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Signs and Symptoms Of A Functioning Alcoholic

A high-functioning alcoholic is an alcoholic who still appears to function normally in day-to-day life, despite their drinking problems. Some may hide their drinking, or it may simply not appear to be a hindrance to others.

Often, high-functioning alcoholics can convince themselves and those around them that they don’t have a serious problem, so it can be harder for them actually to get the help they need.

When it is clear someone has a problem, people try to get them help – but when it is a secret or not as noticeable, they can go a long time before anyone in their life realizes that they need help.

How Does the Ability to Function Effect Them?

One of the biggest signs or symptoms of alcoholism is when the amount a person is drinking is interfering with their day-to-day life activities.

This is not the case for high-functioning alcoholics, but they still have many, if not all, of the other symptoms associated with alcoholism.

That means high-functioning alcoholics still have a long list of physical, emotional, and even relational problems that are able to go under the radar do to their ability to function.

Both the addict and the people in the addict’s life can be prone to denial. This can be a denial that the problem exists or denial that it is severe enough to warrant help or intervention.

This can be even worse with high-functioning alcoholics because they can maintain jobs, relationships, pay bills, and not get in trouble with the law. Eventually, especially if they are not getting help, the negative effects of alcoholism will begin to severely affect the addict and the people around him or her.

How Do I Know if I am a Functioning Alcoholic?

Many of these signs are true for all alcoholics, but often they are overlooked when people remain high-functioning. Below are some signs that you may be a high-functioning alcoholic:

If you find yourself turning to alcohol on a regular basis to cope with stress or a bad day, you may be abusing alcohol.

A lot of people may drink a beer or have a glass of wine every once in a while to deal with a stressful day, but whenever it goes beyond that in quantity or prevalence, you may have a problem. Alcohol should not be a regular coping mechanism for life.

If you find yourself drinking in every situation and setting when it is offered or by taking your own alcohol, this can be problematic.

This can be more concerning if you find yourself drinking at places that are not normally deemed socially acceptable. This could be places like work, school, a kid's birthday party, or breakfast.

Often drinking is a part of social engagement, but if you find yourself drinking by yourself on a regular basis, it may be a warning sign for alcohol abuse.

Usually, when people are drinking on their own, especially in larger quantities, it is used as a coping mechanism or due to dependency.

Whether you are drinking on your own or with other people, if you find yourself consistently getting drunk or waking up hung-over the next day, you may be abusing alcohol.

Like everything, alcohol can be fine or even good in moderation, but when someone finds themselves unable to control or moderate themselves, it can be a fairly serious problem.

When people build a tolerance to alcohol, that means that they need more and more to achieve the same effect. This can be a sign that you are drinking too much or too often, and therefore may have a problem with alcohol addiction or abuse.

When you go a period of time without consuming alcohol, pay attention to how you are feeling. If you get physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms, that is a key sign that you are becoming dependent on alcohol.

If the body or mind experiences negative side-effects when not given a substance, that means the body has grown to rely on that substance to help it function.

How Do People Become High-Functioning Alcoholics?

People become high-functioning alcoholics in similar ways to other alcoholics; it just is not as obvious. For some, the addiction happens quickly, but for others, it may develop slowly and, therefore, go even more unnoticed.

Genetics and environment can both lead to an increase or decrease in the risk of addiction.

Here are some of the most common factors:

  • Homelife
  • Work-life
  • Stress levels
  • Genetics and family history
  • Relationships
  • Peer pressure
  • Religion or culture

Signs & Symptoms of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Below are some signs that are commonly associated with high-functioning alcoholics, but that also can be easily missed when one is not paying attention.

Functioning alcoholics are normally the people who:

  • Someone who seems to have never stopped partying after graduating college
  • Ability to hold liquor past the point where they should be (based on their age, gender, weight)
  • The first person to arrive at the bar or club. Or the person who always wants to go to the bar after work or school
  • The person who makes lots of jokes about drinking as this is a way people often hide their issues


Denial is the biggest problem for alcoholics because it can prevent them from seeking help until the problems are fairly severe.

Denial can be even more serious for functioning-alcoholics because sometimes they are able to fool, not only themselves but everyone else around them. They seem to be handling life well and getting everything done, so it may seem as if there is no need for intervention or help.

Denial can also make it difficult for family or friends to host interventions as the individual truly believes they do not have a problem and that people who are trying to help in the long run  are “dampening the fun.”

The first step to recovery is overcoming denial and accepting that alcohol is a problem in their life.


Here are some of the most common problems associated with alcoholism.

  • Liver damage
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Malnutrition
  • Sleeping problems
  • Violent behavior
  • Drinking and driving
  • Death
  • Injury
  • Jail
  • Alcohol poisoning

What is the Tipping Point?

For many people, there is a tipping point known as ‘rock bottom.’ This is when a person gets to or is approaching the point that is so bad that they realize they can not continue on in the same way they have in the past.

For some people, this means missing out on obligations or important events. For others, the tipping point may be alcohol poisoning or other physical or emotional low.

The tipping point varies for most people, but it is the point where a person decides that they cannot continue to live with alcoholism. The point where continuing to drink is just as scary as stopping.

How to Get Help?

There are a few steps you can take to get help with your alcohol addictions. First, you can reach out to a therapist. There are lots of therapists that specialize in addiction treatment and who can help you recover from addiction.

Second, go to a support group. Often going to a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be extremely beneficial, even if you do not talk to anyone the first time you are there. Going to the meeting can be your first step to recovery.

How to Help a Loved One

Getting help for a loved one with alcoholism is important, but it is important to understand that the job does not lay solely on your shoulders. Additionally, you cannot force someone to get help.

Treatment is most effective when the patient is receptive, but if you think your loved one will be receptive. Often holding an intervention or having a conversation of some sort is a good way to start.

If you can get them to admit that they may have a problem or at least get them to the point where they are willing to see a professional, the professional will handle the rest.

Relationships with High Functioning Alcoholics

Below are some options and tips on how to live with a high-functioning alcoholic:

1. Avoid Co-Dependency

People in relationships with alcoholics usually want to help whenever they can, but it is important to avoid co-dependency.

This means avoiding accidentally enabling the person and avoiding the person becoming totally dependent on another for support, whether that be emotionally, financially, socially or physically.

2. Support Groups

For people who are in a relationship with high-functioning alcoholics, they may often feel overwhelmed or distressed. Going to a support group for other people in relationships with functioning alcoholics can be extremely beneficial.

It provides a safe space to vent and receive support and understanding from people who can relate over shared experiences.

3. Interventions

Sometimes an intervention is necessary to convince a loved one to get help. This can be a challenge, but highly effective if done carefully and with love.

There are also professional interventions that allow someone with training to help the intervention go according to plan. Generally, during an intervention, people try to show a loved one of the consequences and negative side-effects of their drinking.


Treatment can be especially difficult for high functioning alcoholics because often the person does not want to admit to themselves or those around them that they have a problem.

Because of this, counselors or other professionals will work towards admittance and acceptance first before moving on to any other form of therapy. Once a person is ready to admit they have a problem and work towards a solution, there are various treatment plans that could ensue.

The person may also undergo therapy to treat underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Alcoholism does not only affect the individual but those in the person’s social circles. For that reason, family or group therapy can be beneficial. In this kind of therapy, the whole family can deal with their feelings towards the situations and learn how to cope.

In some cases, the alcoholic may go to an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility to get more intense care. This can help people get all the support that they need to overcome their addiction, especially in the beginning.

Inpatient is overnight and 24/7 care, while outpatient is generally for several hours a day, several days a week.

Get in touch today

If you are concerned about a loved one and their drinking habits, call ADT Healthcare today on 0800 138 0722 for confidential and immediate advice.