Is My Partner a Functioning Alcoholic?

Are you concerned that your partner may be a high-functioning alcoholic? Read on to find out how you can help.

What Is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

If you’re questioning whether or not your partner is a functioning alcoholic, there’s a good chance they might be. While alcoholism can be difficult to diagnose, some signs and symptoms can point to the disorder. If you’re worried about your partner’s drinking habits, it’s essential to seek help and get support. You’re not alone in this. Many people are in relationships with functioning alcoholics, and help is available.

An alcoholic or individual with an alcohol use disorder cannot stop or control their substance use despite negative consequences. These can include legal repercussions, domestic issues, financial hardship, and challenges at work. So, what is the definition of a functioning alcoholic? A functioning alcoholic meets the above criteria for alcohol use disorder but continues to meet their everyday obligations. Although a functioning alcoholic may be able to uphold their personal and work responsibilities for a time, this typically does not last. 1
Functioning Alcoholic


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The Challenges of High-Functioning Alcoholism

High functioning alcoholics essentially lead multiple lives. It can be challenging to meet everyone’s expectations, fulfill daily obligations, and continue to struggle with an alcohol use disorder. For example, a high-functioning alcoholic may need one or more drinks before work to start their day and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Living With a High-Functioning Alcoholic

Alcoholism can be just as hard, if not harder, for people living in the same household as the user. Drinking can interfere with an individual’s ability to care for their home and family. Additionally, a high-functioning alcoholic may be depressed, anxious, aggressive, confrontational, or restless. For partners of a functioning alcoholic, physical violence and domestic abuse may be of concern as well. 2

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Functioning Alcoholics

It’s essential to learn about the signs of a functioning alcoholic. Keep reading to learn about high functioning alcoholic signs.

Drinking Heavily and Excessively

When professionals diagnose alcoholism, they generally ask if a person has times where they drank more than intended, or if they tried to cut back but were unable. Spending a lot of time drinking and requiring more alcohol to achieve the same effect can be symptoms of a functioning alcoholic.

Drinks Alone

Isolation and drinking alone are also signs of a functioning alcoholic. Individuals with an alcohol use disorder will keep drinking even if their alcohol use causes issues with family and friends. A high-functioning alcoholic may also isolate due to mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

Becoming Aggressive

A high- or low-functioning alcoholic may lack the ability to control their emotions. Aggression, physical violence, and verbal violence can all be signs of someone who is a functioning alcoholic. 3

Becoming Irritable and Restless

Loss of control, irritability, and restlessness are high-functioning alcoholic signs. These symptoms are especially prominent during a withdrawal period. 4

Uses Alcohol for Confidence

Someone with alcohol use disorder is generally trying to numb their emotions or feel better about themselves. Although alcohol may temporarily make someone feel bold or confident, it’s a depressant and does not provide long-lasting assistance with self-esteem.

How To Live with a Functioning Alcoholic

If you’re living with a high-functioning or non-functioning alcoholic, you understand how challenging it can be. The following sections will highlight tips for living with someone wearing a functioning alcoholic hat.

Look After Your Own Needs

Unfortunately, selfishness is a side effect of alcohol addiction. When living with a functioning alcoholic, it’s vital to look after your own needs as well. This can involve setting healthy boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and removing yourself from the household if needed. In some situations, divorcing a high-functioning alcoholic may be necessary. Family or couple’s counseling can be an excellent resource before dissolving a marriage or partnership.

Keep Yourself and Others Safe from Harm

To keep yourself and others safe from harm, it’s critical to develop a plan if you need to leave the household. If possible, rely on support from family and friends.

Learn About Dependence and Recovery

Dependence, codependence, and recovery are all intertwined. If you want to learn more about dependence and recovery, consider attending an Alcoholics Anonymous support group meeting for family members of alcoholics. This can help you feel less alone, and also allow you to gain the support you need to help with events going on at home.

Risks of Excessive Alcohol Use

Excessive alcohol use can result in short-term and long-term health risks. Keep reading to learn about the potential risks associated with alcohol use.

Brain Damage

Learning challenges, memory problems, and dementia are all long-term risks of alcohol use.

Colorectal and Breast Cancer

High-functioning alcoholics are more likely to develop breast, throat, mouth, colon, liver, and rectal cancers.

Inflammation of The Stomach Lining

Stomach inflammation, heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, and a weakened immune system can also be caused by alcohol use. This can get worse the longer one uses alcohol, along with the amount one is consuming.

Sleep Disturbances

If a person consumes excessive amounts of alcohol, they may experience sleep disturbances, nightmares, and mental health problems on top of the physical impacts.

High Blood Triglycerides

High blood triglycerides and high blood pressure are long-term risks associated with excessive alcohol use. Over time, this can lead one to have a heart attack or other heart issues associated with high blood pressure. 5

How To Help a Functioning Alcoholic

When it comes to alcohol-related problems, it can be challenging to know how to help someone who is struggling. The following sections will provide tips for helping a functioning alcoholic.

Have A Conversation with Them

Open and honest communication is vital for helping someone struggling with alcohol substance abuse disorder. When having a conversation, try to use “I” statements, communicate your feelings openly, and remember that addiction is a disease.

Encourage Them to Visit the Doctor

During the conversation with your loved one, it’s essential to highlight treatment options and emphasize that treatment for alcohol use disorder is effective and can help, even if they think it might not.

Stage An Intervention

An intervention involving family and friends may be a helpful tool when trying to help a high functioning alcoholic. It can be beneficial to enlist the help of a social worker or trained professional to ensure the intervention is productive and done in a way to best suit the patient. 6

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

There are multiple treatment options available for high-functioning alcoholics. Continue reading to learn about residential treatments and therapies.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment can be administered in both outpatient and inpatient settings. For high-functioning alcoholics with employment or family responsibilities, outpatient care may be ideal.

Inpatient treatment is a bit more intensive and necessitates the patient staying in the facility. Inpatient residential care provides around-the-clock treatments for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder. Inpatient care can be helpful, as the individual is removed from their usual environment and does not have access to alcohol.

Outpatient care typically involves daily group and individual therapy sessions. This type of treatment may be more cost-effective for some individuals.


Therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy, and medication management are often used to help individuals overcome alcohol addiction.

Contact Our Team at Concise Recovery

At Concise Recovery, we provide individualized treatment plans with services including detoxification, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and sober living. Contact our knowledgeable team of addiction professionals to begin your journey towards healing and recovery!