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!

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

staff member drug alcohol treatment los angeles

Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

treatment team los angeles ca

Eric Chaghouri, MD


chloe kruskol los angeles rehab team

Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

Our Testimonials

Clients and Professionals Share Their Experience

  • HO

    Launch provided care on multiple levels. The highly skilled therapist coupled with the focus on purpose and long-term goals refocused my recovery from what previous treatment centers pushed onto me. I went from believing that I needed years of treatment to believing I needed years happiness and success. I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I came to realize all the things my addiction and mental illness had taken from me, and I used my future goals as a reason to never pick up again. Due to the passion that Launch instilled in me, I have pursued my future with excitement and dedication.

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    This place changed my life! I’ve had good laughs, good cries, shared a lot of heart to heart moments and grew a loving bond with everyone at Launch Centers. I will always be grateful!!! I really do miss it time to time. I highly recommend Launch Centers!

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  • Ben

    This treatment facility has changed my life. I have always struggled with my mental health and this young adult program provided me with the necessary skills to launch to adulthood. I commend anyone who struggles with mental health or substance use (which was not me) to try this program out. It will change your life.

  • Conner

    Launch Centers Treatment was a major help to me. The therapists and staff genuinely cared about me and truly helped me to make a plan for my future. My personal therapists helped me to discover where some of my deeper issues came from. All of the staff worked tirelessly with me to talk through my issues, or just about life, and offered realistic solutions to my current problems and situation. All of the staff went above and beyond and advocated relentlessly for me. I am very grateful that I was able to have such a wonderful experience with Launch.

  • Adam

    In no uncertain terms Launch Centers changed my life. The staff at Launch are professional, knowledgable and relatable. They keep the format diverse and interesting which kept me engaged in the process. The greatest thing we can do in life is seek to improve ourselves. Launch gave me a skill set I consider to be invaluable in the journey of becoming the best version of myself. I would implore anybody considering Launch to step outside their comfort zone and go, you will not regret it.


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