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A High-functioning alcoholic (HFA) is a form of alcoholism where the alcoholic is able to maintain their outside life such as jobs, academics, relationships etc. all while drinking alcoholically.[1] Many HFA's are not viewed by society as alcoholics because they do not fit the common alcoholic stereotype. Unlike the stereotypical alcoholic, HFA's have either succeeded or over-achieved through their lifetimes. This can lead to denial of alcoholism through both the HFA, co-workers, family members and friends.

Signs and Symptoms

  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 obsesses 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 unwanted behaviors and patterns.
  • Surround themselves socially with heavy drinkers.
  • Getting drunk before actually arriving at parties/bars (pre-partying).
  • Setting drinking limits (i.e., only having 3 drinks, only drinking 3 days per week) and not being able to adhere to them.
  • Driving drunk and, by sheer luck, 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.
  • Drinking daily or binge drinking (more than 5 drinks in one sitting) on weekends.
  • Having blackouts (memory lapse due to excessive drinking) and not remembering what they did for a portion of their drinking episode.
  • Feeling guilt and shame about their drunken behaviors.
  • Taking breaks from drinking and then increasing alcohol consumption when they resume drinking after a period of time.
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior when intoxicated.
  • Not being able to imagine their life without alcohol in it
  1. Denial
  • Have difficulty viewing themselves as alcoholics because they don't fit the stereotypical image and because they feel their lives are manageable.
  • Avoid recovery help.
  • Make excuses for drinking by using alcohol as a reward or to relieve stress
  1. Professional and Personal Life:
  • Well respected for job/academic performance and accomplishments.
  • Can maintain a social life and intimate relationships.
  • Surround themselves with people who drink heavily
  1. "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)
  1. Hitting Bottom:
  • Experience few tangible losses and consequences from their drinking, often by sheer luck.
  • Experience recurrent thoughts that because they have not "lost everything," they have not hit bottom.
  • Often hit bottom and are unable to recognize it


  1. Benton, Sarah Allen (2009). Understanding the high-functioning alcoholic: professional views and personal insights. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313352805.
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