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What is a Closet Alcoholic?

Closet Alcoholic: Meaning & Signs to Look For

A closet alcoholic is someone who hides their alcohol addiction from others.  More times than not, they literally hide their alcohol in different places so people do not know they’re drinking.  They may appear in control of their drinking in public but struggle privately. It’s like putting on a front, concealing the real issue. If you think you or someone you know is a closet alcoholic, it’s vital to seek help and support for a healthier, happier life.

What Is A Closet Alcoholic?

A closet alcoholic, sometimes referred to as a “hidden alcoholic,” is an individual who conceals their alcohol addiction and its severity from friends, family, and often even themselves. Unlike the stereotypical image of an alcoholic struggling openly with excessive drinking, a closet alcoholic manages to maintain a façade of normalcy in public, appearing in control. They might hold down jobs and fulfill social obligations while secretly battling their addiction behind closed doors. This secretive behavior often involves hiding alcohol, sneaking drinks, or drinking in isolation to avoid detection, all the while downplaying the extent of their problem.

The term “closet alcoholic” highlights the disparity between one’s public persona and private struggles, making it challenging for one to seek help. This hidden battle with alcoholism can lead to severe consequences, as the individual’s addiction remains untreated, potentially exacerbating physical and psychological health issues, as well as straining personal relationships. Recognizing the signs of a closet alcoholic and offering support or encouraging professional treatment is crucial for helping them break free from their hidden struggle and embark on a path to recovery and a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Behaviors Of A Closet Alcoholic

Recognizing a closet alcoholic often involves observing specific behaviors and signs. They may be adept at concealing their addiction, but some red flags include secretive drinking, such as hiding alcohol bottles or sneaking drinks when alone. A closet alcoholic might prioritize alcohol over responsibilities, missing work or social events due to their addiction. They may become defensive or evasive when questioned about their drinking habits, and their relationships can suffer as they prioritize alcohol over loved ones. These individuals often experience mood swings, depression, and physical health issues related to their hidden alcoholism. Being alert to these behaviors can help identify and support someone struggling as a closet alcoholic.

Common behaviors of closet alcoholics include:

  • Blacking out after excessive alcohol consumption

  • Feeling guilty or ashamed if discovered when intoxicated

  • Hiding alcohol in various places at home

  • Consuming alcohol in isolation to avoid detection

  • Frequent and sudden mood swings

  • Frequent lying or making excuses about drinking habits

  • Neglecting personal and professional responsibilities due to drinking

  • Isolating themselves from friends and family

  • A growing tolerance for alcohol, requiring more to achieve the same effect

  • Becoming defensive or evasive when questioned about their drinking

  • Prioritizing alcohol over financial stability

  • Physical withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit

  • Declining health, including liver damage and weight loss

  • Memory lapses and inability to recall recent events

  • Unexplained injuries or accidents while intoxicated

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities previously enjoyed

  • Drastic changes in personal appearance or hygiene

  • Relationship conflicts and distancing from loved ones

  • Using breath mints or gum to mask the smell of alcohol

  • Drinking at unusual times, such as in the morning

  • Hoarding empty bottles or containers to hide their consumption.

Signs That Someone Might Be A Closet Drinker

In my experience, individuals who utilize closet drinking typically have severe cognitive distortions.  A cognitive distortion is a pattern of biased or irrational thinking that can contribute to negative emotions and behaviors. These distortions are inaccurate or exaggerated thoughts that reinforce negative perceptions of oneself, others, or the world. They often arise from cognitive biases and can contribute to the development or maintenance of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.  To someone who does not have a drinking problem, hiding alcohol is an outlying activity.  It isn’t even considered to be an option.  Individuals who are far enough along in their disease to hide alcohol often tell themselves the most outlandish justifications for hiding.  

Engages In Heavy Drinking Patterns

A closet alcoholic who engages in heavy drinking patterns is often adept at concealing the extent of their alcohol consumption from those around them. Despite the appearance of normalcy in social situations, they frequently engage in excessive and secretive drinking behind closed doors. This can include consuming large quantities of alcohol in isolation to avoid detection, leading to the risk of blackouts and physical health issues. Such individuals often exhibit signs of addiction, such as a growing tolerance for alcohol, withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit, and a detrimental impact on their relationships, work, and overall well-being. Identifying a closet alcoholic with heavy drinking patterns can be challenging due to their adeptness at hiding their struggles, but it’s essential to encourage them to seek help and support for their hidden addiction.

