Is My Loved One a Closet Alcoholic? Signs To Look Out For

by | Last updated Mar 3, 2021 | Published on Feb 25, 2021 | Alcohol Addiction | 0 comments

Is My Loved One a Closet Alcoholic?

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There are nearly 15 million Americans with an alcohol use disorder, a debilitating addiction characterized by a compulsion to drink at the cost of their health, career, financial well-being, and even their relationships. But not all alcoholics undergo the same visible displays of self-destruction. It’s estimated that nearly 20% of alcoholics can maintain stable jobs and family life and is known as high functioning alcoholism. This type of behavior is common in closet alcoholics who seek to mask their drinking problem – could your loved one be one of them?

5 Classic Signs of a Closet Alcoholic 

The defining characteristic of a closet alcoholic is that they seek to conceal their drinking addiction. Whether they do so out of shame or to prevent loved ones from worrying, the intent does not matter. These individuals recognize that their drinking habits are unhealthy and intentionally maintain appearances to disguise their compulsion.  determining whether a loved one is a closet alcoholic is understandably challenging. Without the typical signs to rely on,  concerned persons instead need to look for active signs of subversive behavior. 

Finding bottles around the house 

This is the most obvious sign of closet alcoholism. There’s only one reason why a person would keep a stash, or multiple stashes, of alcohol in unusual places: they don’t want it to be found. By keeping their trove of alcohol out of sight, no outsider can keep track of how much alcohol that individual is drinking. 

The suspected closet alcoholic might even have a public display of alcohol as a decoy, only touching it from time to time. However, the real damage is being done using the alcohol hidden all over the house. If the person you’re with seems to be severely intoxicated but their public alcohol stash is relatively untouched, there’s a good chance they have a secret alcohol stash somewhere.

Lots of empty bottles or cans (not necessarily in the trash) 

An extension of sign number one, finding empty bottles seems like an obvious way to tell whether someone has a drinking problem. However, an experienced closet alcoholic knows this and is likely to go further to cover their tracks.  Looking for empty bottles in garbage cans or recycling bins likely won’t yield results. Instead, concerned loved ones of the suspected alcoholic should look in:

  • Trash and recycling bins belonging to neighbors
  • Community trash receptacles
  • The individual’s vehicles (they might take the proof somewhere else that’s untraceable to them). 
  • In the house = empty bottles or cans to slowly dispose of them at a later time to make their consumption look reasonable. 

Putting alcohol in other beverage containers

Disguising alcohol as another beverage can be another red flag that someone is dependent on alcohol. If they’re unable to wait for an appropriate time to grab a drink, or unwilling to travel without it being on hand at all times, it’s a pretty clear sign that physical or psychological dependence has occurred. Another reason for concern is if a person has a lot of vodka on hand. This alcohol is clear, flavorless, and relatively odorless which means it can easily be mixed in with other beverages.

Frequently chewing gum or using mouthwash 

While we’re big fans of maintaining proper oral hygiene, the frequent use of gum, mouthwash, and other breath freshening products might not always be a good thing. Instead, it could actually be that they are actively trying to cover up the ever-present smell of alcohol on their breath. Heavy use of fragrance might also be used in conjunction to hide any lingering odors.

Always seem to be missing at some point in group settings

Whether it’s a small group of friends or a large gathering,  the suspected closet alcoholic always manages to slip away for a short while. this isn’t a coincidence or an innocent wandering away. This is a calculated action that allows the alcoholic to privately indulge their addiction and quietly return to the group. This person will always make excuses to be alone and turn down accompaniment. Because this person likely displays high functioning alcoholic tendencies, they are unlikely to come back visibly inebriated. Instead, a concerned loved one should monitor the frequency of these trysts and whether any of the above signs are present.

High Functioning Alcoholism is Dangerous  

If you suspect someone might be a closet alcoholic, there’s a good chance you’re looking at high-functioning alcoholism. While the individual may be able to carry on with life, work, and social obligations as normal, internally their brain and body are undergoing major damage. This type of alcoholism can be more dangerous because it’s hard to detect anything is wrong until they’ve become drastically ill – and by this point, the damage can be irreversible. Get help before it’s too late and seek out an alcohol rehab center today. 

Written by: Tyler Fordham

Written by: Tyler Fordham

Tyler is a writer with dual degrees from the University of South Florida. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, she understands both the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that addiction can affect the family unit. This Miami native has become a champion of mental health and an active believer in the power of positive thinking. When she isn't at the beach, Tyler enjoys running, jigsaw puzzles, and snuggling with her cat, Poof.

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