Alcoholism is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and high-functioning alcoholics are no exception. These are people who can still maintain their daily responsibilities despite consuming large amounts of alcohol regularly.1 They may be able to hold down a job, maintain relationships, and generally appear to be functioning well. However, their alcohol consumption is still a cause for concern and can have serious consequences for their health and well-being. Here are some common signs someone may be a high-functioning alcoholic.
Drinking to Manage Stress
One of the most common signs of a high-functioning alcoholic is drinking to manage stress. Many people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with the pressures of daily life. However, this can become a pattern that leads to regular drinking. If you notice that someone frequently turns to alcohol as a way to manage stress, it may be a sign to keep an eye on them. This is particularly concerning because regular drinking to manage stress can lead to addiction and dependence on alcohol.3
Another sign is if a person frequently drinks alone. While it’s not uncommon to enjoy a drink alone occasionally, doing so regularly can be a warning sign. Alcoholics, in general, may hide their drinking from others, so drinking alone can be a way to conceal their habits.2 This behavior can also lead to isolation, which can exacerbate the negative effects of alcohol on physical and mental health.
Hand in hand with the previous point, drinkers may go to great lengths to hide their addiction. They may keep alcohol in unlikely places, such as a desk drawer or a bathroom cabinet. If you notice that someone is frequently hiding alcohol, it may be a sign that they are a functional alcoholic. Hiding alcohol is a way to conceal drinking habits, but it also indicates that the person is aware that their drinking is problematic.
Drinking More Than Intended
Another warning sign is if someone drinks more than they intended to. Alcoholics may plan only to have one or two drinks but end up consuming much more. This can be a sign that they have lost control over their drinking. The difference (and problem) with someone high-functioning is that it will be harder to tell if the person is drunk after a few too many drinks. The inability to stick to drinking limits can also indicate an increased tolerance to alcohol, which is a warning sign of alcoholism.3
All alcoholics may build up a tolerance to alcohol over time, including functional ones. With an increased tolerance they may need to drink more to feel the same effects they once did with less. This can be a dangerous sign, as it can lead to consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol.4 Increased tolerance can also lead to a higher risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, and health problems.
Drinking Despite Negative Consequences
Continuing to drink despite experiencing negative consequences is a tell-tale sign of alcoholism. For example, they may show up to work hungover, neglect important responsibilities, or damage relationships due to their drinking. This behaviour indicates that the person is unable to control their drinking and is likely to lead to more severe consequences over time.
Hangovers are a common occurrence for anyone who consumes alcohol, but high-functioning alcoholics may go to great lengths to hide them. They may use medication to mask symptoms or call in sick to work. Hiding hangovers can be a sign that someone is struggling with alcohol addiction. The frequent use of medication to mask hangover symptoms can also lead to addiction to prescription medication.
Functional alcoholics may experience blackouts, periods when they cannot recall events that occurred while they were drinking. Not to be confused with a raging college party experience, blackouts can be a sign that drinking is becoming a serious problem. Blackouts occur when a person consumes so much alcohol that it impairs their ability to form new memories. Drinking this heavily can have a permanent effect on memory loss.
Finally, there’s the denial that there’s a problem with alcohol. They may argue that they are functional alcoholics (which is the same thing as an alcohol problem) and that their drinking is not affecting their daily lives. Or worse, they may joke about just drinking a lot or that help is for people with drinking problems. Denial can be a significant barrier to seeking treatment, and it’s essential to recognize it as a warning sign. Denial can also lead to a delay in seeking treatment, which can result in more severe consequences.
High-functioning alcoholism is a serious condition that can have severe consequences. If you or someone you know is showing these warning signs, seeking help is important. Alcoholism treatment can be effective, and recovery is possible. Treatment options include individual counselling, group therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. It’s important to remember that alcoholism is a chronic condition, but recovery is possible with the right treatment and support.
If you’re concerned about your drinking or the drinking habits of someone you know, reach out to a healthcare professional for guidance. They can help you determine the appropriate next steps and connect you with resources in your community.
Keep Reading: The standard American diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to start eating healthier
- “Are You a High-Functioning Alcoholic?” WebMD. Melissa Bienvenu. May 1 ,2023.
- “What Is a Functional Alcoholic?” Very Well Mind. Buddy T. September 09, 2022.
- “Alcohol Use Disorder.” WebMD. Rachel Reiff Ellis. August 24, 2022.
- “Alcohol use disorder.” Mayo Clinic