What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic? 7 Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

When you think of an alcoholic, you may think of someone who doesn’t have a job and can’t take care of their responsibilities, and you may imagine them looking or acting in certain ways. However, the general stereotype of an alcoholic does not represent all alcoholics. Some are more functional than others.

A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who is suffering from alcoholism on the inside but is not displaying many outward signs of alcoholism and is able to function normally on a daily basis. So if a high-functioning alcoholic is able to function and hide their alcoholism, how can you tell if someone is struggling? Here are 7 common signs of high-functioning alcoholism.

1. Functional Tolerance

People who abuse alcohol regularly will become less sensitive to the effects over time. This is known as tolerance. Alcohol tolerance develops after the body adapts to drinking alcohol, causing people to drink larger amounts of alcohol than they once did to experience the same effect. Tolerance is one of the many diagnostic criteria medical providers and clinicians use to diagnose an alcohol use disorder.

Functional tolerance is a term that describes being able to drink large amounts of alcohol without appearing intoxicated. A high-functioning alcoholic will have a growing tolerance the longer they drink, but the tolerance may remain functional, so even if they have drunk significant amounts of alcohol, they may be able to act sober.

Some functional alcoholics will even brag about how much they can drink compared to others or challenge others to play drinking games to show off how well they can handle their alcohol.

It’s important to note that just because a person with functional tolerance may be able to act sober, they are in fact intoxicated, and their reaction times and decision-making abilities will be reduced. As a result, people with functional tolerance are still susceptible to car accidents, injury, and more.

2. Endless Excuses for Drinking

Virtually all alcoholics will make excuses for their drinking, but some alcoholics may have more realistic or practical excuses than others. High-functioning alcoholics are exceptionally skilled at coming up with excuses or rationalizations for their alcohol use. They may constantly rationalize their drinking by saying things like, “Having a few drinks at night helps me relax. I’ve been under so much stress at work,” or, “I’ve been working hard lately, I deserve another drink.” They may laugh off their excuses and be very casual about them, so as to not draw attention toward their unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Additionally, they may drink in all situations, such as at home, in social settings, or even at work.

3. Making Jokes About Drinking

In addition to excuses and rationalizations, high-functioning alcoholics may make frequent jokes about their drinking habits. For example, they may joke about not wasting alcohol or how rehab is for quitters. Instead of running the risk of being found out about their drinking by friends and family, they use jokes as a way to deflect from a serious topic.

4. Compartmentalizing Areas of their Life

Many high-functioning alcoholics compartmentalize, or separate parts of their life in order to appear functional. For example, a high-functioning alcoholic may act totally differently at home and while they are drinking than they do at work. They are good at putting on a happy face, lying about or hiding their problems, and going on as if everything is normal even if it isn’t. Compartmentalization makes it hard for friends and family to recognize a drinking problem because they don’t see anything wrong on the outside.

5. Multiple Failed Attempts to Stop Drinking or Cut Back

A common symptom among all types of alcoholics is multiple failed attempts to stop drinking. When a high functioning alcoholic realizes that their drinking is getting out of control or starting to interfere with other parts of their life, they may try to cut back on the amount they drink or stop drinking altogether, However, time and time again, they fail when they try to stop on their own. This is because, despite outward appearances, they have an alcohol use disorder and require professional alcoholism treatment to recover.

6. High Functioning Alcoholics Feel Shameful About Their Drinking

Because hiding their drinking is such a huge part of their life, many high-functioning alcoholics feel immense shame, guilt, and remorse about their drinking–especially if they made a mistake or acted intoxicated in front of friends or family. They know that if they are found out about their drinking problem, the facade of being a functional, productive person will start to shatter.

7. Hiding Alcohol

In an attempt to conceal their drinking and hide their shame, high-functioning alcoholics may hide alcohol in places where it does not belong. They may hide empty bottles in the closet or in their car so their loved ones don’t see bottles in the trash. Or, they may keep a locked drawer at their desk for a bottle or flask that they can drink inconspicuously. High-functioning alcoholics may add clear liquor to water bottles so other people don’t know they are drinking or frequently drink alone so their behavior isn’t witnessed by others.  This secretive and sneaky lifestyle is a red flag that someone is a high-functioning alcoholic.

Find Help for a High-Functioning Alcoholic Today

If you think you or someone you love is displaying signs of being a high-functioning alcoholic, seeking professional treatment can help. Please contact our team at Next Step Recovery today to learn about your alcohol rehab options.

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