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High Functioning Alcoholic

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Alcohol is a normal part of your life, but you wouldn’t call yourself an alcoholic. You still have a job, you have a loving spouse, and you don’t get blackout drunk anytime you drink. You work a 9 to 5 just like anyone else and you’re nothing like the “alcoholics” you see in the media. You drink regularly, but that’s never been a problem before.

Your friends once joked that you were a “high-functioning alcoholic.” You brushed it off but recently you’ve been thinking about it more. You do get a bit shaky when you don’t have a drink, and sometimes when you’re at work you fantasize about being at home drinking instead. That’s normal though… right?

The stigma surrounding alcoholism can make it easy for people to say, “Oh well I don’t do that, so I must not be an alcoholic,” when in reality, alcoholism comes in many forms. With nearly 50% of Californians over the age of 12 reporting drinking alcohol within the past month, it’s a topic that we should speak about more freely. Here at Pacific Sands, we believe in offering solution-focused care in order to help assist not only our clients but our community as well. One of the ways we do this is by offering our expertise in blog pieces by answering common questions surrounding alcohol use. Today we’re going to look at high-functioning alcoholism, what it is, and how it can be addressed if needed.

How to Spot a High-Functioning Alcoholic

The term “high-functioning alcoholic” is a bit misleading, as it tends to imply that there’s a “good” version of alcoholism as well as a “bad” one. Some people even see those who are “high-functioning” as not a concern versus those who aren’t.

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) present differently in everybody. A lot of this can depend on your mental health, your age, your support network, and more. There is no form of AUD that is inherently better or worse than the other. It can always impact your health, relationships, and other aspects of your life and it can change over time, too. Someone who was once “high-functioning” could experience trouble in life that makes them less high-functioning. Alternatively, someone who had a scare with alcohol could drastically change their drinking habits to the point where they become “high-functioning.” 

Knowing that this term doesn’t have one set meaning, let’s look at some of the common signs that might cause someone to be labeled as a “high-functioning alcoholic.”

5 Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Oftentimes, someone who might be “high-functioning” on the surface, could be just really good at hiding things. Here are some signs that could indicate someone might have an AUD that is “high-functioning.”

  1. They’re not drunk at all hours of the day, but they have a consistent drinking routine and don’t stray from it.
  2. They can get upset, angry, or sick if they don’t have their regular amounts of alcohol.
  3. They might hide their alcohol stash or drinking from family members.
  4. They have a long-standing history of alcohol use.
  5. They have a high tolerance for alcohol and need to drink more than they used to in order to feel anything.
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How to Know if You Have a Problem With Alcohol

You can’t tell if your alcohol use is a problem or not. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who have similar drinking patterns. Maybe people compliment you on the fact that you seem to be “in control” of your drinking. Either way, knowing some of the signs that your alcohol use could be a problem is important.

This is a list of common indicators that someone might have an AUD

  • A large portion of your day revolves around drinking. This includes thinking about drinking, the act of drinking itself and recovering from drinking.
  • You’ve started to cut back on or miss out on events or activities that you used to enjoy.
  • You engage in unsafe behaviors due to drinking such as unsafe sex or drinking and driving.
  • You find yourself unable to cut back on your drinking even if you want to.
  • When you don’t drink, you experience withdrawal side effects.
  • It takes more alcohol than it used to to experience the same effects.
  • Your drinking is having an impact on your relationships, whether that’s romantic, platonic, or work-based. 

From Concern to Conversation: How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Alcohol Use

If you think someone you know might have an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to not approach them about it in an aggressive or judgmental way. Often the stigma around AUDs can be a leading factor for why they might not have come to you about it, already. Make sure you remind them that you care and just want to be there for them.

Be supportive, offer to help in ways that they want you to, and be prepared to listen with an open mind. You do not have to be enabling to be understanding.

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What’s the Best Treatment for High-Functioning Alcoholism?

Every client has different needs when it comes to making sure your treatment plan will work best for you. It’s not uncommon for those labeled as “high-functioning alcoholics” to need something different than those who aren’t. This can range from people with high profile and busy lives, to people with long-term alcohol use disorders who say they need a “heavy hand” in their treatment process.

Finding a facility that is adaptable and offers more than one type of treatment program can be ideal in helping you find what’s going to work best for you. 

Pacific Sands Recovery offers many great services to help those looking to recover from alcohol use in a professional, high-end setting. We have private rooms and a small feel in order to make sure clients get the one-on-one attention they deserve. Our clinical director is on-site 50 hours a week to connect with clients and assist in the recovery process.

If you need help talking with your loved one, learning more about treatment programs, or more, you’re welcome to give us a call anytime at 949-426-7962. Our Pacific Sands Recovery team is here and ready to help you reach your recovery goals.


What does it mean if you’re high functioning?

The term “high-functioning” often means that you simply don’t appear as the “normal” version of whatever condition you may have. This could just mean that you don’t fit the societal norm, or that you have different coping mechanisms or events just better hide your symptoms.

Do alcoholics have different personalities?

Alcoholics can have just as many different personalities as normal people do. 

What psychological conditions does alcoholism have?

Alcoholism is known to go hand in hand with mental illness, as many substance use disorders do. Some common side effects of alcoholism include depression and anxiety.

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