8 Signs You’re a High-Functioning Alcoholic Who Needs Treatment

signs of high functioning alcoholism

Alcoholism affects everyone differently. For example, some people have an easier time hiding their drinking than others because they continue showing up for work, paying the bills, or succeeding in other endeavors. However, even if a person who suffers from alcoholism seems as though they are “functioning,” their drinking will catch up with them eventually.

A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who has a drinking problem and is able to maintain an outward appearance of normalcy. Unlike the stereotypical bottom-of-the-barrel alcoholic who may end up sick or homeless, a functioning alcoholic may appear successful at home, work, school, and more, yet emotionally and mentally they are crippled by alcohol abuse and addiction.

High-functioning alcoholics pose a serious threat to themselves because they are often resistant to treatment and fail to admit they have a drinking problem until serious consequences occur. It’s important for loved ones to be able to spot the signs and symptoms of a high-functioning alcoholic so they can intervene when someone they love is affected and convince them to get help.

Here are 8 signs you or a loved one is a high-functioning alcoholic who needs rehab.

1. You have a high alcohol tolerance and can drink more than others around you

If you have ever been out having drinks with friends and someone said to you, “Wow! You can really drink a lot” or “you handle your alcohol really well” you may have a high alcohol tolerance. Tolerance occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to the effects of alcohol after long-term alcohol abuse. If you have a high alcohol tolerance, you will need to drink more in one sitting to feel the same effects, and you may find that you can easily “out-drink” your friends by drinking significantly more alcohol.

Most high-functioning alcoholics are able to drink large volumes of alcohol without seeming intoxicated. This makes it easier for them to hide their drinking from others.

2. You feel anxious or irritated during times when you can’t drink

If you are a high-functioning alcoholic, you may be able to carry out your daytime responsibilities without drinking, but your mind will likely be preoccupied with thoughts about the next time you can drink. You may feel eager and anxious to finish the workday so you can go home and drink. Or, you may feel irritated if you are stuck in a situation where you can’t sneak away for a sip.

3. You often stop at the liquor store on your way home to get more alcohol after drinking with friends

A moderate or casual drinker will go out with friends, have one or two drinks, then return home safely without feeling the need to drink more alcohol. However, a functioning alcoholic won’t stop at just one or two drinks. They will often stop at the liquor store on the way home to get more alcohol or continue drinking once they get home.

If you regularly go out to drink socially but find that it’s not enough and you need to drink more, you may be an alcoholic.

4. You get defensive when loved ones confront you about your drinking

Friends and family are usually the first ones to recognize when someone they care about has a drinking problem. Admitting to having a drinking problem isn’t easy to do, but high-functioning alcoholics tend to get particularly defensive when they are confronted about their drinking patterns. Rather than admitting to having a problem, functioning alcoholics may say something along the lines of, “my drinking isn’t that serious—see, I still have a job/family/friends, etc.”

If your family or friends have ever expressed your concern about your drinking and you became offended, upset, or angry, you may be a high-functioning alcoholic.

5. You feel like you perform better when you’ve had something to drink

Another coming sign of high-functioning alcoholism is the feeling that you perform tasks better when you’ve been drinking. While people who don’t have a drinking problem know that they can complete tasks and make healthier decisions when they are sober, functioning alcoholics often believe otherwise.

If you feel like you can do tasks better after you’ve had something to drink, you may be struggling with high-functioning alcoholism and be in need of rehab.

6. You can’t have just one drink

Lack of control is a tell-tale symptom of alcoholism, but because high-functioning alcoholics are usually able to control certain aspects of their life, they don’t see their out-of-control drinking as a true problem. But your drinking is out of control if you can’t stop after one drink. If you find that you can never have just one drink because one isn’t enough, you may need alcohol rehab.

7. You hide alcohol or empty bottles in inappropriate places

If you struggle with alcoholism, you may feel a lot of shame and embarrassment over your drinking problem, especially if you have a family, a job, or people who look up to you. In order to conceal your drinking problem, you may start hiding alcohol in places you can access such as your desk or purse. You may also begin hiding empty bottles in strange places so people don’t suspect you of drinking too much. High-functioning alcoholics have a lot to lose, so they often go to extreme lengths to hide their drinking problem.

8. You often justify, rationalize, or make a joke of your drinking

Just because you still have your job, your family, money, and/or other tangible things doesn’t mean you don’t have a drinking problem. However, it does make a drinking problem easier to justify.

High-functioning alcoholics often justify, rationalize, or make jokes about their drinking. Have you ever found yourself thinking that you don’t have a problem because it could be worse or that you deserve to drink more because you work a stressful job or had a demanding day as a parent? If so, you may be a high-functioning alcoholic.

Find Help for High-Functioning Alcoholism Today

Intervening with an alcohol problem and seeking treatment early can prevent high-functioning alcoholism from progressing into something far worse. It can also prevent the development of alcohol-related diseases and mental health issues. Alcoholism treatment typically involves medically-supervised detox, inpatient or outpatient rehab, and aftercare support services.

If you or someone you love are showing signs of high-functioning alcoholism, please consider calling our team at Sheer Recovery to learn about our California alcohol rehab options. Our executive-level treatment services provide compassionate treatment in a private, intimate setting. Our qualified admissions counselors are available now to help you begin. Get started by reaching out today.


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