Therapist says Bradley Cooper’s Functional Addiction Common

Actor Bradley Cooper recently told GQ abusing alcohol and drugs was holding him back early in his career. The Academy Award Nominee said there wasn’t a moment of missing work or being late, but a sense that he wasn’t fulfilling his potential that made him make a change.

"If I continued [drinking and drugs], I was really going to sabotage my whole life," Cooper said about his thinking when he was 29.

Bradley_Cooper_2009_picture_LocateADocAs the 39 year old is honored with his second Academy Award nomination March 2nd for American Hustle, we asked one of our therapists how common this type of functional addiction to alcohol and drugs is and how they handle it at their practice.

“In my practice, every alcoholic I’ve worked with fell into the functional alcoholic category,” Houston, TX based therapist Rachel Eddins told us. “Most people who develop alcohol dependence are functional alcoholics. The alcohol use was having a toll on their life despite being present and successful at work. Many haven’t experienced any serious consequences, but things might head in that direction.”

Cooper felt like it was becoming an issue saying he thought the “work was getting fucked up.

“In the way that if—the one thing that I’ve learned in life is the best thing I can do is embrace who I am and then do that to the fullest extent, and then whatever happens, happens. The more steps I do to not do that, the farther I am away from fulfilling any potential I would have. So the answer to that question, then, is: Yes, of course it hindered the work.”

Eddins said there are a few signs that alcohol or drug use may be more of an addiction than a recreational activity:

  • Consuming more than you intended on a regular basis
  • Wanting to cut back, but not being able to
  • Spending a lot of time or money using or recovering from alcohol
  • Cravings and urges to use alcohol or thinking about when you’re going to be able to have a drink
  • Not managing what you should do because of alcohol
  • Relationship problems due to alcohol use
  • Acting in uncharacteristic ways after drinking
  • Giving up or passing on other activities to have a drink
  • Needing more alcohol for the same effect - developing tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms

“Unfortunately, when most people think about alcoholism, they think of someone who drinks vodka for breakfast and so forth,” Eddins said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes alcohol ‘abuse.’ From a clinical perspective, it’s not black and white, it’s more like mild to severe. So, someone may abuse alcohol or drugs or have strong cravings for them, but still function at work and in other areas of life. This is commonly referred to as functional alcoholic and clinically means a mild form of substance abuse.”

Eddins said that in her practice, some of the common things people experienced were strained or loss of relationships, anxiety/depression, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, fatigue, loss of hobbies and social engagement outside of drinking buddies, DWI’s, declining physical health or medical complications, and a sense of being stagnant in life - not really moving forward towards important life goals among others.

“It can be very difficult to seek help because life seems manageable, not dire and alcohol seems like a reward,” Eddins said. “Because alcohol is a socially acceptable way of relieving stress it’s easy for functional alcoholics to stay under the radar, especially because they appear to be doing well on the outside.

“What’s important is to realize how it’s holding you back. Whether it’s the stress of leading a ‘double-life’, alleviating cravings, anxiety or depression, or simply wanting more from your life - fulfilling your potential.”

She noted treatment does not just consist of AA, although she said it can be a very helpful form of support and recovery. A therapist can help a person identify triggers, manage cravings and address underlying factors such as anxiety or depression.

“Much of addiction is about brain chemistry and there are medication options that can also help with managing cravings and urges. Ultimately, recovery is about feeling comfortable in your own skin and taking charge of your life vs. letting cravings and urges dictate your life.”

Learn about the causes of addiction, treatment options, how to choose a doctor, and more within the Addiction Resource Guide. To consult with doctor or therapist to help with an addiction, look through profiles to find a specialist in your area.