What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

what is a high functioning alcoholic

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that can wreak havoc on your life. While some individuals display clear signs of alcoholism, others can hide the symptoms of their alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism does not always look like the stereotype of an individual who cannot hold a job, keep up with personal grooming, or maintain responsibilities.

Sometimes, people who struggle with alcoholism can maintain personal appearances from an outside perspective, while they suffer internally. This is known as high-functioning alcoholism. According to a study on alcohol use disorders, 20% of people who meet the criteria for alcoholism appear to be high-functioning individuals who have completed school, have a career, and are well-paid.[1]

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Alcoholism is characterized by an inability to control your drinking despite facing issues in your job or personal life and obsessive, compulsive drinking patterns. Signs of alcoholism are usually easy to spot, but this is not the case with someone who is high-functioning.

A high-functioning alcoholic may have the compulsion to drink and will go to great lengths to find opportunities to drink. However, they may not face the outward consequences of addiction. If you find yourself hiding your alcohol consumption from others, having difficulty controlling when you drink, and drinking in inappropriate circumstances like at work, you may suffer from functional alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder exists on a spectrum of severity, affecting each person who suffers from it differently. While some people may rapidly develop the apparent symptoms of alcoholism, others might be able to hide their addiction to alcohol while they continue attending work or school.

It is important to note that having high-functioning alcoholism does not mean you don’t need professional treatment. If you suffer from this type of alcohol use disorder, you will eventually experience consequences. Whether that involves losing your job, experiencing relationship issues, or developing alcohol-related illnesses, the effects of long-term alcohol abuse will catch up with you over time.

How is High Functioning Alcoholism Possible?

If you are not a high-functioning alcoholic, you may wonder how it’s possible. Alcohol intoxication is usually really difficult to hide because it causes symptoms like slurring words and a stumbling gait. While this is true, people with an alcohol use disorder develop an alcohol tolerance.

Over time, the high-functioning alcoholic’s body is so used to consuming alcohol that it begins to grow accustomed to it. They develop a tolerance, which means that their body is no longer affected by the amount of alcohol they were used to drinking.[2] People with a high tolerance must drink a lot of alcohol to experience the desired effects of intoxication.

High-functioning alcoholics have an exceptionally high alcohol tolerance, so they can drink excessively without outwardly appearing intoxicated, allowing them to continue going about their lives like everything is normal.

If you or a loved one have high-functioning alcoholism and functional tolerance, it is important to understand that consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to serious health conditions that require professional medical treatment.

Signs of High Functioning Alcoholism

A high-functioning alcoholic can be extremely difficult to identify because this version of alcohol use disorder allows you to continue living your life as if nothing is wrong. However, there are certain traits that high-functioning alcoholics may display.

The signs may include:

  • Avoiding conversations surrounding your alcohol consumption
  • Blacking out when you drink alcohol
  • Hiding how much alcohol you consume by drinking in secret or hiding alcohol around your house
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing mental or physical health conditions
  • Denying your drinking problem because you can continue attending work or school
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol and not appearing intoxicated
  • Drinking in inappropriate situations like during your lunchtime at work
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, like before driving
  • Drinking as a reward for a job well done or drinking to cope with stressful emotions
  • Feeling guilt or shame concerning your alcohol use
  • Feeling an overwhelming urge to finish alcoholic drinks, even if they aren’t yours
  • Comparing yourself to others who have experienced worse problems with drinking to prove that your alcohol abuse isn’t problematic
  • Being well-known for being successful in work or life in general despite your excessive alcohol use

If you have this type of alcoholism, you may not experience significant social or financial consequences. While you can continue to perform well at work, you may experience difficulties in your personal relationships due to your excessive drinking. And, most importantly, it’s important to recognize that you are not immune to the health consequences of long-term alcohol abuse.

Alcohol rehab is designed to treat all types of alcohol use disorders. Whether you have a severe and obvious drinking problem or are a functional alcoholic, attending one of these programs can save your life.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today

At Moving Mountains Recovery, we understand the seriousness of alcohol addiction, especially since it is the most common addiction that our clients struggle with. The objective at Moving Mountains is to help clients recover in a safe and comfortable environment, with an abundance of peer and clinical support.

We have therapies available to empower clients through their own recovery while uncovering their passion in life without the use of drugs or alcohol. Our staff is equipped and ready to help with any questions or concerns regarding alcoholism recovery. Make the life-changing phone call today.


  1. https://books.google.com/books?id=vWRds_f4uWoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Understanding+the+High-Functioning+Alcoholic&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQocCPl4TMAhUGQCYKHQQwAgQQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q&f=true
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8917511/
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