Often Denies The Existence Of A Problem With Alcohol Abuse

A closet alcoholic who consistently denies the existence of a problem with alcohol is often trapped in a cycle of self-deception. They may go to great lengths to rationalize their drinking habits, dismissing concerns from friends and family. This denial can manifest in various ways, from downplaying the impact of their alcohol use to making excuses for their behavior. They might attribute their actions to stress, socializing, or other factors while vehemently rejecting the idea of addiction. This persistent denial can be a significant barrier to seeking help, as it hinders the recognition of a problem and delays the essential steps towards recovery. Friends and family should approach such individuals with patience, empathy, and support to encourage them to confront their concealed struggle with alcohol and take the necessary steps to address it.

Conceals Supplies Of Alcohol

A closet alcoholic who conceals supplies of alcohol is often driven by a need to hide the extent of their addiction. They meticulously hide bottles, containers, or even hidden stashes of alcohol in various places, such as in closets, cabinets, or even at their workplace. This secretive behavior is a clear sign of their addiction, as they are unwilling to be transparent about their consumption. This concealment not only protects their habit but also prevents others from recognizing the severity of their drinking problem. Loved ones should be vigilant for these hidden supplies and understand that it’s crucial to address the issue with sensitivity and encourage the closet alcoholic to seek professional help and support.

Consumes Alcohol As A Coping Mechanism

A closet alcoholic who turns to alcohol as a coping mechanism often relies on it to numb emotional pain or stress. They might drink in response to difficult life circumstances, anxiety, depression, or past traumas. Alcohol provides a temporary escape from their problems and emotional distress, creating a cycle of dependency. This can lead to the person using alcohol as a way to self-medicate, making it challenging to recognize their hidden addiction. Addressing this situation requires understanding the underlying issues and encouraging healthier coping strategies while seeking professional assistance to break the dependence on alcohol.

Rarely Seems To Suffer From Hangover

A closet alcoholic who rarely experiences hangovers often showcases a high tolerance to alcohol, a common trait among those with hidden addiction issues. Their body has adapted to regular alcohol consumption, allowing them to drink heavily without suffering the usual physical consequences. This high tolerance can further enable their secretive behavior, as they can maintain a facade of normalcy even after excessive drinking. This can make it more challenging for loved ones to recognize their problem, as the absence of hangovers may lead to a false impression that their drinking is not a cause for concern. However, it’s essential to focus on other signs and behavioral changes to identify their concealed struggle with alcohol and encourage them to seek help.

Compartmentalizes Their Life

A closet alcoholic who compartmentalizes their life is skilled at maintaining two separate and seemingly disconnected worlds. In one, they project an image of normalcy, fulfilling professional and social obligations, while in the other, they indulge in excessive and secretive drinking. This compartmentalization allows them to conceal their addiction effectively. They may become adept at switching between these two personas, making it difficult for loved ones to detect their hidden struggle with alcohol. Compartmentalization is a coping mechanism that enables them to shield their addiction from public view, but it’s essential for friends and family to be aware of this behavior and offer support to help them address their concealed problem and seek recovery.

Experiences Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

A closet alcoholic who frequently experiences alcohol-induced blackouts faces a severe and dangerous consequence of their hidden addiction. Blackouts occur when heavy drinking leads to memory lapses, causing individuals to have little to no recollection of events while intoxicated. This can result in risky behavior, impaired judgment, and even dangerous situations. Despite these alarming episodes, closet alcoholics often persist in their secretive drinking, further complicating their ability to recognize and address their hidden struggle with alcohol. Friends and family should be particularly concerned when blackouts are a recurring issue, as it indicates a severe problem that requires immediate intervention and professional help to ensure their safety and well-being.

Becomes Intoxicated Unintentionally

A closet alcoholic who becomes intoxicated unintentionally is often a sign of their struggle to control their drinking. They may underestimate their alcohol tolerance or lose track of their consumption, leading to unintended inebriation. This lack of control highlights their hidden addiction, as it demonstrates their inability to manage alcohol responsibly. Unintentional intoxication can result in embarrassing or risky situations, adding to the secretive nature of their addiction. It’s essential for friends and family to recognize these signs and encourage the closet alcoholic to seek professional assistance in addressing their alcohol problem and regaining control over their life.

