7 Warning Signs of a Closet Alcoholic

Is someone you love a closet alcoholic? Here are the warning signs.

For many people who are addicted to alcohol, the alcohol abuse leads to serious problems with relationships, finances, physical and mental health, and the law. But not every alcoholic’s life is falling apart around them as a result of their drinking. Some are able to maintain their job and take care of their personal business despite heavy drinking. Experts call these individuals “high-functioning” alcoholics. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 20 percent of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated. Many high-functioning alcoholics are also a closet alcoholic, which means they’re good at hiding their alcoholism from others. 

If you’re wondering if you or someone you love is a closet alcoholic, read on for seven signs to watch out for.

1. Heavy drinking.

A closet alcoholic will be a heavy drinker, which is defined as a woman who drinks more than three drinks per day or seven drinks per week or a man who drinks more than four drinks per day or 14 drinks per week. Heavy drinking is a sign that you might be an alcoholic, and hiding the extent of your drinking may indicate you’re a closet alcoholic.

2. Denial.

Alcohol addiction is the result of changes in brain function and structure that affect thought and behavior patterns. Many people who are addicted are in denial that there’s a problem. A closet alcoholic will likely make excuses such as, “I only drink high quality alcohol,” or “My drinking doesn’t affect my job performance,” or “I only drink after 5pm,” believing that these things mean that there’s not a problem. However, the National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stresses that no one can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities for the long-term. Addiction is a progressive disease, and at some point, the alcoholism will catch up and begin causing problems.

3. Hiding alcohol from spouse and others.

Hiding alcohol from spouse, children, or others is one of the most important closet alcoholic signs. A closet alcoholic often has liquor hidden in various places: in the house, in the car, at work. He’ll step into the bathroom, where a bottle is hidden under the sink, or he’ll have a bottle hidden in his drawer at work and take nips here and there throughout the day.

4. Anger and denial when confronted.

When you confront a closet alcoholic, he or she will typically deny the problem and will likely become angry, hostile, or extremely defensive. Closet alcoholics may turn the tables and try to make you feel like you’re the one with the problem.

5. Lack of hangovers.

Drinking heavily for a long time can cause dependence on alcohol, which results when brain function changes to compensate for the presence of alcohol. At some point, brain function may shift so that it now operates more comfortably when alcohol is present. When this occurs, an individual won’t experience hangovers. But she’ll begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within eight hours after the last drink, which means she’s probably drinking throughout the day. Even if dependence hasn’t yet occurred, a closet alcoholic will likely become irritable, nervous, depressed, or otherwise uncomfortable if she doesn’t drink for a couple of days.

6. Blacking out.

A heavy drinker tends to have blackouts, which occurs when they don’t remember what happened while they were drinking. Even if your loved one doesn’t appear to drink all that much, but frequently can’t remember what happened, there’s a chance he’s hiding his drinking and actually drinks much more than you think.

7. Changing behaviors.

Heavy alcohol abuse affects thought and behavior patterns. Someone who drinks heavily will probably experience mood swings. She may become aggressive under the influence, engage in high-risk behaviors like driving under the influence, or make impulsive decisions.

Alcohol Addiction is a Progressive Disease

At some point, a closet alcoholic will begin to experience problems associated with the drinking, which will affect his relationships, his job performance, and his ability to perform duties at home. Even a high functioning alcoholic can’t sustain an alcohol addiction for the long-term without it affecting his life in negative ways. Alcohol addiction is a serious health problem that requires medical attention to overcome.

If someone you love shows closet alcoholic signs, talking to them about what you’re seeing can help them come out of denial. Talk to your loved one when she appears to be sober. Don’t accuse or blame, but rather matter-of-factly lay out the evidence you’re seeing and ask your loved one to consider getting help. If she refuses, or remains in denial, an intervention may help her come to terms with her addiction and get the help she needs.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.