The stereotype of an alcoholic as someone who has hit rock bottom and has become homeless due to alcohol abuse is often quite accurate. However, not all alcoholics become unable to function physically or in society. The functioning alcoholic manages to appear normal and sober and in some cases even achieves success in a high-powered career field, all while consuming larger and larger amounts of alcohol on a daily basis. Sometimes, the only way that loved ones find out that he or she is a high-functioning alcoholic is actually after an unexpected alcohol-related event, such as a drunken driving accident or a diagnosis of severe liver disease that is caused by alcohol.

Alcoholism Denial and Tolerance To Alcohol

Denial and tolerance are the two facets of alcoholism that combine to create a functional alcoholic. Even a social drinker builds up tolerance to alcohol when he or she consumes it on a regular basis, and when even the most responsible person becomes accustomed to drinking more and more alcohol, he or she no longer feels its effects. So long as a drinker does not develop dependency on alcohol, there is little real harm caused by increased tolerance. In simple terms, it just means that a more experienced drinker will occasionally overindulge in a social setting, not realizing he or she has ingested an unusually large quantity of alcohol until the next morning, when a hangover serves as a cruel, but passing, reminder of that over-consumption.

However, when a drinker has developed alcohol dependency, the over-consumption occurs on a regular basis, and no hangover may actually occur. What does occur is denial, an inability on the part of the alcoholic to realize that he or she is consuming far too much alcohol on a regular basis. Since an alcoholic in this situation has developed a physical tolerance to the effects of large amounts of alcohol, he or she can continue to live a seemingly normal life. Indeed, a functional alcoholic is seemingly able to properly fulfill societal, career, and other related responsibilities while drinking amounts of alcohol that could be lethal to someone who has not built up a certain high level of alcohol tolerance.

However, the people closest to a functioning alcoholic often suffer, despite appearances.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may fall into this category, treatment is a solution that can restore physical health and the wellbeing of families. Consider calling 888-685-5770 to speak to a compassionate navigator.

Read More:

Free and low-cost alcoholism treatment is available.

Signs Of A Functioning Alcoholic

While no two functioning alcoholics are exactly alike, high functioning alcoholism often exhibits these warning signs:

  • Struggling internally to limit the amount you drink even after setting a limit for yourself
  • Obsessive thinking about when, where and how you will be drinking next
  • Behaving in an unusual way when drinking compared to when you are sober
  • Difficulty remembering what took place when you were drinking

Functioning alcoholics

When To Seek Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love is consuming large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis or has been diagnosed with an illness that is linked to over-consumption of alcohol but still manages to live normally, please contact our confidential, free helpline, so that we can assist you in finding treatment options for a functioning alcoholic.

Drinking more than 10 standard servings of alcoholic beverages per week for men or seven such servings for women is considered a potential health hazard. A high-functioning alcoholic is able to consume far more than the recommended amount of alcohol, with no visible ill effects. Such a functional alcoholic is able to raise a family, communicate with friends, and successfully maintain a career while drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular, if not a constant, basis. However, a functioning alcoholic may well be hiding symptoms of extreme alcohol abuse, such as memory lapses, known as blackouts. In addition, a high-functioning alcoholic may actually exhibit improper social behavior at times, without even realizing that he or she is acting in an untoward manner. In the meantime, even if a high-functioning alcoholic never exhibits any symptoms that affect others, he or she has become dependent on amounts of alcohol that are quickly causing liver and other major organ damage.

If you or someone you care about exhibits any of the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic, please contact our free and confidential helpline. We will help you find a dignified solution that aids the functioning alcoholic in breaking free of the grip of alcoholism to be able to return to a healthy, sober life.

You can also use the free, confidential form below to instantly verify whether your insurance might cover alcoholism treatment.

All Fields Required
First Name
Last Name
Phone Number
Date of Birth
Insurance Carrier
american addiction centers photo
Membership ID
This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
By submitting this form you agree to the terms of use and privacy policy of the website.
We respect your privacy. We request this information to provide you with detailed coverage of benefits. By sharing your phone number, you agree to receive texts from us – including details about your benefits. Message and data rates may apply. Sharing this information is not a condition of treatment.
*reCAPTCHA has identified you as a robot
Verifying Insurance...
1 Insurance Disclaimer: American Addiction Centers will attempt to verify your health insurance benefits and/or necessary authorizations on your behalf. Please note, this is only a quote of benefits and/or authorization. We cannot guarantee payment or verification eligibility as conveyed by your health insurance provider will be accurate and complete. Payment of benefits are subject to all terms, conditions, limitations, and exclusions of the member’s contract at time of service. Your health insurance company will only pay for services that it determines to be “reasonable and necessary.” American Addiction Centers will make every effort to have all services preauthorized by your health insurance company. If your health insurance company determines that a particular service is not reasonable and necessary, or that a particular service is not covered under your plan, your insurer will deny payment for that service and it will become your responsibility.