Exhibits Isolating Behaviors

A closet alcoholic who exhibits isolating behaviors often withdraws from social interactions and personal relationships to safeguard their hidden struggle with alcohol. They may make excuses to avoid gatherings or isolate themselves to drink in secrecy. This isolation can result in a deepening sense of loneliness and disconnection as they prioritize alcohol over human connections. This behavior not only hinders their well-being but also complicates the identification of their addiction. Loved ones should remain vigilant for these signs, as isolation is a significant red flag, and they should offer support and encouragement for the closet alcoholic to seek professional help and rebuild healthier relationships.

Causes and Triggers for Becoming a Closet Drinker

Closet alcoholism often stems from a complex interplay of psychological, environmental, and genetic factors. Individuals may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress or trauma, seeking solace in its numbing effects. Genetic predispositions can amplify vulnerability, as some may possess a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorders. Social influences, such as peer pressure or cultural norms, can also contribute to fostering a secretive relationship with alcohol to conform or escape judgment. The clandestine nature of closet alcoholism often arises from a combination of these factors, creating a hidden struggle that remains concealed from others.

Impacts of Being a Closet Drinker

The clandestine nature of closet alcoholism heightens the risks associated with undiagnosed alcohol abuse. Physical health suffers as the body bears the brunt of prolonged alcohol consumption, leading to liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and a compromised immune system. Undetected alcoholism also takes a toll on mental health, contributing to anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment. Social consequences emerge as relationships fray, and professional lives are disrupted. The lack of intervention increases the likelihood of a downward spiral, emphasizing the urgent need for recognition and treatment to mitigate the potentially devastating long-term consequences of hidden alcohol abuse.

How to Cope With Closet Drinking




Additional strategies and resources include:

  • Professional Counseling: Seeking therapy from a licensed counselor or psychologist offers a confidential space to explore the root causes of closet drinking and develop coping mechanisms.

  • Support Groups: Joining alcohol support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provides a sense of community and understanding for individuals facing similar challenges.

  • Educational Resources: Learning more about alcoholism through books, articles, or reputable online resources can empower individuals with the knowledge to navigate their journey to recovery.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporating mindfulness practices and meditation helps manage stress and cravings, promoting a more balanced and centered mindset.

  • Treatment Programs: Enrolling in outpatient or inpatient treatment programs tailored to alcohol addiction can provide structured support and therapeutic interventions.

  • Regular Health Check-ups: Periodic medical check-ups help monitor the physical impact of alcohol on the body and ensure timely intervention for any emerging health issues.

  • Establishing Healthy Habits: Adopting a healthier lifestyle with regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep supports overall well-being and aids in the recovery process.

  • Building a Sober Network: Surrounding oneself with individuals who prioritize sobriety creates a positive social environment that reinforces healthy choices.

  • Journaling: Keeping a journal helps track emotions, triggers, and progress, providing valuable insights into the recovery journey.

Each of these strategies contributes to a comprehensive approach in coping with and overcoming the challenges of closet drinking.

Treatment Options For Someone Who Is A Closet Drinker

For individuals struggling with closet drinking, various treatment options are available to address both the physical and psychological aspects of alcohol addiction. Professional counseling, such as individual or group therapy, provides a supportive environment to explore underlying issues and develop coping strategies. Outpatient treatment programs offer flexibility, allowing individuals to receive therapy while maintaining their daily routines.

In more severe cases, inpatient or residential treatment provides a structured and immersive approach to recovery, offering 24/7 support and removing the individual from triggering environments. Medication-assisted treatment may be recommended to help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Whichever option is chosen, a personalized treatment plan, often involving a combination of therapies, is essential to address the unique needs of someone struggling with closet drinking. Seeking help is a crucial step towards breaking the cycle of secrecy and embarking on a path to sustained recovery.

Some treatment options for a closet drinker include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Alcohol: CBT focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors related to alcohol use. By addressing underlying issues and providing coping skills, it helps individuals change their relationship with alcohol and manage triggers effectively.

  • Outpatient Counseling: Outpatient counseling offers regular therapy sessions while allowing individuals to continue their daily lives. It provides a flexible approach to address the psychological aspects of closet drinking and develop coping mechanisms.

