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Am I a functioning alcoholic?

Posted on August 6, 2022

Am I a functioning alcoholic?

Millions of people around the UK have a problematic relationship with alcohol, whereby their usage levels far exceed the recommended intake set out by NHS guidelines.

24% of all adults in England and Scotland regularly exceed the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines [1], and in England alone, there are around 600,000 dependent drinkers [2].

Alcoholism can destroy the lives of the addicted person and have a catastrophic effect on those closest to them in their family and social network.

Sometimes, this can manifest in a very apparent way. For example, the person may often be very noticeably drunk and/or sick from alcohol abuse, even to someone who does not know them.

Their alcoholism may manifest in other areas of their life, causing them to fall behind at work or school due to their ongoing alcohol abuse.

However, other people manage to maintain the key areas of their life (such as work and family) at an acceptable level while still having a problematic relationship with alcohol.

This is often described as functioning alcoholism. However, do not let the name fool you – functioning alcoholism is still alcoholism, and it needs to be addressed and appropriately treated.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

What is a functioning alcoholic?

man partially hidden by door

A functioning alcoholic, also referred to as a high-functioning alcoholic, is a person who manages to maintain their work-life, responsibilities, and interpersonal relationships while also having an alcohol substance abuse disorder.

While the addiction of low-functioning alcoholics can be readily apparent, high-functioning alcoholics are more likely to be able to maintain the illusion that nothing is wrong with them.

Unfortunately, this can mean that their alcohol problem goes undetected for an extended time, even by those closest to them.

The dangers of this cannot be overstated. Alcohol-specific deaths in 2020 exceeded 7000, around 13 per 100,000 people [3]. Make no mistake – functional or not; alcoholism can kill.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

What level of alcohol intake is a problem?

shadows of bottles on shelves

According to NHS guidelines on alcohol consumption, it is advisable to limit alcohol consumption to no more than 14 units per week [4] and to spread that consumption over three or more days.

However, some people will be adversely affected by less than 14 units, as everyone has a different physiological makeup and other varying factors in how they process alcohol.

Although these governmental guidelines are helpful, one should also look out for changes in a person’s behaviour where alcohol is concerned, rather than just the number of units involved.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

Is my partner a functioning alcoholic?

woman looking at her partner

Although most couples trust each other implicitly, a substance abuse problem or addiction is still something that a person may want to conceal from their closest loved ones.

This secretive behaviour can be due to the person’s sense of shame, pride, or perhaps just not wanting to cause their significant other to worry.

Whatever the reason, it is not helpful in the long run to conceal an addiction. Addiction is a medical condition that must be picked up and addressed as soon as possible.

The signs of low-functioning alcoholism can be relatively easy to spot – for example, the person may be regularly injuring themselves due to drinking or skipping work because they are hungover.

The signs of high-functioning alcoholism are often more subtle and, therefore, more difficult to spot.

It can be things like concealing the extent of their drinking from you or making excuses for the amount they drink.

Please read the section below for a complete list of behavioural signs that may suggest that someone is a high-functioning alcoholic.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

The signs of high-functioning alcoholism

woman with plaster over her mouth and pressing her finger to her lips

The term ‘functional’ alcoholism is somewhat misleading. Just because someone is taking care of their responsibilities while drinking to excess, it does not mean that their drinking is not a problem.

In fact, it just means that it can take longer for the problem to be identified and dealt with. This is a problem in itself, as more harm can be caused the longer their drinking goes on.

Here are some of the behaviours that may indicate that someone has a problem:

  • Hiding the level of their alcohol intake from others
  • Finding it difficult to stop once they start drinking
  • Drinking alcohol alone or in secret
  • Becoming aggressive and/or defensive when questioned about their drinking

If you notice one or more of the above behaviours in yourself, it may be time to admit that you have a problem and seek treatment.

Likewise, if you spot these behaviours in your friend or loved one, it may be time to arrange an alcohol intervention for that person. Rehab Recovery can help you to organise that.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

Intervention for functioning alcoholics

A man and a woman talking with a health professional

Intervention can be a vital tool in helping a person with an addiction.

This remains true whether the person is a high-functioning or low-functioning alcoholic.

There are a few different ways to go about arranging an intervention for a person in addiction.

The first is to simply gather in a room with family and friends and discuss the issue with the person.

However, due to the emotional nature of the subject matter, it is likely that the person could get defensive. Conversations like this can easily derail and become counterproductive.

This is why it is always preferable to involve a professional intervention counsellor within the intervention.

This professional can make sure that everyone has their voice heard and that things do not get out of hand.

There are also alternative intervention methods, such as the popular CRAFT method, which stands for Community Reinforcement & Family Training.

CRAFT takes an entirely different approach and involves rewarding the person for positive changes in their behaviour.

Again, this is best conducted with professional guidance.

Whatever method of intervention works best for you, the most important thing is that the addicted person gets into treatment as soon as possible.

Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 0800 140 4690

Treatment for functioning alcoholism

The most effective kind of treatment for alcoholism is a full course of treatment at an inpatient rehab facility, which includes detox, therapy, relapse prevention planning, and various aftercare programmes.

Rehab Recovery is here to provide advice and information on everything to do with rehab, as well as how to arrange an intervention for someone you care about.

Call us freely and confidentially on 0800 088 6686 from the UK, or +44 330 333 6197 if calling from overseas. We can help you with the transition from addiction to recovery.


[1] Burton, R. et al. (2016). The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies: An Evidence Review.

[2] Public Health England (2021). Estimates of alcohol-dependent adults in England.

[3] Office for National Statistics (2021). Quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales: 2001 to 2019 registrations and Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020 provisional registrations.

[4] NHS Alcohol Unit Guidelines (2022)


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