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15 Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

At first glance, a high functioning alcoholic may not seem like they have a problem. They may hold down a good job, have a nice home, and be actively involved in their community. But looks can be deceiving.

High functioning alcoholics struggle with a serious addiction that affects every aspect of their lives. While they may be able to maintain a façade of normalcy, the reality is that their dependence on alcohol takes a toll on their physical and mental health, relationships, and work life. If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or you suspect a loved one is a high-functioning alcoholic, it’s important to get help before the alcohol addiction spirals out of control.

What Is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

A high functioning alcoholic is someone who is able to maintain their job, relationships, and other responsibilities despite having a drinking problem. This term is often used to describe successful people who appear to have it all together but are secretly struggling with alcoholism. While high functioning alcoholics may be able to hold down jobs and keep up appearances, they often struggle to manage their alcohol consumption. They may drink more than intended or planned. They may continue drinking even after it begins to impact their health or personal lives. High functioning alcoholics often deny they have a problem and may be in denial about the severity of their drinking. But alcoholism is a progressive disease, and it is only a matter of time before it catches up with them.

Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

It’s not always easy to tell if someone is struggling with substance abuse. While some people may show obvious signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or stumbling, others can hold down jobs and maintain normal appearances.

Still, there are certain signs and symptoms that can indicate someone is struggling with alcoholism, even if they’re not outwardly drunk. For example, a high functioning alcoholic may frequently drink alone, lie about their drinking habits, or neglect their responsibilities in order to drink. They may also behave impulsively or have blackouts from heavy drinking. If you notice any of these alcoholism signs in yourself or someone you know, it’s important to seek help from a professional:

1. Drinking More Than Intended or Planned

High functioning alcoholics often drink more than intended or planned. You may start out drinking one beer but end up having four or five. You may tell yourself you will only drink during a party but find yourself drinking all night. If you are a high functioning alcoholic, drinking can take over your life and become your number-one priority.

Drinking more than intended or planned can be a key sign of functioning alcoholism for a few reasons.

  1. It may be a sign that you’re self-medicating – You may be drinking to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. When you have both an alcohol use disorder and mental health disorder, it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.
  2. It may be a sign that you’re starting to lose control of your drinking.
  3. It may be a sign that you’re developing a tolerance to alcohol – You need to drink more in order to feel the same effects.

2. Frequent Mood Swings or Irritability

Mood swings and irritability are common symptoms of functioning alcoholics. Alcoholism is a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol that leads to compulsive drinking. Over time, the disease progresses, and you become unable to control your drinking. This can lead to symptoms like mood swings and irritability.

Mood swings are caused by the changes in brain chemistry that occur when you drink heavily. Alcoholics often seem happy and outgoing when they’re drunk, but this is followed by a crash where they become irritable and angry. This can lead to arguments with family and friends and even violence.

If you’re concerned that someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, look for signs of mood swings and irritability.

3. Drinking More Than Others

High functioning alcoholics can drink much more than others without appearing drunk. If you are a functioning alcoholic, your drinking is likely to get worse over time. Alcoholics often build up a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need to drink larger amounts to feel its effects. This can lead to alcohol abuse that occurs more frequently, which can quickly spiral out of control. 

4. Inability to Stop Drinking Once You Start

If you find you are unable to stop drinking once you start, this is a sign that you have a problem with alcohol. High functioning alcoholics often feel like they need to drink until they are drunk. They may try to limit themselves to one or two drinks but end up drinking more and feel like they can’t stop once they’ve started.

High functioning alcoholics often believe they can control their drinking and drink as much as they want, whenever they want without any consequences. This is not true. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that will eventually take over your life if you do not get help.

If you’re able to drink in moderation on most days but find yourself unable to stop once you start drinking in the evening, this may be a sign of high functioning alcoholism. This pattern of drinking is often referred to as “binge drinking.” While it’s not necessarily indicative of alcoholism, it can be a warning sign.

5. Inability to Quit Drinking or Cut Back

Some people might not think that being unable to quit drinking or cut back is a big deal. After all, if you’re still able to go to work and take care of your responsibilities, what’s the harm?

Not being able to moderate your drinking can be a sign of high functioning alcoholism because it’s not just about how much you drink, but also how your drinking affects your life. If you’re regularly blacking out or neglecting your commitments due to drinking, then it’s a problem.

If you have tried to quit drinking or cut back but have been unsuccessful, this is a sign that you have a problem with alcohol, and it’s time to get help.

