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8 Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in America. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 29.5 million people struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2022.

While occasional alcohol use is fine, some people have a hard time controlling their drinking. When you cannot stop using alcohol, you are likely dealing with alcoholism. Risk factors for alcoholism include early access to alcohol, underlying mental health conditions, and high levels of stress in your daily life.

Some people who suffer from alcohol addiction display obvious signs, while others are better at hiding it.

If you manage to hide the signs of your alcohol use disorder, you are likely a high-functioning alcoholic. Even though the effects of alcoholism are not obvious, it still negatively impacts your daily life. High-functioning alcoholics often suffer internally, keeping up outward appearances and remaining successful in their professional lives.

Engaging in heavy drinking and allowing a problematic relationship with alcohol to go untreated can be dangerous. Thankfully, alcohol addiction treatment can help you recover.

Here are 8 signs of high-functioning alcoholism.

1. Lying About Drinking

One of the most common signs of high-functioning alcoholism is a pattern of lying about drinking alcohol. Oftentimes, people with this subtype of alcoholism feel great shame or guilt related to their alcohol consumption. This may cause them to begin lying to their family members or friends about how often they are drinking.

Long-term alcohol abuse can be extremely dangerous. If you are lying about how much you drink, that shows you know deep down that it’s time to seek help. Letting your loved ones in can allow you to get the support you need to recover.

2. Having a “Double-Life”

People with high-functioning alcoholism often separate their lives into two parts. First, they have their professional life where they are high-achievers, respected, and responsible. The second life they lead revolves around drinking.

High-functioning alcoholics are great at compartmentalizing. Their co-workers will see them as a successful and happy individual. Outside of work, they will be seen as someone who drinks and parties a lot.

3. Joking About Your Drinking Habits

People with high-functioning alcoholism are in denial about their relationship with alcohol. However, this does not mean they are unaware of their alcoholism deep down. Because somewhere inside they know they have a problem with alcohol, they will often make jokes about alcoholism.

If you find yourself laughing with your friends about having a high tolerance for alcohol or needing to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), you could be a high-functioning alcoholic.

4. Difficulty Controlling How Much Alcohol You Drink

If you have high-functioning alcoholism, you might drink so much that you blackout. The stress of maintaining your outward appearance at work will cause you to let go when you begin drinking completely. As a result, you might have a hard time preventing yourself from drinking too much at once.

Unfortunately, drinking so much that you experience blackouts is dangerous. You could engage in behaviors you wouldn’t while sober, completely forget what you did last night, or experience a life-threatening alcohol overdose. Thankfully, alcohol addiction treatment facilities and support groups can help you achieve long-lasting sobriety.

5. Getting Defensive About Your Alcohol Consumption

People with high-functioning alcoholism often become defensive when their drinking habits are brought up. If you’ve found yourself getting angry when your friends or loved ones mention taking a break from alcohol, you are probably an alcoholic.

Getting defensive is a sign of underlying guilt and shame. Because a part of you knows that your drinking is getting out of hand, you become offended when someone else brings it to light. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to consider seeking professional help.

6. Using Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism for Stress

High-functioning alcoholics often over-achieve in their professional lives. This might mean long hours at work, minimal sleep, and taking on too many responsibilities. Over time, the stress of trying so hard catches up with you.

If you use alcohol to cope with the stress of your job, you might be a high-functioning alcoholic. While unwinding with a glass of wine after work isn’t always a sign of alcoholism, it can be when you do so frequently. Using alcohol to cope with your emotions will only numb them temporarily, allowing your mental health to worsen internally over time.

7. Drinking in Risky Situations

People with high-functioning alcoholism remain responsible when they are not drinking. However, once they begin drinking they start to act like a stereotypical alcoholic. This means they might engage in risky behaviors while they are drinking.

Examples of risky behaviors high-functioning alcoholics might engage in include:

  • Drinking while driving
  • Drinking before operating heavy machinery at work
  • Consuming alcohol on lunch breaks or between meetings
  • Drinking first thing in the morning to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Consuming alcohol at a child’s birthday party
  • Drinking even when they are sick
  • Getting into fights or behaving aggressively while drunk
  • Continuing to drink even though they are developing medical conditions like liver damage

8. Having a High Tolerance for Alcohol

High-functioning alcoholics tend to drink a lot without being noticed by others. They also might not experience the common consequences of alcoholism like losing jobs or getting into legal trouble. As a result, they have time to develop a very high tolerance to alcohol.

If you can drink large amounts of alcohol without feeling affected, you might be a high-functioning alcoholic.

Get Connected to Treatment for High-Functioning Alcoholics

If you or a loved one suffers from high-functioning alcoholism, it’s time to seek help. Alcohol rehab programs will connect you with medical professionals who are experienced in treating substance use disorders. They will offer the tools and support you need to achieve long-term sobriety.

Charlotte Detox Center can help you overcome alcohol withdrawal safely and comfortably. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.