6 Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

signs of high-functioning alcoholism

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that can look differently on every person it affects. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 29.5 million people aged 12 or older struggled with alcoholism in 2021.[1]

While some people experience alcoholism in a manner that renders them unable to complete daily tasks, others can hide their symptoms with ease. If you find that you have a hard time controlling your alcohol use but can continue to hold a job and meet your responsibilities, you might be a high-functioning alcoholic.

Oftentimes, people with high-functioning alcoholism have difficulty recognizing that they have a problem because most of their consequences are internal. Here are six signs of high-functioning alcoholism.

1. Lying About Your Drinking Habits

One of the most common signs of high-functioning alcoholism is feeling the need to lie about how much you drink.

Have your loved ones, friends, or coworkers made comments about you drinking a lot? This could cause you to feel ashamed or guilty, leading you to begin lying about how much alcohol you consume. Oftentimes, people with high-functioning alcoholism control their drinking when people are around, only to drink larger amounts in private.

2. Joking About How Much You Drink

It is extremely common for people to make jokes about things they are self-conscious about because it takes away the guilty feelings and normalizes the behavior they are ashamed of. If you find yourself making jokes about how you drink too much, you could be a high-functioning alcoholic.

For example, bragging or joking about having a high tolerance for alcohol could be a sign that you do have a problem underneath it all. Additionally, cracking jokes about needing to go to rehab is a clear sign that you are struggling with your alcohol use.

3. Living a “Double Life”

Do you find yourself separating sections of your life? Maybe at work, you act like a strict,  no-nonsense professional, only to become the life of the party when you are off the clock. This is a sign of high-functioning alcoholism, as individuals with this type of alcohol use disorder tend to be very good at compartmentalizing.

If you find that you are highly respected and make great achievements in your professional life while consuming large amounts of alcohol and getting into trouble on the weekends, you could be a high-functioning alcoholic.

4. Experiencing Frequent Blackouts

People with alcoholism tend to have a hard time controlling how much they drink at once, causing them to consume large amounts. Oftentimes, this results in frequent blackouts. If you tend to blackout when you drink alcohol but continue to keep your responsibilities in order in other areas of your life, you might be a high-functioning alcoholic.

It’s common for high-functioning alcoholics to binge drink and blackout frequently because they tend to be overachievers in their careers, leading to high amounts of stress. Unfortunately, drinking until you black out is incredibly dangerous. You could get into risky situations like driving while drunk or even experience life-threatening alcohol poisoning.

5. Being Defensive About How Much You Drink

Another common sign of high-functioning alcoholism is being defensive about how much you drink. Have your friends or family members attempted to confront you about your drinking habits? Maybe their comments made you feel angry because even though you drink a lot, you still get your work done and help out around the house.

If your loved ones notice you are drinking too much and this causes you to become defensive, you could be a high-functioning alcoholic.

6. Having a High Tolerance for Alcohol (Functional Tolerance)

Lastly, an obvious sign of high-functioning alcoholism is having a high tolerance for alcohol. People with high-functioning alcoholism can drink large amounts without failing to meet their obligations the next day. When you can drink this much, it means your body is used to having large amounts of alcohol consistently.

If you have a high tolerance for alcohol, that means you have drunk large amounts so often that your body is not as affected by it anymore. Most high-functioning alcoholics have a high tolerance because they drink in excess in any situation they can.

Find Help for High-Functioning Alcoholism

While high-functioning alcoholics can keep up outward appearances in their everyday lives, their alcohol use is still negatively impacting them. For a while, they might only experience internal consequences of alcoholism like strong cravings to drink and increased mental health symptoms. However, no one can keep this up long-term, which means you will eventually develop health conditions and experience the outward consequences of alcohol use disorder.

Because high-functioning alcoholism is just as dangerous as the stereotypical type of alcohol abuse, you should always seek professional help. Rehab centers like Flourishing Foundations can provide you with the tools and support you need to maintain long-term recovery.

To learn more about our alcohol rehab program in San Antonio, contact us today.


  1. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States, Retrieved October 2023 From https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics