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How To Recognize a High-Functioning Alcoholic

A high-functioning alcoholic is a person that generally leads a normal life. These people usually have full-time jobs, families, and thriving social lives all while hiding their addiction. Everything looks good on the outside while the person is really spirally out of control. Since the life of a high-functioning alcoholic tends to show success, they are strongly in denial about their problem. In order to recognize a high-functioning alcoholic lookout for the following signs and behaviors.

They Can’t Have Just One Drink

When someone is a high-functioning alcoholic, they can never have just one drink. They start out saying “I’ll only have one”, and end up drinking several more. As a high-functioning alcoholic, they are unable to limit their alcohol consumption. So, parties or social gatherings at bars usually end with heavy drinking. Sometimes when it’s closing time at the bar the high-functioning alcoholic quickly downs their drink to go find another open bar. When you are around a high-functioning alcoholic no drink is ever left on the table. If someone in the group of friends doesn’t finish their drink a high-functioning alcoholic will gladly finish it for them.

Extreme Behavior Changes

A high-functioning alcoholic turns into an entirely different person when they drink. Alcohol changes their behavior in dramatic ways. A typically shy and quiet person becomes more sociable and loud. A more problematic behavior change is an amiable person becoming more aggressive. Many friends and family members excuse the harmful or reckless behavior because “it only happens when they’re drunk.” However,  when this change in behavior becomes the norm, it’s time to for the person to get some help.

Frequent Blackouts

Another sign of a high-functioning alcoholic is constant memory loss. There is absolutely no recollection of the reckless or weird behavior they did while drunk. Plans and promises made while drunk are forgotten when brought up the next day. In the moment, the person may not seem extremely intoxicated but when told of the night's endeavors, everything sounds completely new to them. These blackouts tend to occur every single time they drink because of their lack of impulse control of the consumption of alcohol. Frequent blackouts are not normal and are a prominent warning sign of a serious problem.

Joking About Alcohol

Sometimes a high-functioning alcoholic admits that they have a problem, albeit jokingly. They talk about their drinking habits in a joking manner. Saying things like “we can’t let good alcohol go to waste” or “rehab is for quitters” as an excuse to keep drinking. When faced with the amount they drink on a daily basis, they laugh it off, making light of a serious situation. This joking manner shows the deep denial a high-functioning alcoholic is in and how they’re in desperate need of help.

Drinking Takes Priority Over Eating

While a high-functioning alcoholic uses mealtimes as an excuse to have a drink or two, an actual meal is usually missing. A few drinks at lunch, dinner, or even breakfast replace any food. Alcohol becomes their regular meal, and they tend to lose all interest in food. These are times when behavior begins to spiral out of control because there is no food to soak up the alcohol. If you ever notice a friend or family member never eats but always drinks when you go out, they may have a serious problem with alcohol.


One of the biggest reasons a high-functioning alcoholic flies under the radar is because at work, parties, and social events they’re always outgoing. They put up an image that they have it all together until they get home. Once at home a high-functioning alcoholic isolates themselves from the outside word, drinking on their own. Many times there is at least one family member that sees the problem but they struggle to get the alcoholic help because others outside the home don’t see a problem. In order to hide their drinking habits from others, a high-functioning alcoholic rarely invites guests to their home. Extreme isolation comes later on when they are no longer high-functioning and alcohol interferes with every aspect of their life.

Attempt to Quit But Always Fail

At least once, or many times, in their life a high-functioning alcoholic tries to quit. There is a vicious cycle with high-functioning alcoholics where they have periods of abstinence followed by binge drinking and then followed by abstinence again. During these periods of abstinence, the high-functioning alcoholic becomes more irritable and anxious. The withdrawal symptoms from quitting alcohol become too much and they start drinking again. Even after going through this cycle multiple times a high-functioning alcoholic denies professional help.

Denial is extremely common with high-functioning alcoholics. Since they are able to have success in other areas of their life they believe they can be successful in quitting on their own without the help of others. The first step to recovery is for them to admit that they have a problem. As a friend or family member of a high-functioning alcoholic it’s your job to support and encourage them to get help. It’s not an easy task but treatment for alcoholism is the way to lead them to a happier life.

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