How to Tell if Someone is a High-Functioning Alcoholic

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A common misconception about alcoholism centers around the idea that anyone with a serious problem has lost complete control of their lives. This can complicate matters when it comes to knowing how to tell if someone such as a spouse or friend is a high-functioning alcoholic. 

Many people know someone who drinks alcohol often and in excessive amounts. While they may express some initial concern about the person’s health, stereotypes about what proves a person is really sick can blind them.

This may cause a person not to confront a loved one who shows signs of being addicted to alcohol. If they do try to intervene, the loved one may push back by citing how someone who holds their life together in certain ways cannot be considered a true alcoholic.

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

It may not be easy to determine if someone is a high-functioning alcoholic, even if it’s your own spouse. A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who is clinically addicted to alcohol while still maintaining the façade of someone who has not yet reached that point. They’re able to maintain certain elements of their lives that may fool others into believing they don’t have a problem. 

This owes to the stereotype that anyone who struggles with alcohol addiction is constantly drunk, unable to hold down a job, and a host of other false ideas. The person may actually demonstrate an outward appearance to others that everything is fine. At worst, they may look like someone who just enjoys a good time and some binge drinking. 

A study done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism put the number of functional alcoholics among all levels of alcoholics at 19.5%. The report stated that they are “typically middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families”. Approximately one-third of them are part of a multigenerational family history of alcoholism. In addition, about 25% have experienced a major depressive illness. 

A high-functioning alcoholic may be able to do some or all of the following:

  • Maintain steady employment
  • Pay their bills
  • Be a community leader
  • Become part of a romantic relationship or marriage
  • Be a parent
  • Keep up their hygiene
  • Engage in hobbies and social events
  • Attend school
  • Avoid legal consequences related to drinking
How to tell if a spouse is a high-functioning alcoholic

How to Approach a High-Functioning Alcoholic

The reality is that someone who falls under the category of a high-functioning alcoholic is still just that: an alcoholic. They require and deserve professional treatment for their addiction. If you believe someone needs help with their substance use disorder, there are tips for talking to them.

Choose a time when the person has not been drinking. Ask them if they are familiar with how to tell if someone is a high-functioning alcoholic. They may not be familiar with the term. It can be eye-opening for them to realize that despite the areas in their life that feel in control, they may still require help to become sober. 

Let your loved one know that you are willing to support their effort to seek help and get better. Emphasize that millions of people experience a substance use disorder and they are not alone. Help them recognize that feeling shame about their situation is neither necessary nor productive. They deserve help as much as anyone else who has developed an illness. 

Paint a Picture of How Life Can Improve When a Person Embraces Recovery

If you now know how to tell if someone is a high-functioning alcoholic, your next question may be how to counter their argument that they don’t need help. Your spouse may try to deny they need help by pointing out the areas in their lives in which they serve at a high-functioning alcoholic level. Many high-functioning alcoholics possess a point of pride that they can drink copious amounts and still be viewed as not experiencing any consequences. 

Help counter their arguments by pointing out how cutting alcohol consumption from their lives can improve each area. Try this approach by posing scenarios centered around their being in recovery from alcohol addiction. Planting seeds like these can help them understand their lives have the capacity for improvement. Examples of approaches you might take include saying things like:

“Of course you love your children, but think about how much more time and energy you would have for them if you removed drinking from your life.”  

“I know you’ve had your job for several years but how much further could you go in your career if alcohol didn’t factor in?”

“I see that you love your spouse very much, but how much of the conflict in your relationship could be remedied if you decided to go into recovery?”

“You’ve got hobbies you enjoy but haven’t you lapsed in some of them in part because drinking interferes with them?

“Your participation in sports and exercise is admirable but alcohol consumption takes its toll on even the best athlete. Think about how much healthier your body can be if you stop drinking.” 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

If you suspect that you know or someone you love may be a high-functioning alcoholic, Launch Centers can help. We offer clinical and holistic treatment plans for substance use disorders and accompanying mental health issues. Our long-term programs treat the entire person. Contact Launch Centers today for information about our programs. Get started today on your new sober life!

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