High Functioning Alcoholic
What is it?

What do you need to know about high functioning alcoholism?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : JULY  04 , 
| 3 Sources

A high functioning alcoholic is a person with an addiction to alcohol who still manages to maintain a certain level of involvement in their life, such as work or school. They may even be able to hold down jobs and keep up with their responsibilities.

A high functioning alcoholic can also mean that the person has not yet hit rock bottom, or they have but are able to recover from it quickly. High-functioning alcoholics often don't realize that they're addicted until something major happens in their lives like losing a job or getting arrested for driving under the influence.

This article defines what makes a person a high functioning alcoholic and what you can do if you suspect one of your loved ones might be suffering from this disorder.

Definition of a High Functioning Alcoholic

A high functioning alcoholic is someone who has a job, a family, and friends but still drinks heavily. They don't necessarily drink all the time or to get drunk. A lot of their drinking happens at home and they will often go on binges where they can go for days without sleep

The main issue with this type of addiction is that it's easy to hide from those around them because everything in their life seems so normal on the outside.

In the US, there are an estimated 17.0 million Americans struggling with addiction to alcohol or other substances (SAMHSA 2013). That's about one out of every 12 adults in America who is suffering from this unfortunate condition. And yet,:

  • they still manage to function at work,
  •  maintain a healthy and fulfilling personal life 
  •  stay productive members of society 

While simultaneously trying to break their addiction cycle which can often be more difficult than it first appears because the brain has developed tolerance for alcohol over time so that what used to affect them won't have as powerful an effect anymore.

Signs that Someone is a High Functioning Alcoholic

A high functioning alcoholic is someone who manages to keep their drinking a secret. They are able to maintain control over their job and home life, but the problem with this is that they drink more than what would be considered normal.

There are many signs that can help you identify if someone has an alcohol addiction:

One sign of alcoholism could be individuals start going out to drink more than usual, rather than socializing at parties. Others might notice changes in behavior such as sweating, shaking hands, or red eyes from being sober too long.

These individuals might also have trouble remembering things like where they left their car keys because of blackouts from drinking heavily.

One of the most powerful signs that someone is a high functioning alcoholic is when they drink in order to calm their anxiety. This can come in two forms: drinking to socialize with others or as self medication because alcohol makes them feel more at ease and less anxious.

There are many other warning signals, such as excessive use or efforts taken by loved ones to show fear for an individual's addiction. It can also be difficult for people who have an addictive personality disorder if there emotional state changes from being happy drunk where it may seem like everything in life is perfect, to feeling so low that all hope seems lost and suicidal thoughts start entering into the equation.

What are Some Warning Signs that Someone Might Have an Issue with Alcoholism? 

The first warning sign that someone might have a problem with alcohol abuse or alcoholism is if they drink too much more often than not. It can be hard to notice this, which is why it's important for friends and family members of the person who drinks heavily to look out for signs of alcohol abuseand physical dependence is another warning sign of alcoholism.

This would become evident when a person stops drinking. Individuals who struggle with alcoholism often struggle with emotion regulation which can lead to being moody, struggling with anger and depression when they do not have access to alcohol.

Another red flag is having recurring problems at work because of drinking- like showing up late or being hungover on the job.

high functioning alcoholicPhoto by Timon Studler

Why Is High-Functioning Alcoholism Dangerous?

There are many different types of alcoholism, but high-functioning alcoholics are often the most dangerous. These people can maintain an outward appearance of success and normalcy while they battle addiction internally. They may have a great job at a large company, or be in charge of their own business.

However, what seems like an enviable life on the outside is often just as hollow as it would seem for someone who doesn't drink at all. Indeed, high-functioning alcoholics are in the worst position to start drinking again as they have a reputation that can't be easily tarnished.

When people think about addiction, it is easy for them to focus on someone who doesn't work and lives out of their car. But when there's an alcoholic with everything going for them: 

  • great career, 
  • beautiful family 

 It makes those around wonder how he or she could possibly need help. The answer? They don't know what else to do anymore.

Even if this person has tried every other means possible without success, they still might not want treatment because then they would lose all sense of control over their life.

Treatment Options for High Functioning Alcoholics

Alcoholism is a serious disease. For many people, alcoholism seems to be an easy choice because it does not have any outward signs or symptoms that are easily detectable. This is why high functioning alcoholics can go for years without realizing they have a problem until the consequences of their addiction start to show up in their life.

They may drink more than usual and feel like they need to drink more alcohol when drinking less would suffice. Withdrawal symptoms are a common reason that alcoholics relapse when in recovery.

If you are an alcoholic and wish to stop drinking, the first step would be to talk with your doctor about treatment options.

There are three main types of treatments for alcoholism:

  • inpatient rehab centers, 
  • outpatient programs, 
  • self-help groups. 

Inpatient rehabilitation centers (IRCs) are usually composed of a variety of professionals for a holistic approach in a safe environment.

Outpatient programs (OPs) provide group therapy sessions but do not require patients to stay on site during the day.

Self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous often have meetings near where people live so they can attend as their time allows without having the inconvenience of traveling far from home.


The term "high functioning alcoholics" is often used to describe people who seem to have it all together but are drinking themselves into an early grave. The truth of the matter is, there are health risks for high functioning alcoholics that can be just as serious as any other kind of alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) and yet they still manage to keep up with their responsibilities in society.

There are many factors that influence whether or not a person will develop alcoholism and these include genetics, mental illness, peer pressure, stress levels and emotional trauma among others.

There’s no better time than today to get started on the path towards recovery. An outpatient alcohol rehab facility can help. Contact a treatment provider today to discuss rehab-related treatment options.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

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