6. Continuing to Drink Even Though It Impacts Your Health or Personal Life

Many people don’t understand why someone would continue to drink if it’s harming their health or their life. But for those with high functioning alcoholism, this behavior is quite common. There are a few reasons why:

  1. High functioning alcoholics are often in denial about the extent of their problem – They may believe they can control their drinking or that it’s not really affecting their lives in negative ways.
  2. High functioning alcoholics often have a lot of stress in their lives, and drinking provides a way to cope.
  3. High functioning alcoholics often have many social and work obligations, and they may feel like they need to drink to keep up with these obligations.

All these reasons are linked to the fact that addiction is a disease that hijacks the brain, so it starts thinking that alcohol consumption is as important as food, water, and other life-sustaining sources. That’s why people with alcohol and drug addictions may behave uncharacteristically. Alcohol becomes the focus in their lives. Knowing the negative consequences doesn’t help them “rationalize” drinking because they’re not thinking rationally.

7. Denying That Drinking Is a Problem

A high functioning alcoholic will often deny they have a problem. They may:

  • Insist they can handle their drinking and that it’s not a big deal
  • Downplay the amount they drink
  • Downplay the impact drinking has on their life

Denial is a common defense mechanism used by functioning alcoholics to protect their ego and avoid admitting they have a problem.

Denial is a common sign of alcoholism, and it can take many different forms. For some people, denial takes the form of refusing to believe drinking is a problem. Someone in this type of denial may continue drinking even after experiencing negative consequences like job loss or relationship problems. Others may be in denial about how much they’re drinking, downplaying the amount they consume on a regular basis.

High functioning alcoholics are particularly good at denial, as they are often able to maintain successful careers and families while still abusing alcohol. This can make it even more difficult for loved ones to convince them to get help.

If you suspect that someone you know is in denial about their alcoholism, try to have an honest conversation with them about your concerns. Be prepared for them to deny the problem, but remain calm and respectful. Ultimately, only the alcoholic can decide whether to seek addiction treatment.

8. Drinking to Relax

High functioning alcoholics often drink to relax, relieve stress, or calm down. When they are not drinking, they may feel anxious or restless. Alcohol can be a quick and easy way to relax and escape from their problems, but it is only a temporary solution that will ultimately make things worse.

When you drink to relax, you are relying on alcohol to calm your nerves and make you feel better. This is a dangerous habit that can quickly lead to an alcohol use disorder. When you rely on alcohol to calm down, you’re not dealing with your problems head-on. This is not healthy or sustainable in the long run. Often, alcohol ends up contributing to anxiety symptoms, making them even worse.

9. Drinking to Feel Happy or Confident

When people drink alcohol, it can temporarily lower inhibitions and reduce feelings of anxiety or shyness. For some people, this can be a pleasant feeling that enhances social interactions and makes them feel more confident. For many people who struggle with functional alcoholism, alcohol becomes a way to self-medicate and cope with negative emotions. Drinking to feel happy or confident can be a way to avoid dealing with difficult life issues or stressful situations. It can also be a way of numbing yourself to pain or trauma.

10. Downplaying or Hiding Drinking from Others

Many high functioning alcoholics are good at hiding their drinking from others. They may drink alone or in secret. They may have a hidden stash of alcohol they keep hidden from family and friends or lie about how much they drink or where they got the alcohol. Hiding drinking from others is a common sign of alcoholism.

This can also involve making excuses for why you’re drinking; for example, saying you’re just having a few drinks with friends when you’re actually drinking alone. Downplaying or hiding drinking from others is a way to try to control the problem, but it’s also a sign that alcoholism has taken over your life.

11. Drinking in the Morning

Drinking in the morning is called “eye-opener” drinking, and it’s a sure sign you have a problem with alcohol. Drinking first thing in the morning means you’re using alcohol to cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms from the night before. It’s also a sign that you are drinking more than you can handle. This is a dangerous pattern of drinking, and it’s a major red flag for alcoholism.

12. Feeling Ashamed of Drinking

Many high functioning alcoholics feel ashamed of or embarrassed about their drinking or the things they do when they’re drunk. They may try to hide their drinking from others out of shame. This shame can manifest in several ways, such as:

  • Hiding alcohol
  • Making excuses for drinking
  • Lying about how much alcohol is consumed

For many high functioning alcoholics, this shame is a way of self-denying the problem. By hiding the drinking and making excuses, you can convince yourself you don’t have a problem. But this only serves to make the problem worse. Feeling ashamed of drinking is a sign that alcoholism has taken over and is starting to cause significant problems in your life. It’s also a sign that you know it is not healthy or acceptable and that you might be ready to make a change.

