What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Last Updated: May 30, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

When you think of alcoholism, you may picture a homeless person panhandling or a disorderly person being arrested for a DUI. In fact, it may be the person next to you at work, at school, or at church.

When a person is able to hold down most of his or her daily duties, yet is still struggling with alcoholism, that person is likely a high-functioning alcoholic.

This article explains what a high-functioning alcoholic is, how to spot signs that you or someone you love is a high-functioning alcoholic, and why it is important to seek treatment.

Spotting a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Alcohol rehab is full of people that continue to hold down a job or have a nice home and car but are still laboring under the pain of alcohol addiction. Unless you are in close proximity to one of these people, it is entirely possible you will not even realize there is a problem – unless he or she has a car accident or makes a medical mistake in surgery – or some other terrible incident occurs. There are varying levels of the disease, from mild to severe, but all eventually cause problems that are easy to detect.

That is why WebMD and other experts now call it “alcohol use disorder,” reflecting a spectrum of activity surrounding problem drinking. Heavy drinking cannot be maintained long-term. While high-functioning alcoholics may appear responsible on the surface, it is only a matter of time before the abuse of their body catches up with them.

Though a high-functioning person with alcohol use disorder appears okay on the outside, inside they are a mess of justifications and denials, such as, “I deserve a good stiff drink after the job I have.”

What are the signs that an alcohol problem is happening under the surface of a seemingly normal life?

  • For a woman, having more than three drinks a day or seven per week.
  • For a man, having four or more a day or 14 per week.
  • Starting to slip on handling major responsibilities at work or at home.
  • Drinking instead of eating.
  • Getting very irritable if they skip drinking.
  • Having legal problems tied to alcohol consumption such as a DUI.
  • Drinking when alone or first thing in the morning.
  • Being unable to stop at just a couple of drinks.
  • Difficulty remembering what they did while drinking.
  • Trying to hide any of these behaviors.

The problem with alcohol use disorder is the damage that can eventually occur to your body or your life. Alcohol use disorder can cause extensive collateral damage such as accidents or mistakes that can occur as a result of trying to accomplish normal activities while under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol Rehab and the High-Functioning Alcoholic

If you or any of your loved ones are struggling with alcohol use disorder,  alcohol rehab facilities can help break the chain of addiction. To learn more about admissionscontact us today.


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