A man watches a movie with his partner after work but keeps missing parts of it. Why? Because every 30 minutes, he sneaks into his bedroom to reach under his bed for another mini bottle of vodka. He is on his 8th drink tonight, but even his partner can’t tell. His demeanor is calm and relaxed. He is doing what he does every night – sneaking alcohol so his partner won’t notice.
If anyone knew that alcohol controlled his life, it would crush him. He doesn’t want to lose the family, friends, and career he has built over the years, so he does everything he can to hide his drinking. As exhausting as it is to hide his alcohol use disorder from others, it’s better than anyone finding out.
His partner knocks on the door to their room. They call to him, “Are you doing okay? Why did you run off?” He quickly fabricates a story about having an upset stomach and needing the bathroom. He exits the room and acts like everything is fine. But the shame he feels from lying to his partner (again) is overwhelming.
This man is a closet alcoholic. Does his story sound familiar?
In 2021, 5% of people reported participating in heavy drinking in Delaware. This percentage might not include closet alcoholics since they do not typically want others to know that they are managing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). They might believe that seeking help burdens their loved ones. SUN Behavioral Health Delaware offers a no-cost care assessment, allowing your loved one to meet with a representative before they pay any money for treatment. Today, we are going to discuss what a closet alcoholic is and how you can help your loved one if you believe they might be managing AUD alone.
A closet alcoholic is someone who has an alcohol use disorder, but they hide their alcohol consumption from others. They might have a job and maintain relationships, but they have drinking habits that they try to hide from others. There are several reasons why someone might want to hide their alcohol use. They could be worried about hurting their loved ones, or they may not want to admit that there is a problem with their alcohol use. They may also want others to believe that they have their life under control, which can lead to them hiding their alcohol use from others.
High-functioning alcoholics and closet alcoholics are similar in the fact they both remain as functioning as possible. They might both have jobs and stable relationships. The difference is that closet alcoholics will go to great lengths to hide their addiction. High-functioning alcoholics will discuss their alcohol use and even flaunt it at times. The people around them will often notice the high-functioning alcoholic signs. However, closet alcoholics are the opposite, and it’s rare that anyone will notice how much they’re drinking.
Closet alcoholics might participate in binge drinking in secret. On a single occasion, binge drinking is 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men. They might also participate in heavy drinking in secret, which involves 15 alcoholic drinks per week for men and 8 drinks for women. High-functioning alcoholics will also participate in these activities, but they won’t necessarily be secretive about it.
You might not notice typical alcohol side effects in a closet alcoholic, though you might notice some. More than likely, you’ll find hidden empty bottles in places around the house, in the car, or under garbage in an attempt to make sure nobody sees them. Their alcohol of choice might be vodka because it can be more challenging to detect. People can hide vodka in coffee or water bottles. Likewise, they might put alcohol in juice bottles or secret flasks. They will frequently brush their teeth or chew gum in an attempt to hide the scent of alcohol on their breath. Some might disappear for long periods to drink. In contrast, others might become angry or defensive when confronted about their drinking habits.
They will always drink alone to avoid detection and might even hide legal concerns like DUIs. People might also be late or leave early for essential things such as work or family get-togethers. Others will not show up in social settings at all. Over time, they might begin to show signs of alcohol withdrawal if they have to go too long without it. Anyone with an alcohol use disorder can experience alcohol’s control over their lives. However, alcohol doesn’t have to control them forever, and recovery is always possible.
Living with a closet alcoholic can involve a lot of secrecy. You might feel like they are always doing things behind your back without your knowledge, and it might create a sense of mistrust. They will hide their alcohol use from you because they don’t want to hurt or burden you. Accepting the stages of alcoholism that have taken control of a loved one is difficult. If you know that your loved one has an alcohol use disorder but has been hiding it, let them know they are not alone.
You may want to get them into a treatment program immediately. Still, your loved one might not be willing to accept that they need help. They will more than likely withdraw more if you force them to seek treatment if that is something they aren’t ready to do. Instead, calmly discuss the signs of alcohol use that you see in them. Help them see how much their alcohol use impacts their life.
Closet alcoholics might not be able to see how deeply alcohol is impacting their lives. They are holding down a job and relationship. They can pay their bills and briefly show up to gatherings. But alcohol is still in control. Calmly discussing how it impacts their lives can help them see that they need help. It could take a while before they are willing to seek help. Have options for them that could involve an alcohol detox facility here in Delaware, or it could be an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that you found out about. Offer to do things you both enjoy doing together. Is there an activity that you both used to do that doesn’t involve alcohol? Encourage them to join you in that activity one day.
While there are so many things that you can do for your loved one, there are some things that you should never do when it comes to supporting them. Never shame them or blame them for their alcohol use. Approach them with care and concern rather than anger or accusations. If you catch them trying to hide their alcohol use, gently help them see the consequences of their actions.
It is essential that while you want what is best for your loved one, you do not forget about yourself. It can be a demanding experience to be the person who is supporting a closet alcoholic. Finding someone that you can talk to or connect with can help. It is okay if you need to separate yourself from your loved one. There will be days when it will feel like too much for you to handle, and in those moments, remember to take a moment for yourself in whatever way works best for you.
It can be challenging to get help for a closet alcoholic. Still, you can remind them that you support their recovery and love them. Located in Georgetown, DE, SUN Behavioral Health solves the unmet needs in our community. We offer IOP in the evenings, which allows closet alcoholics to attend treatment without having to give up their lives and careers that they have worked hard for. For more information on alcohol use disorder or to begin your treatment today, call us at 302-604-5600.
A closet drinker is someone who tries to hide their alcohol use. Alcohol controls their life, but they might be unwilling to admit to alcohol’s control, or they want to hide it from those that they love.
The 3 types of people with alcohol use disorder are “early-stage problem drinkers,” “affiliative drinkers,” and “schizoid drinkers.” Early-stage drinkers are people who might have alcohol-related health concerns but do not have any significant signs of alcohol dependence. Affiliative drinkers tend to drink socially at a moderate level of drinking. Schizoid drinkers participate in social binge drinking and have severe dependence symptoms.