The Functioning Alcoholic and Memory Loss

functioning alcoholicAnyone who abuses alcohol long enough or heavily enough eventually will have problems with memory. The functioning alcoholic will have memory problems. His memory problems are simply less severe than those of the skid-row alcoholic.

Brain Damage

As with other toxins excessive use of alcohol destroys brain cells. If the alcohol abuse goes on long enough, eventually it may show up in deteriorating memory, particularly short-term memory.

The first short-term memory problems usually show up long before the drinker begins to have alcoholic blackouts.

Alcoholic blackouts may be an indication that the brain damage is getting more severe. As his alcoholism progresses, the alcoholic will eventually begin to notice gaps in his memory. He cannot remember how he got home last night. He may not remember even where he was drinking last night, or who he was with. This does not mean that he was not aware of what he was doing; he was perfectly aware at the time, but he just can’t remember.


I have often characterized self-medication with alcohol as voluntary dissociation. The functioning alcoholic drinks to split off from the reality of his life, his pain or his feelings of inadequacy. When he enters that altered state he feels better. The problem is that he has become addicted to alcohol over time. Now he simply needs alcohol to feel at all OK.

When people are in dissociated states, with or without alcohol, they are simply not there. So when you tell them something when they are in their altered state, they may not have any recollection of what you told them when they come back to reality. And because they typically don’t realize they were mentally somewhere else, they get defensive and often angry. They may accuse you of lying or holding things from them.

Whether the deteriorating memory in the functional alcoholic is the result of brain damage or dissociation or, more probably, both, it should be taken as a symptom of advancing alcoholism.

If you are a functioning alcoholic and those around you are complaining about your memory problems, get whatever help you need to break your addiction and stop things from getting worse. Take it from someone who has been there: there is life after booze.

If you are a family member of a functioning alcoholic, do seek help yourself, lest you slip into a debilitating codependency role. Going to an Al-Anon meeting might be a good place to start.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The following two tabs change content below.

64 thoughts on “The Functioning Alcoholic and Memory Loss

  1. Dr. Neill,

    I have been reading some of the information regarding alcoholism as I have been living with one in the past. It has been extremely helpful. Thank you very much.

    Gina Strong

  2. Dr. Neill: I stumbled across your site and was wondering if you could help me. I am a mess. Lived with my boyfriend for 7 years, and he was an alcoholic. When he did not work, he started drinking at 10:00 a.m. everyday, 7 days a week. He worked everyday ex. the winter truck driver.

    He was never violent towards me, but if I would ask of more from him, ie, lets go for a walk, could you hold me hand, he would get very angry. It got so bad at the end, when the family ganged up on me and he in his drunken state told me to get out. (It was his condo,)He conned me into selling everything, as he had all the furniture, condo, already. He then boat a 80,000. fishing boat, 50,000 GT convertible ford mustang.

    After I left, he was in bed with a girl 3 weeks later, (I drove by and saw them at 11:30p.m. and she starting spending every weekend with him. He married her 6 months later. She has a beautiful home (like I did)gone. he moved in with her and has his condo up for sale and now her house is up for sale.

    Anyways, he told me he will never stop drinking. He loves it. He only drinks beer on weekends, beer all day then rum or vodka at night. I am a social drinker with him, but stopped the last year with him. I have never smoked. He smokes like a chimney and now his new wife smokes, and apparently drinks too. (I don’t know if she is a social drinker like I was). I never drank until I hooked up with him by the way and then I did not even touch the stuff the last year with him.

    I am devastated, humilated, I thought he loved me. Why did he marry her? I called him a drunk 3 times to his face 1 week before he and his family threw me out. I could go on and on and I don’t know where to turn. I have no benefits and can’t afford a therapist. What did I do wrong and why did he marry her. Will his behaviour with her be the same and did he love her so much to marry her? I wish and pray that she will wake up and kick him out just to make me feel better. I know he is an alcoholic, but he works and is very the biggest con – I didn’t even see it coming. What do you make of this mess. I only gave you a few details. Thank you for listening and God Bless. Patty

  3. Dear patty,

    How could either you or his new wife, acting in good faith and love, expect to match wits the “very biggest con?” He married her for the same reason he married you. He needs someone who will support him in his drinking. When you stopped, you were removed.

    She may be the one to kick him out, but there could be a few more wives over the years before someone does.

    Read the report “Addiction and Codependency Simplified” to get a better grasp of why you are still holing on. Better yet, read my book.

    The important thing for you is to choose to do what you need to do to learn from this, heal from this and move on.

    You might get some help from joining a free grief support group, because you are grieving.


  4. This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.


  5. Hello, just a quick comment.

    Can alcoholism cause, when not under the influence, memory loss, anxiety, inability to concentrate just overall feeling strange and unable to think clearly?

  6. Yes, it can do all those things. But over time, after months or years without alcohol, the brain seems to be able to heal from a lot of the brain damage caused by the alcohol.

  7. This page is pretty good Doc, I like the work you do. Alas, now i have a question. I’m a combat veteran,one who has actaully seen some pretty messed up things due to the fact I do the medical from advanced trauma life support to immunization. I’ve been through quite a few rpgs and IEDs while deployed most likey suffering from a few in lies my problem. That when being evalutated for them ,due to my training, i knew exactly what they wanted to hear to clear me for another patrol, so thats what i told them.I had no issues while deployed other than some pretty bad emotional issues with loss in country and with my now ex wife.Now after i came home from the second deployment i picked up drinking heavily then taper it my self and chose to get help.I was considered a “binge drinker” because id only drink mabe once or twice every two weeks. I had memory problems before i got into the larger consuption amounts, but i was able to manage, though it still was stressful doing all the work I needed to do. Soon after all this my memory had gotten worse and i had fallen an hit my head a few times while intoxicated. I still to this day don’t really have “hang overs” but i have managed a BAC of .12 six hours after i had passed a sobriety and compentecy test.During some of these black outs some of my Marines had stated how i was perfectly calm laughing and joking with everyone to behaving erract and violently towards them with no obvious threat werbal or physical torwards me. I have seen this before in some people, but not completely similar to my case.There were never any hard feelings in the morning from them an i tend to not have a recollection of the incidents.I was looking for more insight by the effects of alcohol,and the causes it may bring. I’m just hoping its the alcohol that had cause the emotional outburst and not things in my past from “war”.I have also been diagnosed with PTSD something more common these days, but ive never been one to take medication even though I give it. I thank you for any help you can give.

  8. Ran across your site while doing research. Long story short: my best friend of 30 years is a functioning alcoholic, a binge drinker of 24 years’ experience. He’s one of those guys who’s the life of the party; but the party has been going for more than 20 years, and it’s starting to show. He’s aging rapidly and is showing increasing signs of foregetfulness.

    All of his friends and I have tried an intervention at one time or another, to no avail. He knows he has a problem, but refuses to do anything about it. He is not going to stop until he hits bottom. Like most functioning alcoholics, however, he’s very clever: he has arranged his life so that he has few responsibilities and has plenty of free time to drink. After being rebuffed, we’re all standing back and waiting for the crash.

    It shouldn’t be long now, though. Your description of impairment and memory loss fits him to a T. Soon will come the blackouts, and we’re all getting prepared.

    Thanks for a great resource.

  9. Hello Dr. Neill!
    First I would like to say that Iam reading your book “Living with the functioning alcoholic” Prior to reading your book, I already knew what I had to do. However, the reassurance I received from your book did indeed confirm taking control of the situation and I can say that today, I am at peace with the decisions I have made. My first decision was getting out of the dance in order for him to take me serious. In doing so, I also felt the relief of the strees I have been feeling during this 7 year relationship that has put my life on hold for 2 years of trying to get him to acknowledge his drinking problem. I eventually broke up with him 3 months ago.
    3 weeks ago he came to me and told me that he can live without drinking, but cannot live without me. Today, we both are seeking the help we need in order to continue on with the relationship. I know that this is only the first step, but the bigger picture to me is knowing that at any time this may not work out. However, my sense of well-being is the most important thing I have to worry about. I will always be there for him, whether we stay together or not, but it is very clear to him that I am not waiting anymore for him to make “our life happen” So I want to thank you very much for your insight. I also wish to tell anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation to please, please, go out and get your book. The answers to your questions, may reveal a better insight to the person in the mirror,
    YOURSELF! All I can say is Know the person you are before you try fixing someone else. You may find that you don’t need professional help at all if your willing to be open and honest with yourself. God Bless.

  10. Hi, my dad is an alcoholic (58 years old) and has been since his 20s. About 10 years ago he started having problems with his short-term memory and I believe he has that korsakoff’s psychosis, because he does definitely make up stories with what he thinks probably happened when in fact they didn’t.

    My question is, with brain exercises or nutrition, can his memory problem be restored with time (provided he stays off the booze) or is the damage permanent? if so, what kind of brain exercises and things should we be doing with him? (and of course, he doesn’t think he has a memory problem)


  11. Dear Midgy,

    Long-term alcohol abuse does cause brain damage, and conventional wisdom says that the damage is permanent.

    However, recent research is showing that the brain is much more plastic than we thought. New cells and neural pathways can grow. I suggest you start by reading, “The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science” by Norman Doidge. Get it at

    However, there is another more dismal possibility, and that is early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s unlikely, but don’t ignore it, because the symptoms are very similar.

  12. Dr. Neill,

    My husband relapsed for a few weeks after being sober for two years. While he was drunk he told me he had done something when he was drinking several years ago, but now that he is sober and 7 months of marriage counseling he says he never did this and if he said it he cant remember it. Can this happen?

  13. Hi Kim,

    All sorts of mind tricks are possible, however improbable. He probably remembered doing what he told you he did. And he can remember it because, if he remembered it while drinking, he can certainly remember it while sober. However, it is quite possible he can’t remember telling you about it, even though he remembers the incident.

  14. So what you are saying to me is he did what he said he did and is just trying to deny it now?

  15. One other question. Can he speak of events and make them sound like it recently happened and it happened many years ago?

