Alcohol use disorder isn’t always readily apparent. Instead, it may slowly develop and reveal itself over time. When we think about alcoholism or alcohol abuse, many people picture the “typical drunk” who staggers around babbling incoherently, the constant party-goer who always reeks of booze, or the angry drunk mom or dad who yells at his or her kids and physically abuses his or her partner.

Even though all of these examples are clear stereotypes, there is some truth to them, as alcohol abuse can cause a person to behave a certain way and live a certain lifestyle. But what about the heavy drinker who manages to keep everything together? The one who has a great job, healthy relationships with family and friends, and has a stable home environment. Does this person really have a drinking problem? And does he or she actually need addiction treatment if nothing seems to be wrong?

What Is a Functional Alcoholic?

According to WebMD, experts use the terms “functional alcoholic” or “high-functioning alcoholic” to describe a person who appears to be productive and in control of their life but is truly suffering from the effects of alcohol use disorder and addiction.1

When attempting to assess the severity of a person’s alcohol use, it’s important to remember that success in your personal and professional life does not always reflect your overall health and well-being. In fact, some chronic heavy drinkers develop a functional tolerance that allows them to go about their daily routine while showing very few obvious signs of intoxication.2

A functional alcoholic may be able to conceal their addiction with occupational success, status within the community, or jokes and humorous excuses, but a lifestyle of heavy drinking makes it impossible to keep up with major responsibilities. It’s only a matter of time until the drinking causes visible problems.

Telltale Signs of a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Maybe you’re worried that you or a loved one is a high-functioning alcoholic, but you don’t know how to tell for sure. There are several telltale signs to look for, even when a person appears to have everything together.3

  • Frequent blackouts
  • Memory lapses
  • Abusive behavior towards loved ones at home
  • DUIs, arrests, and other legal problems
  • Drinking in the morning or when alone
  • Hiding or denying alcohol consumption
  • Getting angry when approached about drinking habits
  • Making jokes or excuses about drinking habits

A person doesn’t have to display all of the signs above to be a functional alcoholic. They may have alcohol use disorder even if they only display one or two of the signs. Additionally, a person may show several signs of being a functional alcoholic before the negative effects of alcohol abuse become clearly visible in their life.

Risks of Being a Functional Alcoholic

The lifestyle of a functional alcoholic may be manageable for a brief period of time, but as time goes on, the effects of alcohol abuse will slowly wear down the person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Chronic heavy drinking can damage the body in many different ways over time.4

  • It causes heart problems like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke.
  • It damages the liver and can lead to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • It can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation or swelling of the blood vessels of the pancreas), inhibiting the body’s ability to digest food properly.
  • It increases a person’s risk for cancers of the throat, liver, esophagus, breasts, and mouth.
  • It weakens the immune system, increasing a person’s risk of developing infections and disease.

Functional alcoholics may put themselves and others in dangerous or life-threatening situations due to their alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking also increases the likelihood of child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and often causes riffs in professional and personal relationships.5

Am I a Functional Alcoholic?

If you are questioning whether or not you’re a functional alcoholic, you may be suffering from the consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction. An alcohol detox program is the first step to achieving a stable and sober lifestyle. Although you may not think you need it, alcohol detox can be extremely helpful in overcoming the uncomfortable side effects of alcohol withdrawal and preparing for a long-term rehab program.

At Hill Country Detox, we provide a multidisciplinary approach to alcohol detox, addressing the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the withdrawal process. Our experienced team of addiction treatment professionals will design a personalized treatment plan that can be adjusted to meet your changing needs throughout the course of your detox treatment.

At our detox center, you’ll regularly interact with a counselor, doctor, and nursing staff as we provide a safe and comfortable detox experience. You may also begin attending group therapy sessions if you are physically able. All of this will prepare you for entry into an alcohol rehab program, where you will gain the skills and strategies maintain your sobriety.

If you are ready to start fresh and take control of your life, we are ready to help. Please call Hill Country Detox today to learn more about our alcohol detox program for men and women.



  1. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/high-functioning-alcoholic
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa28.htm
  3. http://www.disorders.org/addictions/alcoholism/am-i-a-functioning-alcoholic-when-to-consider-treatment-help/
  4. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
  5. http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/factsheets/fs_child.pdf


Call Now Button