5 Signs Of A Functioning Alcoholic

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 5, 2020

Spotting an alcohol use disorder is not always easy, especially if the person is a functioning alcoholic. Functioning alcoholics are better able to hide their disease because they don’t suffer from as many alcohol abuse symptoms. Recognizing the signs of a functional alcoholic can help you get your loved one the treatment that they may need.

How Long Does Alcohol Last?

Alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is not always easy to spot. In fact, some forms of AUD, like functioning alcoholism, may go unnoticed because the person does not seem to experience the typical loss of those with an AUD.

Defining Functional Alcoholism

Typically a functioning alcoholic will most likely “appear normal”. They are generally successful in life, have a steady job, and their relationships don’t seem to suffer due to alcohol.

Many of these individuals have not had legal trouble or trouble with law enforcement. They could, however, have a family history of alcoholism, at least one major depressive episode, and could potentially have depression or a mood disorder.

There are some common traits shared by functioning alcoholics described below. A person with these symptoms may be suffering with an alcohol abuse disorder and be in need of help.

Day Drinking

Day drinking is not exclusively a symptom of an AUD. However, for a functioning alcoholic, it could indicate a bigger issue.

A high-functioning alcoholic might start drinking when they wake up. They may also start drinking at work and start sneaking drinks when others are not around. Day drinking can also relieve alcohol cravings a functioning alcoholic develops over time.

Stress Drinking/Self Medicating

Stress is very common in daily life. The functioning alcoholic may use stress as a way to convince themselves or others around them they need to drink more often.

Stress from multiple areas of life, including work, family life, relationships, sudden loss of a job, or even divorce could be a reason to drink for a functioning alcoholic.

There may be a problem if an individual’s prime stress reliever is alcohol. Excessive drinking due to stress can be considered self-medicating. Functioning alcoholics can also be struggling with a mood disorder or depression that they are using alcohol to self-medicate.


Functioning alcoholics typically do not admit they have an AUD, or how much drinking is affecting their life.

They may not even see their drinking as a problem and typically justify their drinking to others and loved ones. Some may even make jokes about their drinking and how it affects their health.

The fact that most functioning alcoholics have never been in trouble or suffer major consequences because of their drinking may be used to justify the amount they drink to people around them.

Denial is one of the most common and incredibly dangerous traits amongst functioning alcoholics.

Drinking Alone/Isolation

Functioning alcoholics have been known to drink alone. Possibly because they are hiding the amount of alcohol they consume or because they have tried to moderate their drinking but are unsuccessful.

Individuals may even start drinking alone to escape judgment from others around them.

Binge Drinking/Heavy Recurrent Drinking

Functioning alcoholics may find themselves drinking more and more because they have built up a tolerance to alcohol. Alcohol tolerance is defined as a person needing more and more alcohol to produce the desired effects.

Women who have up to 1 drink per day and men having up to two drinks per day are considered moderate drinking. People who struggle with AUD tend to surpass that amount significantly and repeatedly.

The standard size drink is 1.5oz of hard liquor, 5oz of wine, or 12oz of beer (around 5%). Functioning alcoholics may not drink every day, or only on weekends or specific days of the week. Drinking could be an issue if a person obsesses over the days that they drink.

Binge drinking to the point of blacking out indicates an alcohol abuse issue. Skipping meals to drink is also a clear indicator of alcohol abuse.

Do Functioning Alcoholics Experience Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person and may not always be prevalent in functioning alcoholics. Functioning alcoholics may miss work from time to time and could also avoid their responsibilities due to a hangover.

After an extended period of time, functioning alcoholics build up a tolerance which could lead to severe withdrawal symptoms that are detrimental to their health and have proven to be fatal in some cases.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • not thinking clearly
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • confusion
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • tremors
  • seizures

5 Types of Alcoholism

There are 5 subtypes of alcoholism. Functioning alcoholics may fit into more than one subtype.

Those subtypes are as follows:

  • Young Adult – Young adults start drinking around the age of 20, have some compulsive behaviors, may not drink often but binge drink when they do.
  • Young Antisocial – They have an antisocial personality disorder and start drinking in their adolescents, usually around the age of 15.
  • Functional – above-average income, more educated, binge drink often, and may drink every other day.
  • Intermediate Familial – Roughly half of this subtype have family who abuse alcohol, start drinking around 17 years old.
  • Chronic Severe – Most are male, high divorce rate, and a high likelihood of having multiple substance abuse issues.

Treatment For AUD – Functional Alcoholism

There are a variety of substance abuse rehab facilities, including substance abuse treatment for professionals. These facilities offer treatment for those who are unable to take time off work but can work remotely from a treatment facility.

A person attempting to manage a functioning alcohol addiction often struggles to manage their addiction alone. We have options.

Contact us today and allow one of our specially trained professionals to help find the best option for you or your loved one.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 5, 2020

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