  16. Dr. Neill
    First off I’d like to say, this site is great!
    My husband of 13yrs is a severe alcoholic. He drinks on the average 40 oz’s a day. He is not in good health. He is having memory blackouts, falling, and now I’ve noticed he stops breathing for up to a count of 7 seconds at a time. He refuses to get help and I’m not sure what to do. I’m terrified I will wake up to find him dead. I stress of it alot and this is not good for me as I have cancer and am tying to live my life to the fullest. I believe he has Cirrhosis but who knows as he refuses to see a Doctor or seek any kind of help. His skin has a yellowish hue but his eyes are not showing any yellow yet. Now don’t get me wrong,, I love my husband but I have kids and I have to look after myself first. Is there anything else I should watch for so I can prepare myself for the outcome that I know is coming?

  17. For Kim:

    I’ve heard that you can have a blackout and then not remember anything that happened during your blackout until the next time you are in a similar state i.e. functioning during another blackout. During this time you may be able to recall events from another blackout. No one can tell you’re having a blackout as you can function (somewhat).

    I would say that whatever he told Kim really happened but he’s not lying when he says he doesn’t recall it when he’s sober.

  18. Hi Dr Neill,
    My dad is a heavy drinker/alcoholic he drinks about 10pints a day he has blackouts or some type of fit where he stops breathing for a few 5-10seconds he doesn’t remember this when he comes around and denies it he also has type 2 diabetes and is paranoid thinks we are talking in other rooms when were not he starts shouting at the smallest of things but he wont get help he says he has told his doc what he drinks but we don’t think it is true he is also on blood pressure medication, we try to tell him to stop drinking but he wont even cut down he shakes and wont talk to people on a morning then when he starts drinking at dinner time after a few cans he starts yelling and doesn’t care who at, i think he wont stop till he is dead and don’t know what to do my mam is getting sick of it too and we are both really worried about him can you please give me some advise some days he looks so gray he doesn’t look like he has long left

  19. Very sad, Andrea. For some unhappy alcoholics, drinking is their way of ending their lives. It may take a few more days…or a few years. All you and you mom can do is look after yourselves emotionally and look after your safety. If that means leaving, then do it.

  20. Dear Doc Neill

    Ive just come back from a visit from my brother who has been effectly heavy drinking for 25yrs, he didnt know who I was for the first half an hour, then kept talking to me as if Id just came through the door, he cant remember simple words, hes waiting to be booked into detox, his wife took him to his Doctor a couple of days ago and the Doctor sent him home with paracetomal….Im worried sick, hes been having black outs for a long time prior to this!

    His how he cant maintain a conversation now thats worrying me?

  21. My husband is a severe alcoholic averaging a 30 pack of beer every two days if that. After reading your sight, I believe he is a functioning alcoholic. He is always yelling at me and doesn’t ever remember what was said 5 minutes later. It causes a lot of stress. I’ve thought about leaving, but he says he will kill me… Also we have small kids who he adores. He is great with them. Is it the alcohol causing this if he can choose to be horrible to me but be great with them? I don’t understand…

  22. My dad is an alcoholic and I have recently noticed his inability to remember events and conversations, even when sober. I believe his short term memory has been damaged by his addicition, I don’t know what to do or can do seens as he doesn’t want to stop. I have never confronted him about his addicition and so don’t know where to start. He is constantly repeating himself, asking the same questions and forgetting our conversations.His diet is awful, he has been given supplements but has either run out or doesn’t take them, I know this doesn’t help. He is only 44 so I don’t think its anything more sinister. I don’t want him to forget anymore.

  23. Dr. Neill,
    I’m having an issue similar to that of Amy’s. My father is 55 and drinks every evening after work, driving home himself afterwards. I constantly worry that something will happen to him or someone else on the road. He often forgets conversations we have had as well as conversations with others. When I remind him of a conversation we had i.e. going out to dinner, he thinks I’m messing with his head and making him look crazy. He does this to his wife and my husband also.

    I have never confronted him about his addiction since he tends to make his “problems” look like they’re at the fault of everyone else. My brother died on September 11th, and I never remember him drinking like this before that happened or even shortly after. It has only been in the past 5 years or so that he has been drinking this heavily and I have noticed the symptoms. I have thought repeatedly of having an intervention, but I know he will not cooperate. Something must be done before he hurts himself or others. He has already damaged his family emotionally, but we just keep on assuming that this is how it’s going to be. I cry constantly because of the worry and the pain he puts me through, but I just don’t know where to go from here. Is there anything I can do?

  24. This is a very interesting site. As a one time functioning alcoholic I would say that most of what someone in the midst of a heavy drinking problem says is pretty much garbage. A drinker is in emotional and physical pain and pretty confused about what they actually feel and its not wise to be swayed by what they promise. Actions in the case of a FA speak a lot louder than words and all the protestations about ‘loving’ you should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. In the right state of mind it may well be true but a partner of an alcoholic needs to be objective for the sake of their own sanity. Easier said than done. Rain in my heart on you tube is an excellent eye opener for drinkers and partners alike. It’s living hell.

