high-functioning alcoholism

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Alcohol is a chronic and progressive disease that can take control over every area of your life. While some people meet the stereotype of alcoholism, others can hide the symptoms and behaviors that would make their alcohol use disorder obvious to others. These individuals are known as “high-functioning alcoholics.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 30 million people aged 12 or older suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2021.[1] Because alcoholism affects so many people, it’s not hard to believe that it can take many different forms.

High-functioning alcoholics can keep up their personal appearances, meet most of their responsibilities, and uphold their status of responsible individuals for the most part. This can make it difficult to tell that they are suffering from alcoholism, especially when they are in a work setting. However, there are still signs that you can look for to determine whether they are struggling with an alcohol use disorder.

What Does “High Functioning Alcoholic” Mean?

Alcoholism is characterized by an inability to control your drinking despite facing negative consequences as a direct result of alcohol. While the signs of alcohol use disorder are typically easy to spot, they are more difficult to see among someone with high-functioning alcoholism.

A high functioning alcoholic is someone who struggles with alcoholism, but is still able to maintain a seemingly normal or “functional” life.

High-functioning alcoholics will struggle with compulsions to drink which cause them to go to great lengths to get their hands on alcohol. However, they often hide their need to drink by using excuses, such as work dinners or parties and gatherings. While high-functioning alcoholics experience all of the internal and psychological effects of alcoholism, they might not display many of the outward signs.

Oftentimes, high-functioning alcoholics can maintain a professional career, take care of children, or excel in college while they are suffering from an obsession with alcohol. As a result, their alcohol use disorder often goes unchecked. While high-functioning alcoholism might not appear as severe as other forms of alcohol use disorder, these individuals still require extensive professional treatment.

Understanding Functional Tolerance

High-functioning alcoholics often have a high tolerance for alcohol, meaning their bodies have adjusted to the dose of alcohol they consume and they can drink large amounts at once without seeming to be affected. You might hear a high-functioning alcoholic brag about how high of a tolerance they have for alcohol by saying things like, “I could drink anyone here under the table!”

While functional tolerance means they are less affected by large amounts of alcohol than others, they are still going to experience the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. In other words, tolerance does not mean you are safe from the adverse consequences of alcoholism.

The Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

High-functioning alcoholism can be hard to spot, especially because this type of alcohol use disorder allows you to hide your symptoms from others. However, there are a number of traits that high-functioning alcoholics will display that can help you determine whether they are suffering from the disease.

Signs of high-functioning alcoholism include:

  • Avoiding conversations surrounding how much you drink
  • Frequently blacking out when you drink alcohol
  • Hiding how much alcohol you consume by hiding liquor around the house or drinking in private
  • Continuing to drink despite dealing with physical and psychological consequences
  • Denying that you have a problem with alcohol because you are successful at work or school
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol without appearing intoxicated
  • Drinking during inappropriate situations like at work or school
  • Experiencing uncontrollable cravings or urges to consume alcohol
  • Drinking in risky situations, like while driving
  • Drinking as a reward after completing a project at work or school
  • Feeling guilt or shame surrounding your alcohol consumption
  • Feeling an overwhelming urge to finish drinks, even if they are not yours
  • Comparing yourself with others who have experienced the consequences of alcoholism to prove to yourself that you are not as bad off as they are
  • Being well known for being successful in your career despite your alcohol use

If you have this type of alcoholism, you might not experience the social or financial consequences of alcohol use disorder. However, you will struggle with the psychological and health-related issues that stem from alcohol abuse. For example, you might experience difficulties in your intimate relationships because of your drinking.

It is important to note that anyone struggling with alcohol use disorder, whether high-functioning or not, should seek help from an alcohol rehab program.

Get Connected to a Top-Rated Alcohol Rehab Program

If you or a loved one abuses alcohol, it’s time to seek professional help. At New You Sober Living, we can connect you with an alcohol rehab program that suits your needs. After you finish your treatment, you can transfer directly into our sober living facility to receive the support you need to transition back into everyday life.

To learn more about how we can help you overcome alcoholism, contact New You Sober Living today.


  1. The National Institutes of Health (NIH): Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics
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