Signs and Symptoms of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

There is a common misconception about alcoholics, despite most everyone knowing of an alcoholic in their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Alcoholics are often stereotyped as being individuals who do not keep themselves clean, do not have jobs, have little manners or respect for others, and who are always ready to steal in order to get more alcohol to drink. Of course there are alcoholics that embody that stereotype, but the truth is, the vast majority of alcoholics are nothing like that. In fact, there are some alcoholics who experience severe alcohol use disorder but those around them might never guess it. They are called high-functioning alcoholics. The many signs and symptoms of a high-functioning alcoholic may be startling, especially because it is easy to pin previously decided opinions on what an alcoholic is supposed to be like.

Signs and Symptoms of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholics do exist, despite popular belief. And while not all high-functioning alcoholics will exhibit the same symptoms, there are a number of commonly shared symptoms that help define this specific type of alcoholic. 

Strong Denial 

Most people who have alcoholism or a problem with alcohol experience denial at some point in time or another. But high-functioning alcoholics struggle with denial on a whole different level. That is primarily because high-functioning alcoholics rarely face any repercussions for their drinking. In fact, they tend to be so highly capable of drinking and continuing to do things like succeed at work and have a healthy relationship that they have significant difficulty accepting that their behaviors are problematic. Therefore, if you make mention of a high-functioning alcoholic’s drinking and/or your concerns about it, they are likely to shut you down quickly and enforce their denial strongly.

Secretive Behavior

All individuals grappling with alcohol use disorder develop secretive behaviors in order to hide their use. High-functioning alcoholics are no different. These types of alcoholics may spend a great deal of time and effort in hiding the amount that they are drinking so that those around them do not place judgment on them. Keep in mind, high-functioning alcoholics are often successful people with egos just like everyone else. The thought of others viewing them as the stereotypical alcoholic can be frightening enough to encourage them to keep the extent of their drinking under wraps. 

Accidentally Get Drunk

As mentioned before, high-functioning alcoholics possess an ego, just like everyone else. Their ego can prevent them from taking stock of what is going on around them, including their very own drinking behaviors. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see high-functioning alcoholics drink more than intend to, leading them to get drunk. An example of this would be a high-functioning alcoholic at an employee event. They might continue to keep alcohol in their hands the entire night and keep drinking until they are drunk. High-functioning alcoholics often utilize alcohol to help ease social discomfort, but this can backfire. 

Drink Alone 

Alcoholics of all kinds will experience times when they drink alone, but high-functioning alcoholics tend to do it more frequently. They might even drink during the day or while at work in an effort to keep them moving along. High-functioning alcoholics don’t typically do so well when they space out their drinking, as it can cause them to feel ill. The continued consumption of alcohol allows for the individual to keep functioning at work and at home, rather than being tied up feeling sick. 

Forget Their Actions

Not all high-functioning alcoholics find themselves blacked out in random places. Instead, a high-functioning alcoholic might drink a lot at home and then put themselves into bed and black out there. These types of alcoholics have an uncanny ability to make it appear as though they have everything together when in reality, they are not in full control at all. So, one of the most common signs and symptoms of a high-functioning alcoholic is someone who doesn’t appear to black out but who forgets what they did while under the influence. 

Loved Ones Express Concern 

Just because high-functioning alcoholics can oftentimes hide the severity of their drinking, loved ones may take notice that something isn’t right. Someone may be a high-functioning alcoholic if they are still able to maintain their lives but their loved ones are expressing concern about their drinking behaviors. 

Additional signs and symptoms of a high-functioning alcoholic include needing alcohol to feel relaxed or confident and denying the amount that they drink.

Alcohol Rehab in Alabama

If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction, reach out to us right now. At Birmingham Recovery Center, our alcohol rehab in Alabama understands how complicated it can be to overcome the many challenges that you are facing in order to get sober. Call us right now to learn more about the programming we offer as well as how we can help you. One of our trained and experienced admissions specialists will answer your call and aid you in getting the process of your recovery started.

Do not waste any more time. Call us right now and begin your journey towards recovery today.


  • Ian Henyon, LPC

    Having worked in a variety of clinical settings since 2008, Ian brings well over a decade of treatment center experience to the leadership role at Birmingham Recovery Center. As Executive Director, he is responsible for all aspects of BRC’s operations and provision of services. Being firmly grounded in the notion of servant leadership, Ian is focused on establishing a supportive work environment as a foundation for providing superior clinical services to BRC’s clients. Ian combines his extensive knowledge of treating addiction and psychiatric illness with the recognition that addiction is a disorder of the brain, to ensure that all clients are treated with the highest levels of respect and compassion. Ian is a licensed professional counselor. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and he received a Master of Science degree from Prescott College.


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