  25. I am dating someone that fits this functioning alcoholic profile to a T. I have never dated or been around someone that is like that before in the past so this is a new experience for me and of course I am very concerned about it. I noticed the forgetfulness which happens quite frequently with short term memory. Once I brought it up and the person got very upset with me for making a comment that I had just told the person the same information just the day before.

    I also noticed that the person seems to look about 5 years older for his actual age. He also mentioned to me that people that have not seem him for the past few years mentioned that he looks much older. Does alcohol have much affect on this? Also, will alcohol eventually cause premature dementia or Alzheimer?

  26. Dr. Neill:

    My friend has been abusing alcohol for 30 years. Never a day goes by without her drinking wine. I estimate she is up to, on average, 3 bottles of wine per day. She is functioning in the sense she runs a household and most often doesn’t begin to drink until in the late afternoon. My question is with regards to her recent short term memory loss. I find that we can have a conversation one afternoon and can talk on the phone for an hour about a particular subject. She does not sound “drunk” in that she is not slurring or stammering. That said, the next day she tells me the same things we already discussed and appears to have no recollection of what we discussed.

    I have known her long enough that I know what she sounds like when she is “drunk” and it just doesn’t seem like she is in that state. However, the fact is that she completely forgets our hour long discussion. I have to assume this is alcohol related but am confused as to what it means. Can you shed any light on what may be going on? Thanks for your time.

  27. Dr. Neill…Sincere thanks for sharing your expertise with us(spouses/friends of an alcoholic). I have been able to live a separate life in my “marriage”. However, my husband’s memory loss has me at a breaking point. Through your studies, do you believe there will be a time when he will need to be committed to a mental institution? His drinking, after 21 years, has now evolved to every day drunk.

    I’m looking forward to a better day!

    Thank you again

  28. I’ve been noticing my partner’s memory loss. I had told him on 6 different occasions about something that he still has no memory of; and he kept asking about the same thing. It’s scary. I’ve been with him going on 5 months now. At first it was fun, since he is a frisky, happy person when he drinks. But, then when I stopped drinking when I’m with him, I noticed another behavior that was scary. For example when I said something he thought was hilarious, he would laugh so hard that he looked like he was in pain and almost crying. That really scared me.

  29. I had the same issue several years ago with my husband and his beer consumption. He had memory loss. He forgot where he was. His blood pressure went through the roof–total confusion. The worst part was he didn’t have any beer yet that day. It took several months and a nearly misdiagnosed permanent disability issue. Not to mention the huge medical bills because they couldn’t find anything because he drank so much and wasn’t eating like he should–drinking more beer.

    His body was using the stored b12 and folic acid that you build up and store for 4 yrs. It was completely depleted causing memory loss and the ability to function. He now is supposed to be taking b12 shots to replace the vitamins he lost. But it’s not going to do any good if he continues to drink. Drinking will do many strange things to your body and will eventually destroy brain cells which has happened. Now he has a different personality than when i married him. He drinks even more and thinks he is ok because he knows when he starts feeling off, he takes a shot. Well that’s not the answer. I hope this helps with someplace to start on the issue of his loss.

  30. My husband of 21 years has been drinking almost ever single day of our marriage. He has slowed down his drinking during the week but I estimate that he consumes at least a six pack and possibly up to 8 beers nightly. On the weekend his consumption increases but I can’t say how much since he goes out and drinks and then comes home and drinks.

    He is a functional drunk and goes to work everyday etc. He doesn’t seem to think he has a problem since he goes to work daily and helps out around the house. He has tried to stop drinking several times through-out the marriage but has not been able to maintain a long period of sobriety. He also thinks his drinking has no effect on our relationship or sex life. I find it impossible to understand why he doesn’t think I am affected by his behavior!

    His family members are big drinkers and look the other way about his drinking so they are no help whatsoever.

    I think he passes out on the couch when he has had too much to drink but he says I fell asleep. Also, twice in our marriage he has went to parties and fell asleep ( his words) at the neighbor’s house and stayed over there overnight. He said I should have come and got him if I wanted him to come home – unbelievable.

    I am beginning to think his short-term memory is being affected.

    He seems to think that because he doesn’t drink hard liquor just beer then he’s not doing damage to his body and of course he doesn’t have a real drinking problem.

    I am so sick of hearing the beer tabs pop and him getting up after finishing each beer to crush the can and throw in the recycle bin. He immediately gets another beer and has a death grip on the can- I can’t stand to see him drink anymore and can’t stand the stink of the alcohol.

    Needless to say I am at my wits end and the marriage is headed for divorce in the immediate future.

    He has begun to make me question whether I have the problem questioning his drinking which is totally crazy!

  31. My partner is only 26. He’s been drinking since he was 17. In the last 3 years he has been drinking 5 out of 7 days, but says its not a problem as he is able to work the next day and dose not always end up drunk. I can’t stop thinking about the effect this is having on his health. He is drinking 14% vol of wine and sometimes with 1 or 2 beers. We have 2 young children so the cost is also an issue.

    He is now suffering from memory loss; not when he’s drinking but in everyday life–small things like losing bank cards, car keys etc. He also left his keys in the car 1 night. He’s always tired and now has a pain when eating and drinking at the bottom of his rib cage.

