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How Do You Know If You Are Drinking Too Much? Functional Alcoholism And Motherhood

Stress often puts mothers at risk for abusing alcohol.

Think About It

I am an addictions counselor in addition to my job as a mother. Here are the things I most commonly hear from other mothers about alcohol.

  • How do I know if I drink too much?
  • Is it a problem if I really look forward to a glass of wine at the end of a hard day? I mean, it is just wine and it really helps with my stress.
  • I know I shouldn’t drink so much because alcoholism runs in my family, but I do it anyway.
  • I know alcohol isn’t a problem for me because if it ever was, I would just stop.
  • I could never, ever imagine my life without alcohol or wine. There is no way!

In just the right amount, alcohol lubricates people, loosens them up, and it seems to alleviate stress. It tastes good too. The bad stuff from alcohol occurs when someone begins relying on it too much, or they already have a predilection towards alcoholism.

Are you an alcoholic? Many people believe that alcohol abusers or alcoholics are only hard core drinkers who lose their jobs, get DUIs, or hurt people when they can’t stop drinking. The reality is quite different. Functional alcoholism is when one emotionally or physically abuses alcohol but thinks that they are still “in control.”

What is Functional Alcoholism?

A functional alcoholic drinks but is able to function well in other capacities in life. This person can be gainfully employed and have good relationships, even work out and be in good physical shape. However, they are overly focused on alcohol, abuse it, and suffer from negative consequences that can’t be immediately recognized.

  • Interestingly, functional alcoholics sometimes work out really hard, regularly to counteract the reality that they are mentally dependent on alcohol. In other words, “I can’t run 6 miles in a day with a hangover and have an alcohol problem.”

Alcohol is important to functional alcoholics — very important. They may arrange their lives so that they are available to drink. For example, they won’t spend time doing activities where alcohol isn’t available. They will only socialize with people who also make alcohol a priority. Or, to avoid a DUI or any trouble, they “drink responsibly” and just drink heavily at home where they don’t have to risk legal complications like driving drunk.

However, the impact of functional alcoholism on themselves, their families and their relationships is very negative. Even if somebody isn’t a raging acting out mess to loved ones, the disease of alcoholism will infect the people around them, making them more tensed and stressed. It will cause trauma.

When it comes to functional alcoholism, even if the negative effects aren’t immediately apparent, they will happen.

Perfectionism and Mommyhood

We women are balancing many roles. Stress often puts mothers at risk for abusing alcohol. Somehow, we have it in our heads that we must manage multiple roles — kids, home, work, friends, parties, volunteer work — beautifully, at all times.

So, instead of cutting back on responsibilities, saying no, or making changes, we use alcohol to quell our feelings. Then we just keep on chugging in our state of “stress buzz.” One day, we do the math and realize we’re downing a bottle of wine each session. Life goes on.

I love this article by Anne  Johnson in The Atlantic about how mommy hood, perfectionism, and alcohol can complicate things.

Beyond the Buzz

At least while we are buzzed, the bad stuff doesn’t seem to exist. The sad reality though is just that, reality. We are painfully reminded (with added headache, fatigue and some degree of physical damage) that the challenges remain.

Can You Relate?

If you are reading this article, you may be concerned about how much you drink (or how much a loved one drinks), you’re feeling guilty about how much you drink, or maybe you’re embarrassed about the way you acted “last time.” Below are a few signs of alcoholism from the Mayo Clinic, that I think are most important for raising awareness.

  • feeling a strong compulsion to drink, craving alcohol
  • rituals of drinking at certain times and being annoyed when the ritual is disturbed or questioned
  • gulping drinks, ordering doubles or becoming drunk intentionally to feel good, or drinking to feel “normal”

I am certainly not saying that having wine and margaritas with your girlfriends is a bad thing. It is absolutely not. What I am saying is that it is important for everyone who drinks to be aware of the risks.

In my counseling sessions, I’ve witnessed the aftermath too often — pain, loss, sadness and trauma from adult children who struggled with this issue in their childhood. Functional alcoholism is a quiet problem, and I want to reach out and inform a few willing listeners to please pay attention. In addition, if you have family members with alcoholic tendencies, you are even more at risk than you may know.

Educate yourself about alcoholism as well as what’s considered safe limits of daily alcohol use for women , even as it relates to breast cancer risk. That way, whatever decisions you make, you will not have regrets.

Take care,


Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at Could you take the time to kindly follow me/Cherilynn on Twitter? Connect on Facebook too? I would really appreciate the support! And don’t forget Google Plus.

How Do You Know If You Are Drinking Too Much? Functional Alcoholism And Motherhood

Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW

Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. Winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award in the Women's Issues category - Stop Giving It Away.

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APA Reference
, . (2014). How Do You Know If You Are Drinking Too Much? Functional Alcoholism And Motherhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Aug 2014
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