High Functioning Alcoholics and Alcoholism – Addiction Center


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Understanding High Functioning Alcoholics

A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who usually drinks an unhealthy amount of alcohol alcohol while maintaining a degree of professional and personal success. According to a government survey, about 20% of alcoholics in America are high-functioning alcoholics. Many of them are successful at work and at home, and sometimes their friends and family don’t even know they have a problem.

A high-functioning alcoholic can keep a job and start a family despite an underlying struggle with alcohol addiction.
High-functioning alcoholics often hide the seriousness of their abuse from friends and loved ones.


Many high-functioning alcoholics will deny their struggles with alcohol addiction. Some may even think that alcohol helps them achieve success by making them more sociable or charming. High-functioning alcoholics are often unaware of the impact of their behavior on those closest to them.

It’s important to understand that these people’s achievements are earned despite – not because of – alcohol consumption. Regardless of personal success, long-term alcohol abuse poses serious health risks and has many negative consequences. Unfortunately, a combination of denial and a lack of support from their family and friends often prevents high-functioning alcoholics from ever receiving treatment. Nevertheless, high-functioning alcoholics face medical and legal risks from excessive drinking. For example, high-functioning alcoholics are more likely to: drink and drive and developing cirrhosis of binge drinking.

The high-functioning alcoholic is an often celebrated but problematic character type in the media. Popular TV shows like crazy men depict advertising executives, lawyers, bankers and financial advisers balancing success and heavy drinking without consequences. The stereotype gets trickier when compared to its counterpart, the alcoholic at the bottom. This contrast suggests both acceptable, “charming” forms of alcohol abuse and unacceptable, “bad” forms. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is no “best form” of alcoholism.

Regardless of success or personal achievement, everyone is vulnerable to the mental and physical damage of alcohol. These can include liver and brain damage, various cancers, and stroke. Learn the comprehensive side effects of alcohol abuse and addiction.

Signs of High Functioning Alcoholism

High-functioning alcoholics often hide their struggles from their loved ones and may be in denial. High-functioning alcoholics have built up a resistance to the sedative effects of alcohol so that they don’t appear drunk. There are signs of alcoholism to look for in friends or loved ones, including:

  • Drink to feel confident or relax
  • Hiding alcohol, denying heavy drinking, or getting angry during confrontations
  • “Morning drinking” or drinking alone
  • Losing good friends or missing work or school
  • Getting friends and family to make excuses or worry about their drinking
  • Have amnesia while drinking
  • Joking about alcoholism or a drinking problem
  • Drinking when you weren’t supposed to?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines criteria for identifying substance use disorders. Learn how professionals diagnose an alcohol problem.

Confronting a High Functioning Alcoholic

It can be difficult to recognize that a friend or loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction. After recognizing that someone needs help, it is important to address them about their behavior. An intervention specialist can help a defensive high-functioning alcoholic see the truth about their addiction. Read more about setting up an intervention.

It’s important to remember to confront high-functioning alcoholics when they’re sober. During an intervention, be assertive and clearly explain how your loved one’s alcoholism has negatively impacted you, them, and everyone you both know. However, avoid making accusations or the appearance of being judgmental. After all, you are trying to help and persuade this person to undergo treatment. Emphasize to your loved one that they will suffer even worse consequences from their alcoholism in the future if they don’t change. When the high-functioning attempts to make excuses engage in denial or attack you, respond with calm and honesty. Eventually, your loved one will realize they have a problem, if they haven’t already realized it, and they may agree to try rehab.

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