Alcoholic. What was the first image that appeared in your head? In a recent study the two most common answers: “A homeless man with bottle of alcohol wrapped in a paper bag”; “A person stumbling out of a bar”. In fact, it is not always this easy to spot an alcoholic. There are approximately 18,000,000 alcoholics in the United States alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction, 19.5 percent of these individuals are considered to be a high functioning alcoholic. These individuals have been successful at leading a double life; they have a good career, accomplish daily task, receive achievements, and manage family and friends. They would be considered by society to be a hard working person who sets a good example. However, when they are alone, they become someone unknown by others; a person secretly addicted to alcohol.



While all addicts have some sort of denial, a high functioning alcoholic may be the best at denying they have a problem. This is partly due to their years of success and achievement; the alcoholic can say that they don’t have a problem because of everything they have accomplished while their family, friends, and co-workers can deny the problem for the same reasons. A high functioning alcoholic does not fit the stereotypical image of an alcoholic and would never consider him or herself as being the same as a stereotypical alcohol addict. Overtime, the high functioning alcoholic learns how to separate their personal and professional life from their secret drinking life. In addition, because of the negative association that society has on alcoholism, the high functioning alcoholic would never admit to others or their own self, that he or she has a problem with alcohol. As a result of such denial, these individuals often remain completely undiagnosed and are likely to be the last to seek out treatment for their problem.

The Double Life

High functioning alcoholics are extremely good at leading two lives at the same time. Oftentimes, they appear to the outside world as being physically attractive, fashionable, and polite. More importantly, it is common for some individuals to not be physically addicted to alcohol, or at least be able to hide any noticeable signs. Many high functioning alcoholics are able to go days or even weeks without suffering from any withdrawal symptoms. It is important to note however, that during these times, they are completely psychologically dependent on alcohol and remain focused on where and when they can have another drink.


According to professionals, women are more likely than men to be high functioning alcoholics. It is believed that this is because of the stigma that is attached to not only alcoholism, but women and alcoholism. A women may hide her addiction because she is afraid of what others may think or may have fears of losing her family.
Risk Factors for Becoming a High Functioning Alcoholic
Research has shown that certain people may be prone to not only becoming a high functioning alcoholic, but also an alcoholic in general. These include, but are not limited to:

Early age drinking

Family history of alcohol abuse

An underlying mental disorder

History of trauma or abuse

High stress and anxiety


Treating a high functioning alcoholic can be extremely difficult. This is because many are in deep void with their own denial. Additionally, because they not a daily drinker, they do not show any physical withdrawal symptoms. Once a high functioning alcoholic does decide to admit they have a problem and choose to get treatment, they can achieve sobriety.

Helpful Resources

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a very useful resource for not only addicts, but also their loved ones or anyone seeking knowledge on abuse and addiction.

Also try reading: Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights, by Sarah Allen Benton, a licensed mental health counsellor.