High Functioning Alcoholic

High Functioning Alcoholic

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

What is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

Alcohol affects people in different ways. Some people struggle to cope with life due to consuming liquor while others are able to function well and continue on with their daily lives.1https://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/health/05brod.html These individuals are known as high functioning alcoholics because they can complete everyday tasks after consuming alcohol.

High functioning alcoholics give off the appearance of living a normal life. Many continue to work their jobs, drive, and enjoy family life. However, they consume large amounts of alcohol and spend much of the time buzzed or drunk. Individuals often continue to drink throughout the day to keep up the numb feeling they seek.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931699/

Health problems can develop in high functioning alcoholics and lead to an early death. In addition, relationships can become frayed due to drinking. High functioning alcoholics can also experience arrests and jailtime as many continue to carry out everyday tasks such as driving while intoxicated.

A high functioning alcoholic is not the image that most people see in their minds when conjuring up pictures of an alcoholic. You may not realize a colleague or loved one is a high functioning alcoholic as they seem to act normal. However, individuals can surprise you and be a danger to themselves and others.

Signs of a high functioning alcoholic

The definition of a heavy drinker for men and women is quite different. A man is considered a heavy drinker if he consumes four or more alcoholic drinks a day or 14 in a week.3https://worldsbest.rehab/stages-of-alcoholism/ Women are considered heavy drinkers if they consume three alcoholic drinks a day or seven in a week. A person – male or female – who drinks more is in danger of being a high functioning alcoholic.

If you are worried that you or a loved one is a high functioning alcoholic, there are some warning signs you should be on the lookout for. These warning signs include:


  • Denying you have a problem
  • Joke about alcoholism and drinking being a problem
  • Unable to keep up with responsibilities such as home, work, or school life
  • Lose friends or have relationship problems due to alcohol
  • Have legal issues due to drinking, for example arrested for a DUI
  • Need alcohol to relax
  • Drink alcohol to feel confident
  • Drink in the morning
  • Drink when you are alone
  • Get drunk when you don’t want to
  • Forget what you did or blackout while drinking
  • Deny, hide drinking alcohol, or get upset when confronted about drinking


What are the risks of being a high functioning alcoholic?

Although high functioning alcoholics hold down jobs and complete daily tasks, they are not in control of their lives. They tend to put themselves and others in danger. Drinking and driving is one of the most significant dangers they put themselves and others in. Other risks include:


  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Blacking out
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Brain damage
  • Cancer
  • Physical abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Memory loss


High functioning alcoholics can seek treatment from an alcohol recovery center. Individuals can get help for their alcohol addiction through therapy, physical fitness programs, and counseling. Alcoholism treatment programs are available and can end a person’s dependency on drinking for good.


References: High Functioning Alcoholic

  1. Alcohol and health Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; [Accessed July 03, 2020]. Available from: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/standard-drink. []
  2. Kalivas PW, O’Brien C. Drug addiction as a pathology of staged neuroplasticity. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008;33(1):166–180. [PubMed] []
  3. Nitsche C, Simon P, Weiss FU, et al. Environmental risk factors for chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Dig Dis. 2011;29(2):235–242. [PubMed] []
  4. Chopra K, Tiwari V. Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012;73(3):348–362. [PubMed] []
  5. Fuller RK, Branchey L, Brightwell DR, et al. Disulfiram treatment of alcoholism: A Veterans Administration cooperative study. JAMA. 1986;256(11):1449–1455. [PubMed] []
  6. Berger L, Fisher M, Brondino M, et al. Efficacy of acamprosate for alcohol dependence in a family medicine setting in the United States: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):668–674. [PubMed] []
  7. Anton RF, Pettinati H, Zweben A, et al. A multi-site dose ranging study of nalmefene in the treatment of alcohol dependence. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2004;24(4):421–428. [PubMed] []
  8. Hutchison KE, Swift R, Rohsenow DJ, Monti PM, Davidson D, Almeida A. Olanzapine reduces urge to drink after drinking cues and a priming dose of alcohol. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2001;155(1):27–34. [PubMed] []
  9. Addolorato G, Caputo F, Capristo E, et al. Baclofen efficacy in reducing alcohol craving and intake: a preliminary double-blind randomized controlled study. Alcohol Alcohol. 2002;37(5):504–508. [PubMed] []
  10. Lewis B, Nixon SJ. Characterizing gender differences in treatment seekers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013 Aug 9; Epub. []
  11. Chamorro AJ, Marcos M, Mirón-Canelo JA, Pastor I, González-Sarmiento R, Laso FJ. Association of μ-opioid receptor (OPRM1) gene polymorphism with response to naltrexone in alcohol dependence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Addict Biol. 2012;17(3):505–512. [PubMed] []
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