12 Signs & Symptoms Of A High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics often hide their drinking and appear healthy. But some signs they’re struggling with alcohol addiction include drinking in secret, loss of control over how much they drink, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

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A high-functioning alcoholic depends on alcohol to cope with daily life but doesn’t seem negatively affected by it.

People with alcohol addiction often struggle to focus or perform daily tasks. They may seem constantly intoxicated, smell like alcohol, and have trouble connecting with others.

High-functioning alcoholics seem fine even though they drink a lot. It can be hard to tell if someone has a drinking problem if they’re high-functioning. You may even question if their heavy drinking matters.

Excessive alcohol consumption is terrible for your physical and mental health. Eventually, alcohol abuse will take a toll on all areas of your life.

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may have a drinking problem, look for these 12 signs of high-functioning alcoholism.

1. Hiding Your Drinking

A high-functioning alcoholic might not drink around others. They’ll drink before they go out, when they get home, or whenever they’re alone. At work or social engagements, they may abstain or have just one (perhaps while sneaking off to have another in secret).

The image they present to the world is important, so they try to make it look like they hardly drink. No one will look at them critically while they’re working or talking to friends because no one can tell they’re drunk.

2. Feeling Ashamed Of Drunken Behavior

Some people laugh about the silly things they did when they drank too much. They may feel foolish but they don’t worry about it. That’s because they were drinking in a socially appropriate situation and they don’t often drink excessively.

High-functioning alcoholics don’t want people to know they’re addicted. If they behave inappropriately while drunk—especially at work or in another situation where they shouldn’t be drinking—they’re likely to feel ashamed that they failed to control their behavior.

Because they’re trying to hide the truth, they may see their odd behavior as a red flag and become afraid that people will find out they’re an alcoholic.

3. Joking About Drinking

High-functioning alcoholics might joke about how much they drink, saying things like, “If it’s afternoon, I’ll be drinking.” They might joke, “That’s alcohol abuse,” if someone doesn’t finish a drink. Joking about alcohol makes it seem like drinking isn’t a big deal.

4. Drinking A Lot Without Seeming Drunk

Someone with an alcohol addiction needs to drink more and more as their body develops a tolerance. Tolerance is what happens as your body gets used to alcohol—it adjusts to maintain balance and keep you functioning.

A high tolerance means you can drink a lot and still act normal.

5. Finishing Other People’s Drinks

High-functioning alcoholics may joke about not wasting alcohol because they can’t stand seeing drinks left behind. They’ll finish every drink they get and volunteer to finish someone else’s too.

6. Drinking At Inappropriate Times

People struggling with alcohol addiction don’t just drink in the evening. They may start the day with alcohol in their coffee, have a few drinks during their lunch hour, and even stash liquor at the office to swig when they have a moment alone.

7. Drinking At Dangerous Times

High-functioning alcoholics tend to think alcohol doesn’t affect their abilities or behavior. They may have several drinks before driving. They might drink excessively when they’re supposed to be caring for children.

Their drinking could have negative consequences and puts others at risk, but they either don’t see it that way or cannot abstain.

8. Drinking Alcohol Despite Related Health Problems

Excessive alcohol consumption is hard on your body, especially your stomach, liver, and heart. It can cause long-term health issues like high blood pressure and liver disease.

Alcohol addiction also changes the way your brain works and how you prioritize your life. It can cause or worsen other mental health conditions.

If you or your loved one have health problems related to alcohol abuse but keep drinking anyway, that’s a sign of a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD).

9. Blacking Out Because Of Alcohol

You have to drink a lot of alcohol to have short-term memory loss. If you regularly have a blackout because you drank too much, that’s a sign of a serious problem.

Some people don’t think they have a drinking problem because they can go a long time between drinking. But when they do drink, they binge. Binge drinking is consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period. It can be just as dangerous and addictive as daily heavy drinking.

10. Having Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when you are physically dependent on alcohol and try to stop drinking or cut back. Your body is so used to you drinking it will react adversely to changes in your drinking habits. It needs time to adjust. This period is called detox or withdrawal.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • cravings
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • hallucinations (auditory or visual)
  • sweating
  • tremors
  • confusion
  • agitation
  • anxiety

Severe alcohol dependence can produce intense withdrawal symptoms called delirium tremens (DTs), which may cause fatal seizures. If you think someone is an alcoholic who’s considering quitting cold turkey, they may need help from a medical professional.

11. Being Unable To Stop Drinking Or Cut Back

High-functioning alcoholics may claim they’ll have just one drink or take a week off. But when it comes down to it, they don’t have control over their drinking.

They can’t have just one. They can’t take time off. They need alcohol because they’re physically and mentally dependent on it.

12. Becoming Defensive When Confronted

If you approach someone with genuine concern about their drinking and they tell you you’re crazy or start making excuses, they likely have a problem. If they admit they drink too much and successfully cut back (for more than a few days), it may be less cause for concern.

High-functioning alcoholics don’t usually admit they have a drinking problem, even to themselves. But recognizing the problem is the first step toward healing.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one have some of the warning signs of high-functioning alcoholism, don’t hesitate to seek treatment.

Alcohol addiction treatment, such as our inpatient treatment program at Bedrock Recovery Center, works with you to resolve the root of alcohol abuse. The best treatment facilities help you stop drinking and maintain a sense of well-being in all areas of your life.

Depending on your unique situation, alcohol treatment options may include:

Many alcohol programs have family therapy and support groups for family members, like Al-Anon. Family involvement helps repair relationships and build your home support system, which increases success in long-term recovery.

Contact a specialist at Bedrock Recovery Center to learn about our personalized alcohol rehab programs and start your recovery today.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Alcohol Use and Your Health https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  2. National Library of Medicine: StatPearls — Alcohol Withdrawal https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441882/
  3. National Library of Medicine: StatPearls — Delirium Tremens https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 23, 2023

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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