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They drink a lot, but it doesn’t really affect us much - High-functioning alcoholics

When we think about alcoholics, we often imagine someone chaotic or out of control, who drinks all the time, whose life is falling apart.

Most people who are dependent on alcohol don’t look like this.

You can still have a problem with alcohol, even if your life seems fine on the surface

A high-functioning alcoholic is someone who is dependent on alcohol but still manages to do their job, and has a seemingly normal family and social life.

Their drinking may seem controlled – wine in the evenings, a few drinks with colleagues or friends – and they may not drink every day, but problems are still there.

 “People can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They’re successful students. They’re good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go to the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet.”¹


If it’s not affecting their life, why does it matter?

It can be harder to see a problem if many areas of life are carrying on fine. But if a person has lost control of their drinking, it is only a matter of time before problems surface. For example:

  • Serious physical and mental health problems
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms
  • Problems with life or relationships, like relationship breakdown, work performance, finances or legal issues

Changing a harmful drinking pattern sooner rather than later can help to avoid more serious problems.

Signs to look out for²

  • They joke about their drinking or being alcoholic
  • They talk a lot about alcohol
  • Alcohol is a major part of their life
  • They think a lot about or plan their next chance to have a drink
  • They deny they have a problem
  • They drink more than they plan to
  • They drink alone
  • They don’t remember things they did or said (blackouts)
  • They can drink more than others without getting drunk (a sign of tolerance)

How to help a high-functioning alcoholic

It can be harder to persuade a high-functioning alcoholic to think about their drinking. For now, they feel in control and don’t see any major effects on their health or life. 

Read some advice on what to do.

¹ Dr. Mark Willengring of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
 ² Adapted from rehab

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