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The Non Stereotypical Alcoholic – Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 13, 2019

Functioning alcoholics are able to handle their alcohol well enough that on the surface, they do not appear to have a problem. Understanding this condition and how you can identify a friend or family member who is a high-functioning alcoholic will help you get help for those you love when it is needed.

Most people think they know what an alcoholic looks like. They picture a drunken individual on the streets, bottle in hand, looking for that next fix. They have a mental image of a loser, lying around at home with no job prospects, letting others take care of him. Yet most alcoholics look nothing like these pictures. In fact, a high functioning alcoholic does not fit into any of the stereotypes.

What Is a High Functioning Alcoholic?

A High Functioning Alcoholic is someone who is able to maintain an outside life, including responsibilities at work, a normal home life and regular friendships, all while drinking excessively. Because they are able to find success and do not appear on the outside to be a slave to alcohol, society often overlooks these individuals. Also, those who are struggling with alcoholism but are able to function well often ignore their own need for help. They don’t view themselves as having a problem that needs to be fixed.

According to a 2007 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, only 9 percent of alcoholics fit the stereotypes of the “chronic severe” alcoholic. In fact, addiction experts believe that between 75 and 90 percent of alcoholics are actually high-functioning. That’s why it is crucial to really understand this condition.

Signs And Symptoms Of A High Functioning Alcoholic

How can you determine if you or someone you love is living life as a high functioning alcoholic? Consider these signs and symptoms:

  • One alcoholic drink will create the need for more
  • Obsessive about the next chance they have to drink
  • Change of personality or morals when intoxicated
  • Repeating of behaviors they claim are unwanted
  • Denial that they have a problem
  • Can drink more than others without showing signs of being “drunk”
  • Drinking is a major part of the individuals life and conversation
  • Make jokes about drinking

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Because normal life is not affected by the alcoholism, at least on the outside, the high functioning alcoholic may not get help until it has been many years of abuse and the effects of the abuse are quite deep. Yet help is necessary, because the ongoing effects of the alcohol in the individual’s system can create long-lasting health concerns, including the potential for premature death.

Getting Help

The key to getting help for a high functioning alcoholic is getting the individual to admit that they have a problem. Often, this will not happen until the individual has experienced a severe, life-altering change, like a health concern or problem at work. Still, those who love someone struggling with alcohol should be on the lookout for a potential inroad to breech the topic.

Once the individual has admitted that there is a problem, encourage your loved one to sign up for an alcohol treatment program. The addiction treatment specialists at are ready to help you or your loved one find the right help. Contact an addiction treatment specialist today to get the help that is desperately needed.

The Non Stereotypical Alcoholic – Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic – Infographic

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