What is a high-functioning alcoholic?


What is alcoholism or alcohol use disorder?


One of the most misunderstood parts of alcoholism is the misconception that in order to be an alcoholic, your life needs to be falling apart. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a large number of individuals who are living with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder who have seemingly well put together lives.


According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, “Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and the colloquial term, alcoholism. Considered a brain disorder, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.”


Many high-functioning alcoholics, likely fall under the mild or moderate category of an alcohol use disorder, although some high-functioning alcoholics may still be classified as severe. Outwardly, their lives are going fairly well. They are gainfully employed, have social relationships, and family relationships, and meet the majority of their obligations financially. This outward “success” allows them to hide or mask their alcoholism or alcohol use disorder from the people around them. At times this can be to their detriment as it allows their alcohol use to continue for longer periods of time. 


Are you or is someone you love a high-functioning alcoholic?


Below we have included a series of questions related to alcohol use, these questions can help determine if you or someone you know may have an issue with alcohol or be a high-functioning alcoholic. Please be aware this is by no means a clinical assessment. It is simply a starting point for you or your loved one to examine their relationship with alcohol.


  1. Have you ever felt that you should drink less or less often?
  2. Have you tried to reduce your alcohol intake and struggled to do so?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty about your alcohol use?
  4. Do you often think about or look forward to the next opportunity you will have to consume alcohol?
  5. Do you crave or want alcohol at a specific time each day?
  6. Is drinking a way for you to escape issues and or stress in your life?
  7. Do you drink alcohol when you are alone?
  8. Do you ever feel annoyed when people criticize your alcohol use?
  9. Has alcohol caused conflicts in any of your personal relationships?

If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, it may be time to reexamine your relationship with alcohol. If you answered yes to the majority of these questions it is likely that your drinking has become problematic and you may meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder.


Here at Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center, we offer various levels of care to treat alcoholism, alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and other co-occurring conditions. For more information on our services please call us directly at 732-847-4555. We are available 24/7 to help. All calls are no obligation and are strictly confidential.