    I am out of ideas to try and get him to stop. Its gotten to the point that I am looking for somewhere else for me and my children because the drinking seems more important. I made a list of problems he could suffer due to drinking and also wrote that he spends £2000 or more a year.

    I am looking for advise and ways to help him stop and would love to know if his memory problem is the effects of alcohol.

  32. My husband was a functioning Alcoholic for 7yrs. He was sober almost 8months, was doing good, but yesterday he said “I am going to just drink on my days off.” How can he think that is possible? He has a hard time just dealing with everyday stresses. I feel that was an excuse so he can start drinking again. When he became sober he was dependable and it was nice.

    Not sure what to do. He knew his drinking was a problem for me. When he was drinking he was forgetful, less active and could not depend on him for anything. My heart is breaking 🙁 Sad thing is he is such a kind and caring person. Now I am afraid it will turn into everyday drinking. I believe an alcoholic once sober cannot even have one drink.

  33. My father has been a functional alcoholic for fifty years and had no major health side effects until recently. He just turned 70 and I found out he has been having some memory-loss issues. He passed all the physical and now memory tests with doctors, but he has been forgetting family events. We show him pictures, but he has no memory. The most recent example was an event I was present at and I know for sure he was heavily intoxicated the day and night before the event. He did not drink during the event, but perhaps later that day. Does it make sense that being drunk the night before would cause a memory blackout of the events the next day?

  34. I am so glad I found this site. I don’t feel so alone anymore.

    I’ve been married 23 years to a wonderful man, but he drinks at least 10 beers a day and has almost our whole marriage. He will not stop despite my begging and pleading for years. I finally gave up. If he wants to live like that, so be it.

    If he doesn’t have his beer, he is in a horrible mood. I want out, but I’m scared if I tell him, he will freak out. He stutters horribly now and his short term memory is awful. He will leave the room only to come back and ask me what it was I wanted and I never wanted anything to begin with.

    I hear the same stories over and over, day after day. I just keep my mouth shut. I used to say, “We’ve had this conversation”, but he gives me the “no we didn’t look”. I ofter wonder how much time he has left before he will be living in a nursing home. He is only 42 years old.

  35. Hello. My father is an alcoholic and he claims he wants to stop, but how should we handle this? Should he lower the amount of alcohol consumed until he can be normal?

  36. I have read all the letters and sounds just like my husband of 18 years. He drinks everyday of his life for the past 14 years. His face is even turning purple, but he wont stop or admit he has a problem. He gets very angry when I tell him.

    I don’t know what to do anymore. Does anybody have a suggestion?

    His memory is becoming bad to the point where he is always losing his keys or wallet, etc. How can I help him?

  37. My mom’s been an alcoholic since before I was born. She often yells at me or tries to fight me or something else messed up and then she forgets she did it literally 5 minutes later and claims that I make these things up to use against her. It’s quite sad to see her brain so clearly damaged. At least I’ll be 18 soon and I can escape this.

  38. My boyfriend has always been a big drinker since I have known him. When we first got together, he started physically abusing me. I called the police and he has been to jail and now on probation. He has not hit me anymore. His drinking has not stopped.

    Lately I have noticed he has claimed things have come up missing around the house. First it was his money, now his liquor is missing. It is so uncomfortable. I am ready to leave him. I can not go on living like this. I think he has a serious problem.

  39. Hi,

    I found this site somehow, read the posts and was amazed how many men do this to themselves. As I am one of those guys, or was one of those guys. Drinking on a daily basis effects every part of your life. So last nite I had 2 beers, no more. I want to feel good, to good look good. Alcohol is not the answer. Pray to God and live life healthy.

  40. My boyfriend was drinking between 30 and 60 ounces of hard liquor a night. In the behavior category, he has fallen and caused property damage in my house and let my dogs escape in the middle of the night. In the health category, he has been diagnosed with low liver function and depleted B12. He fell earlier this year and broke his ribs, and he eventually threw a blood clot as a result of that injury to his lung and was hospitalized. He was put on blood thinners.

    After that “eye-opening” life-threatening illness, he quit drinking–for two weeks. Then he started drinking on his days off. After a few weeks, he was binge drinking, as if his body was making up for lost time. He fell again, developed a bruise on his entire lower extremity, and could barely walk for two weeks, all because his blood was TOO thin, a side-effect of the binge drinking. If he had any internal injuries from falling, he could have bled out internally. He said this injury was a real eye-opener. He quit drinking–for three weeks. Now he is drinking beer because the alcohol content is “low and safe,” he says. As of last week, he drinks between 10 and 18 cans a day.

    My boyfriend has shown a loss of short-term memory, he is very repetitive (often repeating the same thought five times in one brief conversation), he loses vocabulary words, he makes me feel like I’m crazy for bringing up alcohol issues, and he says he can quit anytime he wants, etc. He has had two life-threatening injuries this year alone.

