What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic? How to Spot the Warning Signs

Often, when people think of alcoholics, they think of belligerent individuals stumbling around and slurring their words. While these individuals could undoubtedly be classified as alcoholics, they are not the only types of alcoholics in existence.

Another type of alcoholic — one which is a little harder to spot — is the high functioning alcoholic — wondering how to spot a high functioning alcoholic? Read on to find out.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

A functioning or high functioning alcoholic is someone who suffers from alcoholism, but who is still able to tend to his or her responsibilities. High-functioning alcoholics work, go to school, raise kids, and pay the bills. Nonetheless, their alcohol consumption exists at potentially dangerous levels.

Because they function at such high levels, functioning alcoholics can be challenging to spot. Whereas the standard alcoholic is overt about his or her alcoholism, the functioning alcoholic is covert about his or her alcoholism.

You could have a high functioning alcoholic in your family and not even know it. In fact, you yourself could be a high functioning alcoholic, thinking of your alcohol consumption as nothing more than a small component of your lifestyle.

Functional Alcoholic Symptoms

As was noted above, spotting a high functioning alcoholic can be difficult. However, there are some symptoms to keep an eye out for. If you or someone close to you exhibit the following signs, there is cause for concern.

Drinking in Place of Eating

Perhaps the surest sign of alcoholism in high functioning alcoholics is the act of drinking alcohol instead of eating. Alcoholics will actually replace full meals with alcoholic beverages, opting for a few beers in place of a well-balanced food spread.

One of the ways that you might spot this in a loved one is by looking in his or her trash. If you notice an influx of alcohol receptacles but a lack of food waste, something could be amiss.

Extreme Behavioral Changes While Drinking

Alcohol changes a person’s behavior. This is true of everyone who consumes it. However, while some of the behavioral changes brought on by alcohol are normal, other behavioral changes brought on by alcohol are not.

If you or your loved one become exceedingly angry, impulsive, or sad while consuming alcohol, there could be a legitimate problem to consider. This is particularly true if your behavioral changes lead to negative consequences.

Inability to Drink in Moderation

Most individuals can consume one or two alcoholic beverages during a meal, then move on with their lives. Alcoholics, on the other hand, have a very difficult time stopping at one or two beverages. Typically, once they start drinking, they must drink to the point of inebriation.

If you find that you are unable to drink in moderation, you are likely suffering from some degree of alcoholism. A quick beer with a friend shouldn’t be an excuse to go on a bender.

Feelings of Shame

Do you ever feel bad about your alcohol consumption? Do you regard your drinking habits as shameful? If so, there’s a good chance that you’re an alcoholic.

Many alcoholics feel shame over their consumption of alcohol, but they also feel powerless to do anything about it. This is because their instinctual need to drink overpowers the logic of their minds. For these individuals, drinking is not a logical, practical choice, but one-seeded deep within their psyche.

Hiding the Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages

As was just noted, many alcoholics feel shame over their alcohol abuse. This shame exhibits itself in a number of ways, but to the outsider, it typically presents itself in the hiding of alcohol consumption. In other words, high functioning alcoholics will often try to drink covertly, as they are afraid that their loved ones will identify their problems.

So, how do you spot this symptom? After all, if the drinking is hidden, it’s not going to be visible to outsiders.

The key is to be observant. If the individual in question has beer cans, wine bottles, and liquor containers stored all over his or her residence, there’s a good chance that he or she is drinking from them regularly when you’re not around.

Spending Down Time Alone

Not all of those who like to spend time alone are alcoholics. Some are quite simply loners. However, if you notice that a once extroverted friend has taken to spending a lot of time by himself or herself, there is a chance that he or she is a high functioning alcoholic.

Because they want to keep their drinking habits hidden, and because they tend to feel shame over what they do, high functioning alcoholics will usually opt to drink by themselves. An increase in time spent alone could very well indicate an increase in alcohol consumption.

Make note, however, that a range of mental health issues can drive individuals to become loners as well. Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are just a handful of these issues.

Regardless, if your friend or family member is suddenly spending a lot of time alone, you’ll want to monitor his or her behavior.


One of the real talents (for lack of a better word) of high functioning alcoholics is the ability to compartmentalize. These individuals are able to separate different aspects of their lives, rarely letting them bleed into others. As such, they are able to drink copious amounts of alcohol without letting on that they have a problem.

While this can be difficult to notice in other individuals, you might be able to notice it in yourself. If you tend to drink to inebriation and then cohabitate with your family as if nothing happened, you might be a high functioning alcoholic.

Blacking Out

There’s nothing ordinary about blacking out, even if you’re in college and drinking among others. The amount of alcohol needed to blackout is substantial and is never healthy to consume.

