Fort Wellness Counseling

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

functioning alcoholic

When someone is deemed a ‘high-functioning alcoholic,’ they’re able to carry out daily tasks — like paying bills, taking care of their kids, and doing their job — without obvious interference from alcohol. However, just because someone experiences fewer external consequences from drinking doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get help.

What Is a Functioning Alcoholic?

Generally, the criteria used to diagnose something with alcohol use disorder involves an inability to control drinking – even after it’s caused issues in their job or personal life. However, someone who is considered a high-functioning alcoholic might not meet this criteria. Instead, they experience some of the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism without the traditional, external repercussions.

What does this look like? Well, a person with high-functioning alcohol might drink to excess, blackout, or drink daily, yet they’re still able to maintain their job and close relationships. For this reason, it can be tough to diagnose someone with functioning alcoholism, as there are no clear indicators that their alcohol use is problematic.

One study found that 20% of people who met the diagnostics for alcohol use disorder appear to be highly functioning people who have successfully completed educational programs, maintain steady employment, and are well-paid. Other researchers have estimated that 50 to 75% of those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder are able to function at a high level in many other areas of their lives.

Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

While everyone’s experience is different, here are some common signs of a functioning alcoholic:

Hiding Their Alcohol

High-functioning alcoholics will often drink alone – whether that be frequenting a bar on their own or drinking before others arrive. Additionally, they might sneak drinks from a hidden bottle in their desk or car. And generally, hiding alcohol and secretive behavior are major red flags for alcoholism.

Experiencing Shame Over the Behavior

Because concealment is a component of addiction, a functioning alcoholic will often feel shame or remorse after problematic drinking incidents. And since they’ve worked to keep reckless behavior out of their image, they’ll strive to avoid such mistakes in the future.

Frequently Blacking Out

Many high-functioning alcoholics participate in activities they don’t remember the next day – like going home with strangers, doing drugs, etc. However, they might not have seemed intoxicated at the time. (Generally, high-functioning alcoholics have a high alcohol tolerance.)

Justifying Drinking

A functioning alcoholic will often try to justify their drinking. Sometimes, they’ll drink because their job or kids are driving them crazy. Other times, they’ll drink because the liquor is top shelf. Additionally, functioning alcoholics might feel an overwhelming urge to finish drinks – even if they’re someone else’s – to “not be wasteful.”

Alcohol Treatment in Fort Worth, Texas

It’s hard to identify functioning alcoholics, as they don’t display many of the external factors associated with alcoholism. However, the impact of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol is real. And aside from the physical and mental complications, functioning alcoholics will notice that their everyday responsibilities, work, and relationships eventually suffer.  Not to mention, if someone is a functioning alcoholic, they are probably just getting by versus being the best version of themself.  While they might be performing at a “higher level”, chances are they would be performing at a much higher level without the alcohol.  

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use, our Fort Worth addiction counselors use evidence-based treatment to improve life and sustain sobriety. We conduct evaluations and assessments to understand your unique situation. Then, we explore the cause(s) of your addiction and help you process your feelings. We also identify any triggers, negative thoughts, or behavioral patterns. Finally, we curate an individualized plan to guide you from recovery to relapse prevention to aftercare treatment.  

Contact our team to learn more or to book an appointment today.

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