    I’ve recently had to come to grips with reality over the same issues reported by family members in this post, thanks to Al-Anon, which is for family members of alcoholics. We family members did not cause the alcohol addiction, we cannot control it, and we cannot cure it. As long as you stay in a relationship with an alcoholic, you are wasting your life too. You have to focus on yourself and deal with the issues that cause you to stay, because THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO to change an alcoholic. An alcoholic has to change himself/herself, and you cannot force that to happen. We’ve probably all tried the same techniques spanning the whole spectrum–from being overly caring and accommodating to tough love. It doesn’t work. Don’t stay in a relationship because you are “second guessing” what you need to do. IT IS TIME TO WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF. I highly recommend Al-Anon. It’s a great place to get objective information, bounce ideas off of other people in the same situation, and learn that your reaction to the alcoholic is actually common and “normal”–meaning, you are not alone. You can get strength from his knowledge and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

  41. I have a friend whom I feel is a highly functioning alcoholic. She was raised in a drinking family and has been drinking since a teenager. she’s now 54 years old. Her memory span is approx 4 hrs. She has forgotten conversations, promises, etc.

    She has left me waiting for her countless times, not remembering the conversation we had just 4 hrs earlier. She is a mean, belligerent drunk and I can’t help her because she’s NOT an alcoholic in her eyes.

    I have decided to close the door and move on, as I can’t stand by and watch her destroy her life and live in denial. Her husband is in denial also, as he is a heavy drinker. So sad!!!!!

  42. I need some advice. I was married to a functioning alcoholic for 6 years. We have two daughters that we share custody of, 15 and 8. My oldest daughter is beginning to see his illness and complains all the time. I don’t know what to do. She tells him something and then the next day he doesn’t remember. He turns it around and blames her for not telling the truth. She is embarrassed by his behavior and will not have friends over. He maintains a job and is successful, but his drinking has gotten much worse since he lost his 19 year old daughter to cancer over a year ago. The court system will not do anything because he takes care of the kids (no neglect, or DUI’s). I fear what the effect will be on my daughters. What can I do?

  43. I have been married for 13 years to an alcoholic. Finally, this year he has gone to inpatient rehab and has now been sober for 4 months. Over the years, I had to learn what to say or not to say to my husband. I had to learn when to say something at all and when not to, etc. Now I feel like I don’t know how to talk to him all over again. Not to mention that trust is a huge issue with me. With not knowing what to say now or when to say something, it is also in how I say something. When he wasn’t sober I felt like everything I did and said was wrong. Now that he is sober, I still feel like everything I do and say is wrong. I do suffer from depression and anxiety which doesn’t help me (some caused by things that have happened over the last 13 years). I am being treated for those things and have been for years. Our daughter is now 11 and it has been hard for her too. I have had to do a lot of damage control over the last 13 years (including with his son who is now 20). I have heard it so many times that, “this is it, I’m done.” I think I am just waiting for him to fall off the wagon again. That makes me feel terrible about myself because him going to rehab is what I wanted and he is truly making an effort and doing very well. How long before I stop expecting him to take a drink or feel comfortable talking to him or truly trust him?

  44. I forgot to mention that the whole memory loss thing is extremely nerve wracking. I sometimes feel like it is an excuse for certain things or that he has selective memory loss. How long before he has normal memory or will this be something that I will just have to learn to deal with? I ask because he has been clean for 4 months and asked me a question about something that happened 10 days ago. He didn’t remember. He says that the memory loss thing is frustrating him. Well, it has been frustrating me longer. Before he would forget that he forgot, but I always remembered. I’m not sure if it is more frustrating to me or him.

  45. Hi, I was wondering if you could help. I am 21 and a recovering alcoholic. I have had constant relapses, but I am currently sober and hoping/working hard to stay that way. I used to have horrific blackouts and towards the end of drinking, 9/10 nights with alcohol resulted in hours of blackout and there is a year that I barely remember. However it is not the blackout nights that are currently concerning. I am struggling to remember day-to-day activities, sober or otherwise. There are days that I was sober (short and long term past) which I either cannot remember at all or are incredibly faint. There also nights I know weren’t blackout which are now “fading away”. Could this be another consequence of my drinking or could this be something else? Please help, any comments would be gratefully received.

  46. I am trying to get my arms around what I am dealing with, with my boyfriend. He has been very clever to hide the level of his drinking from me. He has also had a lot of trauma growing up, etc. He will forget things we’ve discussed while he has been drinking, this I can understand. But while he is sober he can go in and out of recalling things. He will be sorry for his behavior, express great insight as to what is going on with him, then in an hour, minutes or days, completely forget the conversation. This doesn’t even have to do with his drinking or behavior, it can be a simple conversation and he forgets about it. We can even decide to go to a specific restaurant and by the time we are dressed and going to the car he has forgotten. I’m very worried to say the least. He is very functioning and has a great job. He is nearly 55 years old. I rarely see him actually drink, but all of sudden I start noticing the signs that he has been drinking. He denies it. He has gone from hard liquor (when we met) to just drinking wine (1-2 bottles/day) and has now reduced that to 3-4 days a week. His emphasis is on, “look how much I’ve cut down.” I’ve caught him lately in the garage or kitchen guzzling a bottle of wine.