While blacking out once doesn’t necessarily make you an alcoholic, it does indicate that you’re on your way to being one. Start drinking in moderation. If you can’t, find help as soon as possible.

Inability to Quit Drinking, Despite Efforts to Do So

Do you find yourself continually attempting to drop drinking? Do you always seem to fail? If so, and if you’re making an honest attempt to stop, you are suffering from alcoholism.

If you are unable to refuse a drink despite the fact that you’re actively trying to do so, you have likely developed a dependency on alcohol. While you might be able to cease this dependency on your own, your past indicates that it’s not likely. At this point, professional help is probably the best option.

Denial Over Drinking Habits

Another sign of high functioning alcoholism is a denial in the face accusation. If you confront a friend or family member about his or her obvious drinking issues, and he or she brushes you off, he or she is likely an alcoholic.

As we’ve noted, many alcoholics feel deep shame over their habit. So, when confronted with the idea that it may be a problem, they tend to either aggressively rebuff the accusation or quietly downplay it.

Note, however, that for this symptom to indicate alcoholism, an actual drinking problem must be present. If someone is only drinking a few beers on the weekend, it does not make them an alcoholic.

Cracking Jokes About Drinking

Every drinker of alcohol makes jokes about drinking from time to time. Of course, not every drinker of alcohol is an alcoholic. Note, however, that if a loved one is making jokes about drinking on a regular basis, it might be because he or she is drinking on a regular basis.

Once you pick up on this pattern, it’s a good idea to start keeping your eyes open for other signs. If several signs exist, alcoholism is likely at the root.

Who is Most Prone to Alcoholism?

While anyone is capable of becoming an alcoholic, some individuals are more prone to alcoholism than are others. Those individuals are as follows.

Those Whose Family Members Suffer from Alcoholism

The studies are reasonably clear: the children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves than are the children of non-alcoholics. Therefore, if alcoholism runs in a person’s family, that person is especially prone to it.

There are several reasons for this. While genetics play a part, they are not the sole contributor to family-related alcoholism.

Emotional abuse due to alcoholism can often push children to drink as a way to hide from psychological demons. The alcohol slows their thoughts, keeping their negative emotions at bay.

Not to mention, being exposed to alcohol on a regular basis makes children more prone to drinking it themselves. These children begin to see drinking as a standard, everyday activity, and often see nothing wrong with the regular consumption of it.

Those Who’ve Suffered Trauma in the Past

As was noted above, some individuals will drink alcohol as a way to bury their emotions. The alcohol slows down activity in the brain, allowing individuals to distract themselves from the miseries of their everyday lives.

For this reason, alcohol becomes the drug of choice for many trauma victims. Those who have suffered an assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, a divorce, or some other traumatic event are highly susceptible to alcoholism.

In fact, one study shows that between 50% and 66% of those who suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) also suffer from addiction. While not all of these individuals suffer from alcoholism, in particular, a substantial portion of them do.

Those With Impulsive Personalities

Another group of people who commonly suffer from alcoholism is those with impulsive personalities. This includes those with severe mental illnesses (such as bipolar disorder) and those without them.

Alcoholism is prominent among impulsive individuals for a number of reasons. In some cases, their impulsivity leads to their addiction. In other cases, their addiction drives their impulsivity, leading them to try new things without much thought or foresight.

If you have a particularly impulsive individual in your life, know that it wouldn’t be unusual for that person to become an alcoholic.

Those Suffering from Mental Health Issues

The last group of people that is prone to alcoholism is those suffering from mental health issues. In some cases, these individuals use alcohol as a means of neutralizing their psychological pain. In other cases, their use of alcohol exacerbates their mental health symptoms.

In any case, if you know someone suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or some other mental health issue, he or she could very well indulge in alcohol on a regular basis. Note, however, that not all mentally ill individuals are abusers of the substance.

Treatment for the High Functioning Alcoholic

Fortunately, there is treatment available for high functioning alcoholics. So, if you have a problem with alcohol, you don’t have to go on suffering.

Alcohol rehabilitation centers are specially equipped to treat alcoholics, providing them with detox programs, psychological counseling, physical fitness regimens, and more. A rehabilitation center will help you or your loved one to establish appropriate tools, allowing you to combat your addiction throughout the rest of your life.

Need Treatment for Alcoholism?

Are you or someone you love a high functioning alcoholic? Are you looking for alcohol treatment in the Stuart, Florida area? If so, Coastal Detox is the rehabilitation facility you seek.

We offer comprehensive alcohol treatment, providing detox, counseling, and a variety of other services to our patients.

Contact us now to get help today.

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