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Secret Drinking – How to spot the Signs Of Hidden Alcoholism

hidden drinking secret alcoholism

How can you see the signs of secret drinking when people with an alcohol problem become so good at hiding it from those they spend time with? Many people enjoy a nice glass of wine occasionally, or a pint in a pub. But how can you tell when things get out of hand and alcohol consumption becomes an addictive habit? Alcohol addiction isn’t always easy to spot, and this can trick people into believing they don’t need help. This means it’s often left to those around them to notice the signs. You may be left wondering how you can see the signs when people with a drinking problem become so adept at concealing it.

Problem drinking in Ireland uncovered

A 2020 study ‘Drinking in denial: a cross-sectional analysis of national survey data in Ireland to measure drinkers’ awareness of their alcohol use’ published by the Irish Health Research Board in BMJ Open showed that many people in Ireland could be in denial about their problem drinking. For those with alcohol problems which are affecting their everyday lives and causing pain to those who love them, denial of drinking is a barrier to getting on the road to recovery and can be hard to overcome.

How to recognise alcoholism

No one ever thinks addiction can happen to them or someone in their family but, sadly, it does. Some see it as simply enjoying a good drink but, in reality, they can have a real alcohol misuse problem. If you are concerned about your own drinking habits will you open up to your friends and family? Or if you are concerned that someone close to you might have an alcohol problem, would you confront them? Honesty may be the best approach to facing addiction and seeking help, but it isn’t always easy. Studies show alcoholism often stems from genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors.  While it’s important to note there’s a difference between abusing alcohol and being addicted to alcohol, it’s also important to note that long-term alcohol abuse can have a serious impact on a person’s mental and physical health.

What is secret drinking?

Not everyone who drinks alone is secretly drinking; the important factor here is intent. A secret drinker has planned that their drinking will remain hidden from others around them, it is their intent that their drinking will go unnoticed, which they may or may not want to admit. They might add alcohol to a soft drink without telling others, or top up a vodka or gin bottle with water to disguise the amount that was taken from the bottle. Hiding alcohol from friends, family, and others so it appears as if you had no more to drink than anyone else is again a clear indicator of a wider issue. If you or someone you know hides alcohol or empty bottles in your room, under your bed or in the outside bin, in the hope of concealing how much you have drunk, that too could be a sign of problem drinking.

A common need among people who develop a high tolerance for alcohol is to drink more in order to get the desired effect. Do you feel you need to drink more to achieve the effect of alcohol and are you ashamed for others to see the amount that you need to drink? Are you worried by the amount that you are drinking in order to feel how you used to feel after one glass? Do you often find yourself drinking before going out to an event where there will be alcohol, to ‘get ahead’? This might be indicative of an underlying alcohol consumption problem.

How to recognise hidden alcoholism

There are a few ways you can recognise signs of hidden alcoholism and secret drinking. Here are a few questions you can answer in order to identify an abnormal drinking pattern.

  • Do you sometimes feel that you should cut down on your drinking? 
  • Do you get annoyed when people criticise your drinking or try to talk to you about your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about the amount you drink?
  • Do you have a high tolerance to alcohol and find that you need to drink more to get the same effect you used to?
  • Are you often looking for acceptable excuses to drink?
  • Do you have blackouts from drinking?
  • Have you ever poured a drink the first thing in the morning to get rid of a hangover?
  • Is alcohol your favourite “escape”?
  • Do you spend a long time thinking about alcohol and when you will next drink?

How people disguise their drinking

Some people will choose drinks that area easy to disguise – for example they might prefer to drink vodka because it is clear and doesn’t have a strong smell. It is easy for them to hide vodka in their water bottle, adding it to tea or a soft drink so that others won’t notice what they are doing. People with alcohol addiction might also hide their drinking habits by hiding empty cans and bottles deep into their rubbish bins, or in cupboards, cabinets, or under and behind furniture. If you find bottles tucked away in places like these, this could be a sign someone you care about has a drinking problem which needs help.

Is hiding alcohol consumption a clear sign of alcoholism? Data from Ireland

According to a recent study, knowledge of the drinking guidelines in Ireland is poor, which leads to people not realising their actual alcohol intake.

  • 70.9% classified themselves as light or moderate drinkers who do not binge drink, 
  • 26.7% categorised themselves as light or moderate drinkers who sometimes binge drink, 
  • 2.4% classified themselves as heavy drinkers

However in Ireland,

  • Almost two-thirds of regular “Risky Single Occasion Drinkers” (aka binge drinkers) and one-third of dependent drinkers described themselves as “light or moderate” drinkers. 
  • Only 1.5% of regular binge drinkers describe themselves as “heavy drinkers”
  • and only 16% of dependent drinkers described themselves as a heavy drinker. 

Alcohol-dependent women were less likely than men to describe themselves as a heavy drinker – 11.4% vs 18.7%  Being wrong about the amount you drink isn’t necessarily a sign of alcoholism but knowingly and purposefully hiding your consumption is a red flag.

Treating alcoholism

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous begins by tackling the problem of Denial. Step One states: ‘we admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.’ It can take people quite a while to fully accept that alcohol is a real problem in their lives and that their lives have become unmanageable and that the only solution is to leave alcohol behind. This is why drinking often remains hidden, because there is a shame in owning up to the fact that you can’t manage without drinking, that it has a power over your life and you are completely fixated on your next drink. Shame and stigma are barriers in getting help in a country like Ireland where around 85% of people drink alcohol and where drinking alcohol is a part of the culture.

Is hidden drinking a clear sign of alcoholism?

When we’re trying to identify a problem of hidden drinking in a loved one, it’s important to understand the common characteristics of alcoholism and look at the facts in front of us calmly. Be ready to express your concern and commitment to supporting them. If you think that someone you care about has a drinking problem read these tips in approaching them: