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What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

What is a "high-functioning alcoholic"? Let me introduce you to some fabulous ladies who appear to have it all together, but perhaps there is more than meets the eye.

A woman seated in from of a computer

Meet Sally, a corporate professional with a high-level position at a prestigious company. She is often a go-getter, consistently meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations.

Meet Emily, an ambitious entrepreneur who has successfully launched her own business. She is driven, motivated, and admired for her achievements.

Meet Madison, a loving and caring stay-at-home mom to two young children. She creates a nurturing environment, is extremely organized, and appears to have everything under control.

Meet Jessica, a social butterfly, always seen at parties, enjoying a vibrant social life. She is the life of the party, often surrounded by friends.

Meet Jillian, an empty nester who has dedicated years to raising her children and managing the household.

Meet Lauren, a graduate student pursuing a post-graduate degree while juggling part-time work and academic commitments. She is highly intelligent, driven, and always achieving top grades.

Meet Veronica, a dedicated friend to her circle. She goes above and beyond for others to make sure everyone is happy and satisfied.

Wow, all of these women sound amazing...however...

Sarah, the Corporate Professional, uses alcohol to cope with work-related stress. She is hungover almost every day and feels unfocused and sloppy.

Emily, the Entrepreneur, feels a lot of pressure when it comes to running her own business. It is taking a toll on her emotional well-being, and she uses alcohol to unwind and temporarily escape from her challenges.

Melissa, the Stay-At-Home Mom, feels isolated and overwhelmed with her responsibilities. In secret, she turns to alcohol as a means to numb her anxieties and find solace.

Jessica, the Social Butterfly, struggles to balance her social life and personal well-being. She finds herself binge drinking to the point of sickness and hangxiety. Her bubbly personality makes it easy to mask her sense of disappointment in herself.

Jennifer, the Empty Nester, finds herself facing an empty house and a sense of loss. To cope with loneliness and the transition, she turns to alcohol. She maintains her professional life and social appearance, but her alcohol dependency remains hidden from her family and friends.

Lauren, the Graduate Student, feels immense pressure regarding her studies and trying to make ends meet with her part-time job. She uses alcohol as a means to relax and escape.

Veronica, the People Pleaser, always tries to meet everyone's expectations, which is exhausting. She feels lonely and often is sacrificing her own well-being for others. She uses alcohol to help numb her feelings.


In today's society, the image of an alcoholic often conjures up visions of someone whose life is in complete disarray.

A woman helping two children with their homework

However, there exists a subgroup known as high-functioning alcoholics, individuals who manage to maintain a facade of normalcy while battling alcohol addiction. I hope the above sheds light on the unique experiences and challenges faced by high-functioning alcoholics, specifically in the context of the many roles women play.

The high-functioning alcoholic woman is adept at disguising their addiction behind a seemingly perfect exterior. Because of the way society has normalized having a few glasses of wine to relax and unwind, sometimes we don't even realize we are on the road to addiction. Disguising it has just become something we do, a way of life. They excel in their careers, maintain their households, and may even be highly regarded by friends and family. However, their internal struggle is often hidden, and the impact of their alcohol dependence can be just as devastating.

The Workplace:

For women navigating the professional world while secretly battling alcohol addiction, the workplace can become a complex environment. The pressure to excel, meet deadlines, and maintain an image of competence can be overwhelming. However, some key challenges arise:

  • Concealment: High-functioning alcoholic women become masters of concealing their addiction. They may prioritize hiding signs of intoxication, often masking hangovers and fatigue behind a smile. Maintaining this facade requires tremendous emotional and physical effort, increasing stress and anxiety.

  • Performance Impairment: Although high-functioning alcoholic women may be highly accomplished in their careers, alcohol addiction can hinder performance and productivity. The cognitive and physical effects of alcohol can impact decision-making, memory, and overall job performance, potentially jeopardizing professional growth.

  • Isolation and Shame: The fear of being discovered or judged may lead high-functioning alcoholic women to isolate themselves from colleagues, resulting in missed networking opportunities and a lack of support systems. The shame associated with alcohol addiction can exacerbate these feelings of isolation and further damage self-esteem.

Stay-at-Home Moms:

  • Coping Mechanisms: Being a stay-at-home mom can be both rewarding and demanding. The stress and monotony of the role may drive some women to rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism to escape from the pressures and isolation they experience. However, this coping strategy can perpetuate a dangerous cycle of addiction.

  • Parenting Challenges: Balancing parenting responsibilities while grappling with alcohol addiction can be emotionally and physically draining. The guilt and shame associated with not meeting the idealized expectations of motherhood can exacerbate the urge to self-medicate with alcohol.

  • Seeking Support: The limited opportunities for socializing and connecting with others can make it difficult for stay-at-home moms to seek support or find resources for help. Breaking the cycle of addiction may require overcoming the stigma associated with alcoholism and seeking assistance through therapy, support groups, or treatment programs.

Empty Nester:

  • Coping Mechanisms: The emptiness and loss experienced as an empty nester can lead to reliance on alcohol as a way to cope with emotions and loneliness.

  • Isolation and Impact on Relationships: High-functioning alcoholism may result in increased isolation, as the individual may withdraw from social interactions and struggle to form meaningful connections.

  • Rediscovering Purpose: Addressing alcohol addiction becomes essential for rediscovering purpose, rebuilding relationships, and finding fulfillment as an empty nester.

Graduate Student:

  • Coping with Academic Pressure: Graduate studies often come with high levels of stress and pressure. Alcohol may be used as a means of relaxation and escape from academic demands.

  • Impact on Mental Health: The reliance on alcohol to cope can exacerbate mental health issues and affect focus, motivation, and overall well-being.

  • Seeking Help and Academic Success: Recognizing the impact of alcohol addiction on academic performance is crucial. Seeking professional help and adopting healthier coping strategies are essential for success as a graduate student.

In all of these scenarios, it is important for individuals to recognize the negative impact of alcohol addiction and to seek support from professionals, support groups, or treatment programs. Addressing underlying issues, developing healthier coping mechanisms, and prioritizing self-care are vital steps toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Acknowledging the existence of high-functioning alcoholic women and understanding their unique challenges is crucial in providing the support and resources they need. Whether in the workplace or as stay-at-home moms, these women face internal battles that often go unnoticed by society. It is essential to foster an environment of compassion, empathy, and non-judgment, offering avenues for seeking help and recovery.

To high-functioning alcoholic women, remember that you are not alone. Seeking professional help, confiding in trusted individuals, and building a support network can be transformative in your journey to recovery. Let us work collectively to dispel the shame associated with addiction and foster a society that promotes understanding and healing. Our friend, The Sober Curator does a great job in bringing all our resources together in one place. Make sure to check it out!

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