Sneaking Alcohol & Other Signs of Hidden Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction can be a difficult issue to confront, especially when it comes to recognizing the signs of a drinking problem in someone close to you. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that nearly 70% of people with an alcohol use disorder reported hiding their alcohol consumption from others at some point. When people think of alcoholism, they often picture someone who is visibly intoxicated or drinking heavily on a daily basis. However, alcohol addiction can take many different forms, including hidden or secret drinking. 

Having a hidden alcohol use disorder can be challenging and isolating but it’s important to know that help is available. By recognizing the signs of hidden alcoholism, such as secretive drinking habits, mood swings, and physical health issues, you can take the first steps towards addressing this condition and seeking professional help.   

How Can You Tell if Someone Is a Secret Drinker?

One of the most difficult things about hidden alcoholism is that it can be hard to detect. People hiding their drinking often go to great lengths to conceal their behavior, making it challenging for family members and friends to spot the signs of a problem. However, there are some common signs of hidden alcoholism that you can look out for.

One of the most obvious signs of hidden alcoholism is the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or clothing. If you notice that someone is frequently using breath mints or gum, or is constantly changing their clothes, this could be a sign that they are trying to hide the smell of alcohol. Another sign to watch out for is an increase in secretive or sneaky behavior. If someone is going out of their way to hide their alcohol consumption or is frequently making excuses for their behavior, this could be a red flag.

Other signs of hidden alcoholism can include:

  • Drinking alcohol alone or in secret
  • Becoming defensive or angry when asked about their drinking
  • Neglecting responsibilities, such as work or family obligations, in order to drink
  • Drinking at inappropriate times, such as early in the morning or while driving
  • Lying about how much alcohol they are consuming

Common Reasons Why Someone Is Hiding Alcohol

There are many reasons why someone might choose to hide their alcohol consumption. For some people, the stigma surrounding alcoholism can be a major barrier to seeking help. They may fear being judged or rejected by family members or friends if they admit to having a drinking problem. Others may be in denial about the extent of their drinking, or may not want to face the consequences of their behavior.

In some cases, hidden alcoholism can also be linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. People who are struggling with these conditions may turn to alcohol as a way of coping with their symptoms but may be too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. Additionally, people who have experienced trauma or abuse may use alcohol as a way of self-medicating, which can lead to addiction.

Can Someone Be An Alcoholic If They Only Drink in Secret?

Yes, it is possible to be an alcoholic even if you only drink in secret. Alcohol addiction is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.” The amount and frequency of alcohol consumption are not the only factors that determine whether someone has an alcohol use disorder. Other factors, such as the impact of drinking on a person’s life and relationships, can also be important indicators of a drinking problem.

What Are the Physical and Mental Health Effects of Hidden Alcoholism?

Hidden alcoholism can have a range of negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health. The consequences of alcohol abuse can vary depending on the individual’s drinking habits, the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed, and other factors. Understanding the overall effects of hidden alcoholism is crucial in recognizing the severity of the problem and seeking appropriate help. 

Over time, heavy drinking can damage the liver, pancreas, and other vital organs. It can also increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as liver, throat, mouth, and breast cancer. Drinking in secret can also lead to other health problems, such as weight gain and a weakened immune system. Additional negative physical effects include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: heavy drinking can also increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. This is because alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and other heart-related issues.
  • Digestive problems: consuming large amounts of alcohol can also lead to digestive problems, including gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers, and acid reflux.
  • Pancreatitis: heavy drinking can also cause inflammation of the pancreas, a gland that produces enzymes needed for digestion. This condition is characterized by severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Chronic pancreatitis can also increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. 
  • Immune System Weakening: chronic alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and illnesses. This can lead to a higher risk of developing infections

Additionally, hiding a drinking problem can be just as damaging psychologically. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. In some cases, people who drink in secret may experience feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation, which can heighten these issues. Over time, hidden alcoholism can also lead to financial problems, relationship issues, and legal troubles, which can further impact a person’s mental health

Begin Recovery

Whether you’re seeking treatment for yourself, a loved one or as a referring physician, we are always available to answer your questions and help connect you with the resources you need.

How You Can Help a Loved One Who Is Struggling With An Alcohol Addiction

If you suspect that a loved one is struggling or showing signs of alcoholism, there are several things you can do to help. The first step is to approach them with compassion and understanding, rather than judgment or criticism. It’s important to remember that an alcohol problem is a complex issue and that recovery is a journey that takes time and effort.

Start a Conversation

You can begin by expressing your concern for their well-being and asking them if they need help. It’s important to approach the conversation in a non-judgmental and supportive way and to avoid blaming or shaming them for their behavior.

Offer Support

Let your loved one know that you are there to support them and that you will help them find resources and treatment options if they are ready to make a change.

Educate Yourself

Learn as much as you can about alcohol addiction and the alcohol addiction treatment options available. This can help you to better understand what your loved one is going through and offer more informed support.

Encourage Treatment

If your loved one is ready to seek help, encourage them to consider addiction treatment options such as detox, counseling, or a residential treatment program. These programs can provide the support and resources needed to overcome alcohol addiction and build a healthy, sober life.

Practice Self-Care

Supporting a loved one who is struggling with alcohol addiction can be emotionally taxing, so it’s important to take care of your own mental and physical health as well. This might involve seeking support from a therapist or support group, taking time for self-care activities like exercise or meditation, or setting boundaries to protect your own well-being.

When someone you know has a hidden drinking problem it can be a challenging issue to confront. It’s important to recognize the signs of alcohol addiction in those we care about. By understanding the common reasons why someone might hide their drinking, as well as the physical and mental health effects of hidden alcoholism, we can offer compassionate support to those who are struggling with this issue. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s important to remember that help is available.

Seeking Addiction Treatment For A Hidden Drinking Problem

Seeking addiction treatment for someone who is hiding a drinking problem can be a challenging process, but it is an essential step toward recovery. The first step in this process is to approach your loved one with compassion and understanding and to express your concern for their well-being.

Once you have had a conversation with your loved one about their drinking problem, you may want to explore treatment center options with them. Addiction treatment can take many different forms, depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction and the individual needs of the person seeking treatment. Common treatment options for alcohol use disorder include: 

  • Medical detoxification 
  • Individual & Group therapy 
  • Residential (Inpatient) Treatment 
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 

It’s important to remember that addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that different approaches may work better for different people. It’s also important to be patient and understanding, as recovery is a journey that takes time and effort. At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, we provide our clients with individualized treatment plans and care.

With the right resources and support, it is possible to overcome alcohol addiction and start the road to recovery. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our alcohol use disorder programs and other treatment options.

  1. Kelly, J. F., Stout, R. L., & Magill, M. (2011). Development of Alcohol-Related Self-Concealment Scale: Factor Structure, Reliability, and Validity. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 41(4), 432–440. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2011.06.007
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol and Mental Health.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol and Stress.
  4. “Alcohol and the Brain.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  5. “Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease.” American Heart Association.