Casual Drinking vs. High-Functioning Alcoholic: How To Tell The Difference

Some people often appear productive and healthy on the outside, even when they are struggling with alcohol use disorder. Experts colloquially described them as “high-functioning alcoholics” or people who, despite having drinking problems, can still function well in society.

In the past, people used the term “alcoholic” when referring to people that demonstrate misuse of alcohol. However, health professionals describe them today as people who have an alcohol use disorder. The old term, viewed as stigmatizing, may become a significant barrier in people’s willingness to seek professional help.

To fully understand alcohol use disorder, it is important to know how they differ from casual drinking.

What Are High-Functioning Alcoholics?

While many people classically depict someone with alcohol use disorder as a person who is likely to miss work and develop issues on personal matters, that is not always true. In fact, they can still function well and manage areas of life, including careers and relationships.

Being able to perform well and maintain their lifestyle, individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorder are often left unconfronted. There is a failure to recognize that their alcohol misuse can lead to severe consequences since they seem to be doing really fine.

When left untreated, alcohol use disorder can be dangerous. It can cause interior physical damage to certain parts of the body such as the heart, liver, pancreas, and brain. In some ways, it can also impact one’s family relationship and job.

What Are The Signs That Someone Is A High-Functioning Alcoholic?

There are differences between a casual drinker and someone who has an alcohol use disorder. A person clinically diagnosed with alcohol use disorder display certain symptoms, including:

  • Reddened face and skin
  • Slurred and loud speech
  • Displaying emotional behavior
  • Drowsiness 
  • Acting overly friendly 
  • Glassy eyes
  • Loud speech
  • Unable to sit up straight

These behaviors also indicate that a person needs to seek professional help:

  • Denial of the drinking problem
  • Avoiding feedback about drinking patterns
  • Obsessing over when you can drink again
  • Need alcohol to feel confident
  • Agitated or irritable when confronted
  • Drink during mealtime
  • Driving under influence
  • Hide alcohol consumption

What Casual Drinkers Look Like

Some people who get drunk more often than intended can get a little defensive. They consider themselves casual drinkers or responsible drinkers — but they are right. Though they may drink heavily at some point, that does not automatically mean that they already have an alcohol use disorder. There are a lot of differences between a casual drinker and someone diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.

A casual drinker or social drinker regularly drinks alcohol in social situations like parties, outings, and family gatherings. For them, social drinking is a culture and a huge opportunity to connect to others. They don’t rely on alcohol and let it interfere with their career and personal relationships.

Differentiating A Casual Drinker vs. High-Functioning Alcoholic

To quickly recognize the problem and be able to seek immediate treatment, it would be helpful to understand how casual drinkers and high-functioning people with alcohol use disorder differ from each other.

Casual DrinkerHigh-Functioning Person With Alcohol Use Disorder
Drinks responsibly and does not regularly get intoxicatedKnows no boundaries and keeps drinking until inebriated
Sets drinking limits and knows when they have had enoughHas an intermittent pattern of alcohol consumption
Only consumes alcohol for enjoymentObsessive thoughts about alcohol and a strong desire to drink
Considers casual drinking as a social bondingAvoids social situations to drink alone or drink with heavy drinkers
Can rationalize drinking and drivingProne to accidents especially when driving under the influence

Frequently Asked Questions

You may have plenty of questions about the topic at hand. So, here are the answers to some of the most asked questions that might also be in your mind.

How can you stop drinking alcohol every night?

The first step to stopping your drinking habits is to address the problem. Once you identified what are the reasons why you have been drinking, you can seek therapeutic support. It will also help if you focus on a new night routine and do several activities to keep yourself busy.

How can you drink responsibly?

Drinking responsibly will start when you understand how much alcohol you should have. Find a way to set boundaries and control your desire to consume more.

How do you know if you have a drinking problem?

One indication of a drinking problem is when you find it extremely hard to handle urges to drink. You are also likely to lose interest in normal day-to-day activities.


Acknowledging the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder is a big step to finding the way to treatment. However, due to misunderstanding and stigma, some people find it difficult to seek help and support. If you’ve recognized symptoms of an alcohol use disorder to yourself or someone else, it’s important to seek immediate professional treatment.

You can overcome this battle with the right support. Get in touch with Radical Rehab today!

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