13. Problems in Relationships or at Work or School

If you are a high functioning alcoholic, you may start to experience problems in your relationships or at work or school. Your drinking may cause arguments with your spouse or partner. You may miss work or days of school. You may have trouble concentrating or keeping up with your work.

People who are struggling with functional alcoholism are often in denial about their problem and will go to great lengths to hide it. This can lead to them being less than honest with those around them, which can in turn lead to problems in relationships. Alcoholics also often have difficulty regulating their emotions, which can lead to conflict. They tend to be more impulsive and react poorly to stress, which can again lead to problems at home, work, or school.

14. Inability to Imagine Life Without Alcohol

High functioning alcoholics become so dependent on alcohol that it acts as a crutch for them. They may use it to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. It may also be a way for them to self-medicate in order to cope with physical or emotional pain.

Alcohol becomes part of every occasion and emotion, both good and bad. The thought of going to a party sober, coping with a bad day without drinking, or rewarding themselves with something other than alcohol is unfathomable.

15. Drinking Despite Negative Consequences

One of the most serious signs of alcoholism is that you continue to drink despite the negative effects of alcohol. If you are losing friends, job opportunities, or relationships but you cannot stop drinking, this is a sign that you have a problem. If you’re continuing to drink despite negative effects on your physical and mental health, it’s time to get help.

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that causes many sufferers to continue drinking despite the negative consequences. There are several reasons alcoholics may find it difficult to stop drinking, even when their health is at risk. For one, alcohol addiction can lead to changes in the brain that make it difficult to control impulses and make rational decisions. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and irritability can make it very difficult for an alcoholic to abstain from drinking. Finally, social factors such as peer pressure and the availability of alcohol can also contribute to someone’s continued drinking. While there is no cure for alcoholism, treatment options like counseling and medication can help people struggling with this disease to abstain from drinking and live healthy lives.

Long-Term Effects of High Functioning Alcoholism

The long-term effects of functional alcoholism can be very serious. Some long-term risks of alcoholism, whether you’re a high functioning alcoholic or not, include:

  • Damage to the liver, including cirrhosis
  • Increased risk of developing cancer, especially breast cancer and liver cancer
  • Weakened immune system, leading to an increased risk of infections
  • Damage to the brain, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and alcoholic dementia
  • Problems with blood sugar control, which can lead to diabetes
  • Nutritional deficiencies, particularly thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries
  • Social and relationship problems, including domestic violence
  • Job loss and financial problems
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
  • Poor work or academic performance
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Legal issues
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Blackouts and memory loss
  • Dependence on alcohol
  • Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety

Do High Functioning Alcoholics Need Treatment?

Yes! There are many reasons high functioning alcoholics need addiction treatment. One reason is that they may be in denial of their substance abuse. They may be able to hide their addiction from others and still function well at work or school, but they continue to drink more and more alcohol to maintain their high level of functioning. This can lead to serious health issues and even death.

Another reason high functioning alcoholics need addiction treatment is because they are more likely to relapse. They may be able to control their drinking most of the time, but if they slip up, they may fall back into their old habits and start drinking again.

Finally, high-functioning alcoholics may feel like they can handle their alcohol addiction and they don’t want to ask for help. But addiction is a disease, and it cannot be cured without help. High functioning alcoholics should seek treatment from qualified professionals to overcome their addiction and live healthy lives.

Get Treatment for High Functioning Alcoholism

If you or someone you love is struggling with high functioning alcoholism, it’s important to get alcohol addiction treatment as soon as possible. The team at Vogue Recovery Center is dedicated to helping you or a loved one overcome addiction and heal the underlying issues that contribute to the disease. We offer a comprehensive treatment program that includes individual and group therapy, as well as holistic approaches and support groups.

Vogue’s addiction treatment centers offer all levels of care for substance use disorders, including:

Our goal is to use engaging, evidence-based treatment to help our clients develop the skills they need to live sober and fulfilling lives. If you’re ready to take the first step on your journey to recovery, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment center, verify your insurance, or discuss payment options. We can help you or your loved one get on the road to recovery.

References

  1. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-identify-alcoholism-subtypes
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC