What Does it Mean to be a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Not everyone with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – sometimes called alcoholism – is aware they have a problem. Sometimes, they are able to lead prosperous lives, have families and maintain successful careers, all while fighting alcohol addiction. Someone with these characteristics is known as a high-functioning alcoholic. In many ways, their affliction is worse because it goes untreated. Here are some of the signs of a high–functioning alcoholic.


Anyone who drinks heavily sometimes wonders if they have a problem with alcohol. This is less true of those who have AUD. They frequently will not even discuss the possibility that their alcohol consumption might be excessive. Those who do not struggle with alcohol are typically willing to consider their drinking as a source of problems in their life. Those addicted to alcohol frequently won’t. Hiding alcohol or feeling the need to hide when they drink is a common symptom of AUD. It’s also very common in the average high–functioning alcoholic. Denial is a difficult indicator to spot. It’s also one of the most important. This is the mask behind which alcoholism hides. If you or someone in your life gets angry or agitated anytime problematic drinking is discussed, they could be a high–functioning alcoholic.

Preoccupation with Alcohol

There are many different types of alcoholics, but they all share at least one thing in common– a preoccupation with alcohol. This includes the high functioning alcoholic, who often doesn’t go far into denial. Frequently they will make jokes about having a problem. They will attempt to make light of their drinking by saying they should go to a meeting even as they drink. Alcohol is a common topic of conversation. They require alcohol to “relax” or to face social events of any kind.

Excessive Alcohol Intake

The CDC defines immoderate drinking as having more than 4 drinks in a day or more than 8 drinks in a week for women. For men, the numbers are 5 drinks in a day or fifteen drinks in a week. Anyone who drinks more than this is drinking too much. Even if they do not have AUD, they are consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol.

Drink at Inappropriate Times

A high–functioning alcoholic has the same drinking habits as other alcoholics. They frequently drink in the morning or drink while alone. Typically they drink to excess – as outlined above – when by themselves. A major indicator is drinking at work.

Problems Around Alcohol

Problems plague alcoholics, high–functioning or not. Though these might not be as severe as other types of alcoholics, they’re still far worse than the difficulties faced by those who do not have AUD. These are some of the areas where alcohol could be causing issues:

  • Legal Problems – Arrests or contact with law enforcement when drinking.
  • Work Problems – Drinking has been discussed at work. The person drinks while on the job. They have missed work as the result of drinking.
  • Financial Problems – Unable to pay bills but still capable of buying alcohol. Have destroyed property while drinking.
  • Relationship Problems – Troubles with family or loved ones. Arguments about alcohol or fights frequently occurring while intoxicated.
  • Responsibility Problems – Inability to meet common responsibilities at work or home due to drinking is a major red flag.

Even if these troubles are minor, they may be indications that alcohol is a source of concern.


Any memory loss caused by drinking is a dangerous sign. It means enough alcohol has been consumed to do serious brain damage.

Getting Help for The High-Functioning Alcoholic

If you recognized yourself or someone you know in any of the above statements, they are likely to be a high–functioning alcoholic. Luckily, there’s help. Reaching out now, before the problem becomes worse can improve the chance of recovery. High–functioning alcoholics also find that once they are able to stop drinking, their success skyrockets. All it takes to begin healing is to ask for assistance.

Contact us for help today

Ready to start? We’re here for you.

Send us a message