  • Inpatient/Residential Treatment: Inpatient treatment offers a more immersive and structured environment, removing individuals from triggering situations. It provides 24/7 support, a therapeutic community, and a focus on comprehensive recovery.

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): MAT involves prescribed medications to help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, supporting individuals during the early stages of recovery and increasing the likelihood of long-term success.

  • Support Groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous): Support groups provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences with others who have faced similar challenges fosters a supportive environment crucial for maintaining sobriety.

  • Family Therapy: Involving family members in therapy helps address the impact of closet drinking on relationships. It promotes communication, understanding, and a collective commitment to support the individual in their recovery.

  • Holistic Approaches (e.g., Yoga, Meditation): Holistic therapies contribute to overall well-being by addressing the mind-body connection. Practices like yoga and meditation help manage stress, enhance self-awareness, and provide healthy alternatives to cope with emotions.

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET focuses on enhancing motivation and commitment to change. By exploring personal goals and values, it encourages individuals to build intrinsic motivation for overcoming alcohol use issues.

  • 12-Step Facilitation: This approach, commonly associated with programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, guides individuals through a structured process of acknowledging powerlessness over alcohol and seeking support from a higher power and peers.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness. It helps individuals regulate emotions, manage distress, and improve interpersonal relationships, addressing underlying issues contributing to alcohol use.

These treatment options offer a range of approaches to address the complex nature of closet drinking, catering to individual needs and preferences while providing essential tools for sustained recovery.

When to Seek Professional Help

Recognizing the need for professional support in dealing with alcohol addiction is crucial when an individual experiences persistent cravings, increased tolerance, or impaired functioning due to alcohol use. If attempts to cut down or control drinking have been unsuccessful, seeking help becomes imperative. An online therapist directory or online therapy platform can be a valuable resource for finding a therapist specializing in alcohol addiction, offering convenience and accessibility.

Considering a psychiatrist may be necessary when co-occurring mental health issues contribute to alcohol addiction. A psychiatrist can assess the need for medication to address underlying conditions like depression or anxiety. Online psychiatrist options can be effective for medication management, providing accessibility and flexibility, especially for those who may face barriers to in-person appointments. Ultimately, seeking professional help, whether through therapy or psychiatry, is recommended when the impact of alcohol on one’s life becomes unmanageable or when there are concerns about mental health co-occurring with addiction.

Recognizing a loved one’s hidden struggle with alcohol can be challenging, but there are several signs to be vigilant about. Keep an eye out for secretive drinking habits, such as finding hidden alcohol bottles or witnessing them sneaking drinks when they believe no one is watching. If your loved one becomes defensive or evasive when you inquire about their drinking, that could be a telling sign. Watch for mood swings, unexplained injuries, and frequent absences from work or social commitments that may be attributed to alcohol-related issues. Additionally, a noticeable decline in personal hygiene or a loss of interest in once-beloved activities can signal a problem.2 If you notice these signs, it’s essential to approach your loved one with empathy, express your concern, and encourage them to seek professional help for their hidden struggle with alcohol.

Common signs that someone might be a closet drinker include:

Usually the first response when discovering closet alcohol is anger.  Please, try to process this anger before confronting your loved one.  Approaching them with love and concern is your best option.  Closet drinking is a huge red flag and one of the biggest indications that professional assistance is needed.

Recovering from closet alcoholism involves navigating emotional and psychological challenges, demanding a multifaceted approach. Seeking professional help from therapists or support groups provides a crucial outlet for individuals to share experiences and receive guidance. Developing healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness practices or engaging in fulfilling activities, aids in managing stress without resorting to alcohol. Acknowledging and addressing underlying emotional issues through therapy helps break the cycle of secretive drinking. Establishing a strong support system of friends and family creates a network of understanding and encouragement, fostering a more resilient path towards recovery.

Acknowledging that there is a problem is the crucial first step in coping with closet drinking. This self-awareness opens the door to seeking help and initiating positive changes. It involves recognizing the impact of alcohol on one’s life, health, and relationships, laying the foundation for a commitment to change.

Telling someone you trust is another vital strategy. Sharing the struggle with a close friend, family member, or confidant can alleviate the burden of secrecy. This person can provide emotional support, encouragement, and, if necessary, assist in connecting with professional resources for help.

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