    I have read so much about not confronting the alcoholic and not making them feel more guilty etc. Most of what I read is about how to cope with an alcoholic. I understand that it’s learning to not personalize their problem. But I don’t want to live with this. I love him, but coping is not fulfilling enough for me. I’d like to support him through this, but its taking a great toll as he is recently being very verbally abusive.
    My question(s) are: Can one have this kind of memory problem while not drinking? With this kind of memory and denial, how does one make recovery something they even consider?

    I’ve done enough research to know that it’s not just the alcohol addiction, but also the emotional/mental areas they need help with as well. It feels like a really long road ahead and I’m getting tired of the battle. I don’t want my health and mental perspective to take a toll. How can I help him?

  47. Dr. Neill,

    I stumbled upon this site and would like your help. I am married to an alcoholic and my life is crazy. He had 13 years of sobriety and then let it go. That was five years ago. He has not had a job in five years. He has been in and out of rehab 4 times. It never helped and he was drinking again within 2 weeks. He gets very mean when he’s been drinking. We have two awesome children and from the outside, we look perfect. I have recently told him that if he cannot get and stay sober then I want a divorce. He really makes no effort to get better. I guess I am asking you what I should do.

  48. Some people describe actual problems. Like the woman that speaks about the ex boyfriend drinking beer all day from 10 a.m. and ending up (I can imagine how) with vodka in the night. But seriously, the 55 year old man with a “great job” drinking only wine, a bottle a day, 3-4 days a week is not a person with problems, but just a man enjoying his life for God’s sake.
    Leave him alone, keep your paranoia’s for yourself.
    You don’t own other people’s lives, you want to live sober 100% of the time? Good do so. The same for another person wanting to, “guzzle his wine in the garage,” from time to time, as long as he is a decent person and doesn’t hurt people or violate laws, what’s the problem? What’s this mania of living forever like plastic “healthy” mannequins?
    I want to live as long as life is enjoyable and yes I too drink only wine, perhaps 3-4 bottles a week. So?
    I’m 45 and make my choices, you make your’s without hampering with other people’s lives based on some bigot ethics.

  49. My 76 year old widowed uncle is a functioning alcoholic. He still runs his small business. Or at least is pretending to. He starts drinking at 11 am. There are what seems like several people of various ages that seem to take advantage of him, especially when he has had a few (he has a bit of money still). Question: am I the only person that see’s this? Can’t other people, even family, he encounters see this? Although he tries to keep family away and, “out of his business,” do friends of his admit he has a huge drinking problem? He becomes very mean, very sloppy and it’s so sad and ugly. Do some ignore his behavior to continue to take advantage? does he enjoy controlling them as well? I struggle with feeling sorry and protective to angry and ashamed. I see him less and less due to his severe drinking.

  50. I have reached the end of my ability to keep forgiving my husband of nearly 15 years. He is a ” High functioning Alcoholic”, with massive anger issues ( when sober and drunk). The last 4 years have introduced almost psychotic episodes of extreme tormenting anger and accusations from him, that start from a small trigger that would not normally create such a reaction, had he not been drinking. He is a very intelligent, successful Architect. We have the most amazing girls ages 12 and 7. They are scared of him and his rules, his expectations, his impatience and his extremely short fuse. They have witnessed many of the arguments. They have heard their doting father call their mother an f….n b…ch, too many times. When he has had the episodes, he relentlessly corners me so that I cannot physically get away, and will not let me talk, instead yells at me to shut up.

    I have forgiven him so many times, because sometimes he acts this way because he is dealing with something or someone else in his life and he mistakenly takes it out on me, or he is ashamed and guilty because of what he has done, or because he simply has no recollection of the incident. I grieve that I love him, that I am so proud of what he does at work, etc… But that I cannot find anything to LIKE about him. Therefore I cannot bring myself to be intimate with him, because I simply don’t feel safe, I don’t trust him, I know that at any moment he could lash out at me or the girls, and I don’t know how to be loving and intimate with such a volatile, angry, always drunk man. Of course lack of intimacy causes further resentment of me. He simply does not accept that I cannot be intimate, as if sex would fix everything and make him feel loved and secure in himself. He has finally agreed to counselling and the counselor is amazing. My husband sent me to her years ago to fix my “intimacy issues”, because of things that happened in my past. But the real issue is not me and sex, it’s how I feel about him and what he is doing to us all. I’ve finally had enough, but I don’t know what to do. Our relationship is deteriorating quickly because I now know I’m not the problem, after all these years having him tell me I am. He drinks an absolute minimum of two bottles of wine every night, but often will go out to get more, sometimes up to four bottles a night, if I have delved into his precious poison, for a light reprieve for myself! If he has a day off he will sit in one spot with his drinks, and drink all day and night. I want him out of the house, but I am too scared of his reaction.

  51. Hello,

    I have a question regarding blackouts. I had a first one in my life 4 months ago. Since then, I might have had this experience 3 more times. The strange thing is that I am getting such blackout after little amount of alcohol in comparison to how much I could have drank in the past (I am a social drinker). This never happened to me before! Why has my reaction to alcohol changed? Can it be explained by some lack of vitamins or some illness? I am wondering why does it occur? I would like to go for a check to a doctor. What shall I check? The blackout happens very suddenly – I am fully conscious, not drunk and then I wake up in my bed. I never had any problems with controlling alcohol dosage. My friends are telling me they can see a change in my behavior during the blackouts, mostly I just suddenly insist of going home once it happens (of course I don’t remember). I would be really glad to get a comment on it. I am a 21 years old woman.

