8 Telltale Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

high functioning alcoholic at workSometimes a person can become overly confident in his or her sobriety and believe that it is possible to return to controlled casual drinking without falling back into full-blown addiction. Or, a person may begin using alcohol because he or she previously only had a problem with heroin or other opioid drugs. However, this flawed way of thinking can set people up for failure, even if they think they are functioning well in society and in recovery.

A high-functioning alcoholic may hold down a job, appear to have healthy relationships, and seem to be a thriving member of society.1 However, addiction is a progressive disease and maintaining this kind of lifestyle is difficult. Often, it’s only a matter of time before the walls come crashing down.

If you think that a loved one may be a high-functioning alcoholic, here are eight of the most common telltale signs.

  1. They use alcohol to reduce stress or to feel happy.

High-functioning alcoholics may seem fine on the outside, but underneath it all, they have a dangerous ongoing relationship with alcohol. High-functioning alcoholics tend to use alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with unpleasant feelings of stress, anxiety, chronic pain, or to feel happy. They often head straight to a regular drinking spot or home to have a glass of wine after work, and if they don’t get that drink, they may become extremely anxious or irritated.

  1. Family members and friends avoid or ignore the red flags.

Often, there are red flags that close family members or friends notice, but choose to ignore or avoid for various reasons. Whether it’s a pile of empty vodka bottles that were hidden in the garage, sudden mood swings and bouts of anger, or their constant jokes and bragging about their drinking habits, the underlying signs of alcohol addiction are always there and close friends and family members are typically the first to notice. Unfortunately, the fear of overstepping or causing conflict can keep many people from voicing their concerns about a person’s drinking habits.

  1. They consistently drink on their own.

If a person consistently drinks on their own but doesn’t face any related financial, relational, or medical problems, he or she may believe everything is fine. Regardless of the lack of consequences, consistently drinking large amounts of alcohol (especially on your own) is a major concern. This may be a sign that a person doesn’t know how to cope with life circumstances or is trying to drown out other stressors with mind-altering substances. This type of continued behavior will eventually cause serious health problems, relational issues, and other co-occurring disorders that tend to develop or worsen alongside alcoholism.

  1. They have a high tolerance for alcohol due to regular consumption.

Someone who can hold their liquor has built up a tolerance due to continued consumption of alcoholic beverages. A high-functioning alcoholic will consume alcohol daily, increasing their tolerance and ability to consume more alcoholic beverages without getting blackout drunk. Some high-functioning alcoholics may even ride the fine line between being drunk and sober and learn how to maintain a slight buzz all day long without others knowing.

  1. Alcohol is a big part of their life.

Alcohol is a major part of a high-functioning alcoholic’s life. They may start their day with a Bloody Mary, keep the stress from the office at bay with regular swigs of vodka or spiked coffee, head to the bar right after work, and end the day with another drink to relax. A high-functioning alcoholic may also avoid events or gatherings where they know alcohol is not allowed, they may insist on making sure there is always “enough” alcohol to go around, or they may fill their free time in the evenings and weekends with social activities that revolve around alcohol. These are all major signs that someone has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

  1. They experience withdrawal when they go too long without drinking.

Withdrawal is one of the major signs of addiction, and if a person starts feeling symptoms of alcohol withdrawal when they go too long without a drink, he or she may be addicted to alcohol. Signs of alcohol withdrawal can include shaky hands, anxiety, nausea, headache, or vomiting. More severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can sometimes include hallucinations and seizures.2 If a person is regularly drinking to stave off these symptoms, he or she may be severely addicted to alcohol.

  1. They joke about their drinking habits.

Joking about your drinking habits is a way to push off the seriousness of the matter and rationalize your behavior. If a person constantly jokes about being an alcoholic, day drinking, or brags about their ability to “hold their liquor,” there may be more truth to that than they let on. Alcoholism is a serious and debilitating disease and someone who jokes about it may be using humor to mask their internal concern and turmoil about their own drinking habits.

  1. They are in denial.

Because high-functioning alcoholics are able to hold down a stable job, maintain their relationships, and generally function normally, they are usually in denial about the serious nature of their alcoholism. Often it takes a wake-up call such as major health problems, criminal charges, or the loss of a job for a person to realize that they need help. Overcoming denial and asking for help is one of the most difficult aspects of recovery, but it’s the first step to a new life and new hope.

If you or a loved one is in recovery and is rationalizing the regular use of alcohol, it may be time to seek outside help. At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, we provide recovery support services and sober living homes in Austin, Houston, and Colorado Springs for people in all stages of recovery. Many of our staff members have been in your shoes, so we understand the ups and downs of recovery as well as the value of peer support and accountability.

If you’re ready to make a change, call today to speak with an admissions representative and get the help you need to get back on track after relapse.



  1. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/high-functioning-alcoholic
  2. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments#1
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