How do we understand alcoholism when the root of the problem stems from legal behavior? Where is the turning point? Alcohol is everywhere — at parties, at work, at school, at home… How can we possibly skim the crowd and find the abusers? More importantly, how can we pick out the functioning alcoholics?

This is where spotting addiction becomes almost impossible. An alcoholic with high functioning capabilities likely has a normal looking face, a steady job, and a seemingly great home life. They are just another person among the crowd, and they are great at hiding. But they can’t hide forever. Here’s how to know if someone is a functioning alcoholic.

Needle in the Haystack

Functioning alcoholism challenges the conventional picture of addiction. Most functioning alcoholics lead completely normal lives — many are actually highly successful. This creates a substantial problem for families and friends, many of which cannot place a finger on when, where, or how their loved one’s addiction began.

Functioning alcoholism is like a needle in a haystack — it’s easily concealed. Abusers successfully mask their addiction with excuses and fervent denial, and loved ones can never seem to pin down the evidence to corroborate their suspicions. What’s left is a confusing string of mismatched symptoms and highly persuasive justifications.

Finding the Needle

True, it may be hard to identify a functioning alcoholic, but it is not entirely impossible. It requires vigilance. Even the smartest addicts get sloppy. If you suspect your loved one might be suffering from an addiction, look for these functional alcoholic symptoms:

  • Drinking alone
  • Breaking plans with family/friends
  • Making jokes about drinking
  • Having strangely specific rules about drinking
  • Obsession with drinking
  • Denying having a problem
  • Memory lapses
  • Not eating enough
  • vastly different behavior when sober

how to tell if someone is a functioning alcoholic

Mental Illness

While it’s easy to focus on the behaviors and patterns of addiction, it is more important to uncover the root of the problem. Functioning alcoholism, like most other addictions, often stems from an underlying mental illness like anxiety or depression.

When mental illnesses go undiagnosed or untreated, they often manifest into life-altering quagmires that can consume all sense of self-control. It’s a vicious cycle, wherein addicts attempt to stifle their symptoms with over-consumption without realizing how their behavior amplifies their illness.


How do you help a person that doesn’t want to be helped? A functioning alcoholic is usually armed with convincing excuses and rock-solid denial. Getting through to them can be incredibly frustrating. It may be prudent to host an intervention in order to help your loved one see the reality of their addiction. If you are preparing to stage an intervention, keep these points in mind:

  • Create a safe space for the conversation
  • Consider having a professional counselor at the meeting
  • Have a game plan for rehabilitation
  • Speak calmly and candidly about your loved one’s addiction
  • Allow your loved one to express themselves
  • Remain vigilant
  • Offer support and guidance

Breaking the Stronghold

Functioning alcoholism, even in a highly successful person, is still an addiction. Unfortunately, a pattern emerges that allows the habit to persist. Abusers confuse their professional and personal successes with a well-balanced life, and therefore, ignore the reality of their problem. But in the end, all addictions catch up with their users.

Eventually, a functioning alcoholic will suffer from built-up physical and mental complications that will derail the stronghold of their addiction. All that’s left is a seriously ill person, who can no longer function properly in society.

Going Forward

If you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, please seek the counsel of a medical professional. Addiction is a serious condition that should not be ignored. Please check out our resources section for more articles like this.