When most people think about alcohol addiction, they think of a person who’s suffered numerous external consequences because of their drinking. They may have lost their job, have few friends and be experiencing problems in their families. While many who suffer from alcohol abuse follow this pattern, not all do.

A high-functioning alcoholic can carry out their daily tasks with little to no external consequences of alcohol abuse. Often, they perform well at their job and take excellent care of their hygiene. They seem like a loving parent and can have many close friends. 

However, the high-functioning alcoholic still has a serious problem. Eventually, a functional alcoholic will find that their alcohol addiction causes them serious problems. If they never show external consequences, they may battle with their physical and mental health. 

When many of the classic signs of alcohol use disorder aren’t present, a high-functioning alcoholic may not get the help they desperately need. Learning the signs of high-functioning alcoholism can ensure you or your loved one find the professional help you need to get and stay sober. 

Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Concealing How Much Alcohol Is Used

If you suffer from alcohol use disorder, hiding alcohol and lying about how much you’ve had to drink are classic signs of a problem. This sign of high-functioning alcoholism can be seen in everyone with a heavy drinking issue, not just those who function well.

The reason people with alcohol use disorders conceal how much they drink is that they feel guilty or bad about it. They know they have a problem at a subconscious level, but they aren’t ready to face it. With high-functioning alcoholics, the fact they don’t see obvious consequences for their actions can help them justify drinking alcohol. 

Denial of an Alcohol Use Disorder

The high-functioning alcoholic will deny they have a problem. Once again, their ability to continue functioning normally while consuming copious alcoholic beverages will be used as a way to justify their thinking. So what if they can consume more than three drinks during a half-hour lunch break? It’s only problematic alcohol use if they can’t return to work after, right?

Defensive About Their Drinking Habits

Many high-functioning alcoholics will tell you they don’t drink heavily. They may lie about how many drinks they had and become defensive when you say they have a drinking problem. If you suggest they see a mental health professional or get professional treatment advice, they’ll get angry or avoid the conversation entirely.

To avoid these conversations, you or your loved one might hide their alcohol consumption. For example, you may consume excessive alcohol before attending an event. So it may look like you only had a few drinks, but in reality, you’d already had twice as much before arriving. This sneaky drinking avoids conversations about excessive alcohol use with friends and family members. 

High Tolerance for Alcohol

With both alcoholism and drug addiction, the more you use a substance, the higher your tolerance becomes. So, to achieve the same effects you received when first drinking alcohol, you have to consume more of it. The longer you use, the higher your tolerance and the harder it becomes to quit drinking. 

This high tolerance poses additional problems to your physical health. The more alcohol consumed, the higher the risks of developing acute or chronic physical or mental illness. Thankfully, the sooner you seek treatment, the better long-term physical health outlooks are. 

Drinking in Dangerous or Inappropriate Situations

A typical alcoholic will drink in dangerous or inappropriate situations, which carries over into those considered high-functioning. For example, a person with substance use disorders will drink:

  • Before driving a car
  • While driving a car
  • Before operating heavy machinery
  • Before school or work
  • During work lunch breaks
  • At school or work
  • First thing in the morning (sometimes called getting the “hair of the dog”)
  • At a child’s birthday party
  • At religious events
  • While ill (with a cold, flu, etc.)
  • After being diagnosed with a severe health issue (like diseases of the heart, liver, kidneys)

Health Problems Related To Drinking Alcohol

One of the signs someone is a high-functioning alcoholic is that they begin developing health problems related to drinking excessively. Unfortunately, this is sometimes the first sign that heavy or moderate drinking has become a serious problem. 

For example, an otherwise healthy person may develop high blood pressure or gain excessive weight due to a “beer belly.” Eventually, drinking five or more drinks a day will lead to more serious health problems that could become chronic, even after sobriety. 

Early Intervention Is Key

Often, people who suffer from alcohol use problems are self-treating a mental health condition. They may battle with depression, anxiety, PTSD or another mental health issue. However, impulsive alcohol use often only makes mental disorders worse. An alcohol use problem can also be a gateway to other problems, like drug abuse. Early intervention is key to preventing a worsening of problems. 

Consequences of Ongoing Functioning Alcoholism

High-functioning alcoholics may not suffer obvious external negative consequences for their alcohol use problem. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any consequences.

Alcohol dependence, regardless of outward functionality, can cause serious health problems. Ongoing substance abuse can lead to depression or make existing symptoms worse. It can also cause cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, stomach ulcers and heart disease, to name a few. 

Additionally, high-functioning alcoholics don’t always stay that way. Eventually, the functioning alcoholic may experience severe consequences for their substance abuse. These consequences can include:

  • Relationship problems
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Quitting or being fired from their job
  • Dropping out or being expelled from school
  • Poor self-care and hygiene
  • Frequent, obvious lying
  • Problems with family
  • Loss of friendships

These consequences of a substance use disorder are only those most people will notice. Unfortunately, there are many more problems the once-functioning alcoholic could potentially face. 

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse

There are many treatment services available to those battling alcohol abuse. Everyone starts their path to becoming sober by detoxing. Afterward, inpatient or outpatient treatment options are available. After more intensive programs at our treatment centers, ongoing support is crucial.


Detox is the first step in any addiction treatment. Although many believe they can go through this process alone, it’s best to detox in an addiction treatment center. Although uncommon, many people experience medical emergencies during detox, and having immediate access to assistance is vital.

Detoxing at a treatment facility means you’ll be under supervision while all traces of alcohol leave your system. This can be uncomfortable, although everyone’s experience is different. Some people have only mild detox symptoms, while others have severe. Symptoms vary based on numerous factors, including age, overall health, personality, genetics and how long you’ve regularly consumed alcohol. 

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs are the best choice for those looking to overcome alcohol abuse and alcoholism. During the program, you’ll temporarily live at the rehab center. This allows you to focus solely on overcoming your addiction without outside responsibilities or stress. 

Our treatment centers can provide help for co-occurring disorders during your inpatient stay. This includes access to treatment for mental health conditions or drug abuse.

Inpatient programs usually consist of therapy, medications, physical health programs and holistic options. Each program is tailored to the individual for the best results. 

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are usually less intense than inpatient ones. Instead of staying at a treatment center, you’ll remain at home but have a regular therapy schedule and other treatment options. If you or your specific treatment provider feel it will be beneficial, medication management may also be incorporated into an outpatient program. 

Ongoing Support

There’s no cure for alcohol use disorder. Your journey will require a lifelong commitment to staying sober. So once you complete an inpatient or outpatient program, you’ll need access to ongoing support. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and individual counseling are excellent support options. Having the support of close friends and family is also crucial. 

Behavioral Health Centers Is Here To Help

If you or a loved one has the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic, it’s crucial to get the professional help you need. Behavioral Health Centers is here to help you start your journey to sobriety and support you every step.
To learn more about our treatment process or treatment facilities, call us today at 772-774-3872. You can also fill out the contact form on our website. A certified addiction professional will be in touch as soon as possible.

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