Most of us assume we know the warning signs of alcohol abuse when we see them. While certain signs are obvious and noticeable, many of them often go unnoticed by close friends and family. Perhaps we could use this opportunity to discuss some of the more common warning signs and signals that are often overlooked by friends and family.

It turns out that there are many misconceptions on this subject. The truth is that many alcoholics are ‘functioning alcoholics’ and you would never believe they have a drinking problem as there are no obvious signs. These are people who are good at their jobs, sometimes even high achievers, but who are also totally dependent on alcohol to function normally. They can’t relax or sleep until they’ve had a drink (cite: 1).

Yes, there are those who abuse alcohol, who take one drink and cannot stop drinking until they are totally drunk and have fallen into a drunken stupor. And yes, we all know of people who behave very badly after their second or third drink. We have seen abusive spousal behavior, bar conflicts, and drunk driving accidents. These are the obvious signs of alcohol abuse and the behavior that we generally associate with alcohol abuse (quote: 2).

What are the signs of a functional alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic rarely gives clues about his drinking problem and may not even realize he has a problem. In fact, they don’t associate ‘problems’ with drinking, but instead drink as a viable way of relieving problems and stress. At the end of a long day, they can have two or three strong alcoholic drinks and then go to bed.

Since their body depends on alcohol, they are fine in the morning, no hangover as there is still alcohol in their system. If you’re out drinking with friends, you’ll be the one roaring and ready to go in the morning while all your friends are hungover and want to sleep in, still feeling lethargic.

For the alcoholic that works, a quick shot of booze or a drink at lunch and they’re set for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, if they don’t get their drink by mid-afternoon, they can get a little gruff, irritable, and difficult to deal with. Once they get that drink, they’re perfectly fine again until late at night.

Some of the warning signs of a functioning alcoholic are that they have hidden alcohol in their desks at work or in their car. They always have it on hand. At home, it’s readily available, and often the hard stuff is your first choice, though they can start with some wine or beer.


1.) “Psychological Correlates and Treatment Outcomes for High- and Low-Functioning Alcoholics,” by Robert C. MacMahon, Robert S. Davidson, and Patrick M. Flynn, published in the International Journal of Addictions. Pages 819-835 | Published online: July 3, 2009.

2.) “Early Identification of Alcohol Abuse: Critical Issues and Psychosocial Indicators for a Composite Index,” by Harvey Skinner, Stephen Holt, and Yedy Israel, published in CMA Journal May 1, 1981, Volume 124.

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