  52. I am so glad I found your site. I have been searching for a answer for a couple of months now. I’m not an alcoholic. I may have a few drinks during football games and special occasions on the weekend. There has been 2 occasions when I had a little to much to drink and I blacked out. My daughter and boyfriend are the only 2 people that have witnessed it. Apparently I am not very friendly and say ugly things and 2 minutes later I’m crying. What could cause these blackouts? As I mentioned, it has only happened twice and it is a rare occasion that I drink to much.

    Thank you

  53. I have been married for 22 years. My husband is an alcholic with memory loss due to the drinking.
    He has trouble walking and now he can’t work. I came home one day and I found him on the floor. He was in the hospital for about a week. He drinks from morning to night. When he starts in on me I leave the house. He says he wants help but than he says you only live once.

  54. The father of my child and the man I’ve been with for seven years has always drank. Up until we had our daughter, who is now 4, I didn’t really see a drinking problem. He has to go every night with a beer. If someone else is drinking, he has to be the guy drinking always one ahead of him. My question is, lately he’s been drinking every night but not to the point where it would make him blackout from being so “drunk”. When he does get drunk, he turns very violent, mean and there is absolutely no talking to him. When he wakes up he remembers NOTHING and asks, “How did I get in bed? What did we do last night?” My question is why is this happening now? I’m worried some type of chemical balance in his head is off and the prolonged abuse of alcohol has made it worse.

    His father is also a very bad alcoholic and his Mom along with his sisters have tried talking to him as well about his drinking. He sees no problem in it because his Dad is a successful alcoholic with a well known mechanic business in this town.

    Please help.

  55. My husband has been sober for 6 months and his memory is affecting his every day routine. What are suggestions to help him with memory or is it to late?

  56. My friend acts mean things when he is drunk, do they remember what that said the next day?

  57. I have been married to my husband for 25 years. My husband drinks beer and has for most of his life. He didn’t drink for about 8 years and then started again. He is a functioning alcoholic. He drinks on the weekends and at any type of holiday. He drinks approximately 2 – 24 bottles of beer each weekend. He has been charged with sexual interference of two minor girls. He completely denies that he remembers anything. My problem is that it has happened more than just on one occasion and also has happened when he has not been drinking. Other than this, he is one of the most faithful husbands I know. It is completely out of his character to do anything like this and even the things that I’ve been told he did isn’t things he would normally do even with me. I know that he has done this whether he remembers or not. My problem is I don’t know if he is really telling me the truth of not remembering.

  58. As my husband continues to drink, we can’t have a normal conversation because he doesn’t remember anything we talked about while being intoxicated. Is this considered a black out or just being drunk? We talk, then he sleeps it off for a couple of hours, only to ask me the same questions again when he’s “sober”. I’m so frustrated!! Do I say something or do I just ignore it and have the conversation all over again? He’ll probably deny it anyway.

  59. I was an active heavy drinker from 16 to 34 years old. Being female I know that the effects of the abuse do more damage in shorter time. I have been sober for 28 years. I have a question. I still have short term memory problems. When I was drinking, I had a lot of blackouts. Did the blackouts contribute to this damage? The memory never improved over the years with the sobriety. I have physical damage. My pancreas and liver are damaged. Also, the diagnosis I received was that I was in the latter stages of stage 4 of alcoholism.

  60. My husband drinks upon waking until he falls asleep. He drinks beer, wine, vodka..anything and everything. There are ever-worsening financial problems. He “works” from home “self-employed” making “deals” on the phone. It’s impossible to have a conversation with him. Everything is all about him and any little thing seems to set him off as he perceives it as a slight against him if you do not agree with everything he says and praise him. He does NOTHING around the house but make huge messes. Seriously he will not lift a finger. He doesn’t shower regularly anymore, goes days at a time without. I’ve had to remove the burner rings from the stove so he can’t cook as I have been woken up in the middle of the night several times by smoke from a pot burning on the stove while he is asleep on the couch. He now lives in our TV room so he can stay up all night drinking watching TV undisturbed and that room looks like a junkyard now. I have totally detached from him and am no longer sad and upset about him. I don’t like him at all and am not even sure I feel any love. He has become so hateful and at times is mentally abusive. He drives with drinks and I cannot believe he has not been busted yet. He seems to have a huge tolerance built up. Other than sometimes slurring words just a little, I’m not sure anyone would know and he drinks 1/2 bottle of vodka a day, beer, wine and other drinks–seriously non-stop all day every day. It’s unreal. I don’t understand how he can even function drinking this much.

  61. In 2014 I stopped drinking and I’m going to AA. I thought I had early onset Alzheimer’s. My partner said I had alcoholic dementia. My memory got worse, even while taking lactose to keep my ammonia level down. I’m taking supplements, aloe Vera and more vegetables and having some improvement. Dementia while in my 40’s was a mess.

Leave a Comment