High-functioning alcoholic

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Wine is a common source of alcohol

A high-functioning alcoholic (HFA) is an alcoholic who is able to maintain their outside life such as jobs, academics, relationships, etc. – all while drinking alcoholically.[1]

Numbers from the Harvard School of Public Health show that 31 percent of college students show signs of alcohol abuse and 6 percent are dependent on alcohol. Thus, about 31 percent of college students may meet the new criteria for alcoholism defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Doctors hope that the new definition will help identify severe cases of alcoholism early, rather than when the problem is fully developed.[2]

Many HFAs are not viewed by society as alcoholics because they do not fit the common alcoholic stereotype. Unlike the stereotypical alcoholic, HFAs have either succeeded or over-achieved through their lifetimes. This can lead to denial of alcoholism by the HFA, co-workers, family members, and friends. Functional alcoholics account for 19.5 percent of total U.S. alcoholics, with 50 percent being smokers and 33 percent having a multigenerational family history of alcoholism.[3]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

This list is intended to be used as a guide and not as strict diagnostic criteria.[1]

1. Drinking patterns

  • When they have one drink, they experience a craving to have more and cannot predict what their alcohol intake will be
  • They obsess about the next time they will be able to drink alcohol
  • They behave in ways that are not characteristic of themselves while drunk and continue to repeat these behaviors and patterns
  • Surround themselves socially with heavy drinkers
  • Getting drunk before arriving at social engagements
  • Setting drinking limits (e.g., only having three drinks, only drinking three days per week) and not being able to adhere to them
  • Driving drunk and not getting arrested or involved in an accident
  • Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage or even another person's unfinished beverage
  • Using alcohol as a reward
  • Having memory lapse due to excessive drinking (blackouts)
  • Taking breaks from drinking and then increasing alcohol consumption when they resume drinking after a long period of time
  • Not being able to imagine their life without alcohol in it

2. Denial

  • Have difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they do not fit the stereotypical image and because they feel their lives are manageable
  • Avoid recovery help

3. Professional and personal life

  • Well respected for job/academic performance and accomplishments
  • Can maintain a social life and intimate relationships

4. Double life

  • Appear to the outside world to be managing life well
  • Skilled at living a compartmentalized life (i.e., separating professional, personal and drinking lives)

5. Hitting bottom

  • Experience few tangible losses and consequences from their drinking
  • May hit a bottom and not recognize it clearly


  1. ^ a b Benton, Sarah Allen (2009). Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic – Professional Views and Personal Insights. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-35280-5. 
  2. ^ http://dailyemerald.com/2012/05/22/redefining-alcoholic-what-this-means-for-students/[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Press release (June 28, 2007). "Researchers Identify Alcoholic Subtypes". National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved February 18, 2012. 

External links[edit]