What is a Functioning Addict and Am I One?

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

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Alcohol addiction. Drunk man sleeping leaning on table with bottle and glass

Many people assume an alcoholic is someone who is a noticeable mess or homeless. This, however, is untrue. There are many alcoholics that are capable of functioning normally while still drinking. It is because of one’s ability to function while drinking that they may not even realize they are an alcoholic. 

To properly understand alcoholism, it is important to disregard the stereotypes associated with alcoholism, such as all alcoholics are homeless or from a certain socioeconomic class. This blog will discuss what it means to be a functioning alcoholic and how to tell if you are one.

What is a Functioning Alcoholic?

High functioning alcoholics are people that have an alcohol use disorder but still manage their day-to-day responsibilities and activities. Nearly 20% of all alcoholics do not fit the stereotypical understanding of what an alcoholic is. This means that this group of individuals are able to maintain their job, have a family, and take part in regular activities like hanging out with friends. High functioning alcoholics are able to sustain an appearance of normalcy (at least for some time) without anyone suspecting that they may be an alcoholic. 

It can be difficult to identify a high functioning alcohol because the consequences of their drinking are not always obvious. Most high functioning alcoholics have mastered the skill of concealing the repercussions of their drinking (such as hangovers). Moreover, many high functioning alcoholics hold positions of power working as lawyers, doctors, or executives. A high functioning alcoholics’ ability to maintain a stable job and conceal their drinking makes their use, in some ways, more dangerous than that of the stereotypical alcoholic. This is the case because they may be drinking for a longer period of time before receiving help than if their drinking was noticeable.

Am I a Functioning Alcoholic? 

Although the signs of a high functioning alcoholic may be subtle, there are a few signs that can help you identify whether you or are a functioning alcoholic:

  1. You have little control over the amount you drink: You regularly find yourself drinking more than intended while still being able to fulfill your daily responsibilities.
  2. You consume a high volume of alcohol: When drinking socially, a functioning alcoholic often consumes more drinks than acceptable in a social setting. 
  3. You reward yourself with a drink: If people start noticing that you drink more than the normal person, you use the excuse that you are “rewarding” yourself for working hard.
  4. You use drinking as a coping mechanism: If you are a functioning alcoholic, you are likely still coping with daily stressors from work and other responsibilities. You may use alcohol as a way to escape these stressors and to cope with the pressures of day-to-day responsibilities. 
  5. Socializing always involves drinking: Someone who is suffering from alcoholism is much more likely to socialize only with other people who drink and to socialize in settings where drinking is normal. 
  6. Canceling social engagements where drinking isn’t involved: If drinking is not normal or acceptable at a social engagement, a functioning alcoholic will likely cancel in an effort to hide a hangover or any other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
  7. A loss of interest in hobbies: Functioning alcoholics often use the time they used to spend engaging in hobbies and other enjoyable activities drinking.

Other behaviors that may indicate that you have high functioning alcoholism include:

  • Avoiding feedback on your drinking patterns
  • Blacking out from alcohol consumption
  • Concealing how much alcohol is consumed
  • Continuing to drink even if it has caused physical or mental health problems
  • Denial of a drinking problem because of a lack of severe consequences
  • Drinking large volumes of alcohol, but not appearing intoxicated
  • Experiencing cravings often
  • Feeling guilty about your drinking
  • Feeling the overwhelming urge to finish drinks, even if they aren’t yours
  • Justifying your drinking as not problematic
  • Lying to yourself and/or others about how much you drink
  • Obsessing over when you can get your next drink
  • Remaining well-known for doing a good job at work and upholding your responsibilities despite drinking excessively

If you’ve noticed yourself exhibiting many or all of these signs, you are likely a functioning alcoholic. It is important to recognize that although you are high functioning now, your drinking can quickly spiral out of control and you will lose all control you have over your life and your use.

Once you’ve identified as a functioning alcoholic, it is crucial to seek out help before your drinking becomes unsustainable. It can be overwhelming to try to decide what form of treatment best suits you. Each treatment option, such as inpatient treatment to intensive outpatient to sober living, offers its own benefits and can be an option for you. Regardless of what treatment path you choose, it is important to be honest with yourself about the level of care you need to get sober. 

Getting and Staying Sober with Design For Recovery

Coming to terms with being an alcoholic can be incredibly difficult, but at Design for Recovery, you can come to terms with your addiction in a supportive environment. Design for Recovery is a sober living home for men located in West Los Angeles. While living in Design for Recovery’s structured, safe environment, you can begin to reap the rewards sober life has to offer. Residents work hard daily to develop new skills, values, and coping mechanisms for approaching life in early recovery. At Design for Recovery, you will start to see the many reasons why you should live drug-free, such as developing close residents friendships with their peers and becoming connected with the Los Angeles recovery community. Allow Design for Recovery to help you become comfortable with your new normal and begin to thrive in recovery.

Read Further:

Is Alcoholism a Disease: The Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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