feel like you need a drink to feel better, particularly in the morning to unwind?

Dr Iqbal Mohiuddin, a consultant psychiatrist at 25 Harley Street Day Clinic, told Healthista that you don’t need to answer yes to all four of the questions to identify as a functioning alcoholic.



“If one or two of those are answered positively, it’s highly suggestive you could have a problem with alcohol,” he said.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that these are all subtle signs and everyone is different. The tipping point, according to Dr Mohiuddin, “is when someone loses, or faces a very real fear of losing, someone they love because of their drinking.”

Use the CAGE acronym if you're worried you might be a functioning alcoholic

Use the CAGE acronym if you're worried you might be a functioning alcoholic

And while we might all have a stereotypical image in our minds of what an alcoholic looks like, a functioning alcoholic might not actually look any different to ourselves, our friends, our family or our colleagues.

Dr Mohiuddin estimates that a massive third to a half of the people he sees for alcohol addiction don’t prescribe to our stereotypical image of an alcoholic.

“They’re working in high-powered jobs, in the City or the media and drinking heavily is accepted, almost expected,” he said. 

“They have carried on for years in this way but suddenly they’re getting physical symptoms such as feeling sick in the mornings and needing a drink and perhaps a partner has said they have had enough and it’s the drink or them.”

To help lower your risk of “alcohol-related harm”, the NHS has published a number of recommended guidelines online.

These include:

  • not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it's best to spread this evenly over three or more days
  • if you're trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it's a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week

The guidelines add, “Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis”.

You can calculate how many units of alcohol are in a variety of different drinks using the Drink Aware unit calculator here.

And if you’re worried about alcohol, or the relationship someone close to you has with it, you can find out more information from the NHS here.

Images: iStock

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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