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Functional alcoholism is a condition in which the alcoholic can steadily consume alcoholic beverages over the course of a day and remain sober enough to do most daily tasks. The functional alcoholic can oftentimes appear sober to untrained observers.

After visiting a friend in Denver for her birthday some years ago, I began to understand what functional alcoholism is, and how frightening it can be. When I showed up at her apartment early that afternoon, she was sipping rum and Coke from a sports bottle while working on a paper. She bade me sit and make myself a drink, which I did. Throughout the day until we left for the Lower Downtown Denver bars and clubs, I never saw her without a drink in her hand. Me, I had to stop, or I wouldn't have any energy for the night.

We all went out, partied like rock stars, and came back around two in the morning. I was fairly tipsy myself, but my friend still seemed solid as ever. She was exhausted from dancing, but otherwise fine. We talked each other to sleep by around three, and woke up four hours later. As I'd expected, I woke up sore, thirsty, and with an aching head. My friend seemed no worse for wear. She drove that morning, and we dropped film off at Walgreens, ate breakfast at a Village Inn, picked up film again, got back to her place, packed my stuff, and dropped me off at the Greyhound station.

That evening I called her from Fort Collins, and she seemed not-quite-there, and a little frightened.

"What happened this morning? After we came back?"

"What? Film, breakfast --"

"I really don't remember."

"You drove. Took us to Walgreens, we contemplated hitting the liquor store, got some breakfast. You don't remember?"

"No. I was so drunk last night, Caliban. First thing I remember today is dropping my keys on my desk from . . . somewhere . . . and seeing pictures from last night on the bed."

"Jesus. You drove."

"I must have been drunk this morning too. I feel like shit."

"How the hell?"

She sighed. "That's what they call 'functional alcoholism'. Maybe I shouldn't have had so much."

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