A high-functioning alcoholic is an individual who maintains their daily responsibilities and appears successful while struggling with alcohol addiction behind closed doors. They often manage to keep their alcoholism hidden underneath their seeming successes, making it challenging for friends, family, and even themselves to recognize the severity of their problem.1 Although it’s harder to recognize the signs of alcoholism in someone who is high-functioning, there are still some tell-tale things to look for.2

1. Excessive Consumption

High-functioning alcoholics typically consume more alcohol than others. They may have a higher tolerance and require larger quantities to achieve the desired effect, often making it easier to conceal their addiction.

2. Regular Alcohol Use

Frequent alcohol use, even in situations where others abstain, is a common sign. High-functioning alcoholics may find excuses to incorporate alcohol into everyday life, such as drinking during work lunches or even in the morning.

3. Denial and Minimization

High-functioning alcoholics often downplay the extent of their drinking or deny having a problem altogether. They may dismiss concerns from loved ones or rationalize their behavior.

4. Maintaining Appearances

One of the defining characteristics of high-functioning alcoholism is the ability to maintain a facade of success and normalcy. These individuals often excel in their careers and personal lives, masking their addiction behind a veneer of accomplishment.

5. Isolation

High-functioning alcoholics may isolate themselves from friends and family to avoid judgment or interference. They may choose to drink alone to keep their addiction hidden.

6. Financial Issues

Despite their outward success, high-functioning alcoholics may still face financial difficulties. The cost of alcohol can add up, and they may struggle to maintain their lifestyle while secretly funneling money into their addiction.

7. Physical and Mental Health Problems

Over time, alcoholism takes a toll on both physical and mental health. High-functioning alcoholics may experience frequent hangovers, increased anxiety, depression, and other health issues, which they often attribute to stress or other factors.

8. Failed Attempts to Quit

Repeated but unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down on drinking are a clear sign of alcoholism. High-functioning alcoholics may promise to change their behavior but struggle to follow through.

9. Tolerance and Withdrawal

Developing tolerance to alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking are red flags. High-functioning alcoholics may drink to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

10. Hiding Alcohol

High-functioning alcoholics often go to great lengths to hide their drinking, such as stashing bottles in inconspicuous places or disguising alcohol in other containers.

How to Help a Functioning Alcoholic

Recognizing the signs of high-functioning alcoholism can be challenging because these individuals excel in masking their addiction. However, it is crucial to pay attention to the subtle clues and behavioral changes that may indicate a hidden struggle with alcohol.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is a high-functioning alcoholic, seeking professional help is the first step toward recovery. Reach out to a facility like Steps to Recovery where your loved one can find the support and guidance they need to achieve recovery.

Click here to find a Steps to Recovery location near you and help your loved one start their journey to a healthier, more fulfilling life free from the grip of addiction.


  1. Medical News Today. (2022). High functioning alcoholic: What to know.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023). The risks of social isolation.