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Are You a Closet Alcoholic?

Have you ever considered the possibility that you may be struggling with alcoholism even when you don't want to? If you have answered yes, or even if you have ever made that question to yourself and it has caused discomfort, perhaps it could be a hint you should not ignore. It is with this unsettling question that we typically begin the journey toward comprehending our connection with alcohol. Some people say they'll admit to overindulging occasionally, thinking it's normal social behavior. For some, realizing that their relationship with alcohol might be more complicated and even bordering on dependency is a wake-up call.

8 Minute Read | Published Aug 09 2023 | Updated May 09 2024 Expert Verified
Dameisha Gibson
Reviewed by
Dameisha Gibson
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Are You a Closet Alcoholic?

When there is no one else around, and the bottle is close by, making you want to drink it, the whispers of worry may get stronger. It's hard to tell the difference between a drink as a social aid and a way to deal with stress, and the usual comfort of a drink can become a crutch. When you're alone with your thoughts, you might have to face the uncomfortable truth: drinking, which used to be a quick escape, has slowly become a part of your daily life. However, realizing this is not a sign of failure; it is the bravest first step toward taking back control and asking for help.

What Exactly Means Being a Closet Alcoholic?

A "closet alcoholic" is someone who has an alcohol use disorder while maintaining a normal appearance in their social and professional networks. Those who freely admit they have a problem and go to therapy are less likely to go to considerable lengths to hide how much alcohol they drink. A closet addict may utilize a variety of strategies, including hiding their drinking or exaggerating their use.

Embarrassment, the desire to keep up appearances or relationships, fear of judgment or consequences, and other forms of shame can contribute to the hidden suffering that many individuals experience. Even though those who are addicted may attempt to disguise it, as their dependency grows covertly, they frequently experience severe internal conflicts and growing repercussions. For those who are battling covert alcoholism, being honest and asking for assistance is perhaps the most important first step on the road to recovery.

What Are the Signs You Might Be Overlooking?

It takes a delicate hand, plenty of observation, and empathy to spot the warning signs of alcoholism. A person's emotional cues and small changes in behavior are two of the many signs that can shed light on their alcohol relationship. One of these signs is secretive behavior, which is characterized by a tendency to conceal or decrease alcohol usage. This can be accomplished through either drinking alone, sneaking drinks, or concealing bottles. Although alcohol dependence is growing stronger, this covert method reveals a conscious effort to avoid being scrutinized and to keep up the appearance of everything being normal.

Having a higher tolerance is also a clear sign of alcohol abuse. A telltale marker of physiological adaptation to regular drinking is when individuals realize that they need ever larger amounts of alcohol to obtain the desired benefits. In addition, when drinking interferes with daily tasks, it becomes obvious that responsibilities are being neglected. This can lead to poor performance at work or strained relationships with loved ones. Although these changes may not be immediately apparent, they help to expose the complex network of denial that surrounds alcoholism and highlight the critical need for assistance and intervention in the early stages.

Common Signs of Being a Closet Alcoholic

1. Secretive Behavior

2. Increased Tolerance

3. Neglecting Responsibilities

4. Physical Symptoms

5. Changes in Mood or Behavior

6. Relationship Strain

7. Legal Issues

8. Attempts to Control or Cut Back

9. Isolation

10. Defensive Behavior

11. Increased Alcohol Consumption

12. Ritualistic Drinking

13. Financial Problems

14. Health Issues

15. Preoccupation with Alcohol

Are There Hidden Physical Signs of Alcoholism?

Some physical indicators of alcoholism can be subtle at first but yet point to underlying health problems associated with alcohol abuse. When drinking alcohol continuously, for instance, liver damage can develop gradually over time and result in diseases including cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and fatty liver; when bilirubin builds up in the body, a condition known as jaundice occurs. This condition causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow, which is an indication of serious liver disease.

In addition to this, drinking alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to pancreatitis, ulcers, or gastritis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, and changes in bowel habits are indicators of underlying gastrointestinal diseases, even when these might not be directly related to the consumption of alcohol.

Chronic alcoholism can cause memory impairment, cognitive decline, peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage. Some of these symptoms may start out mild and worsen over time and may even be ignored or unrecognized as being related to alcohol. Remember that alcohol abuse can also directly increase blood pressure, generate arrhythmias, and increase the risk of heart disease in general.

What Are Some Common Reasons for Being a Closet Alcoholic?

A person's particular circumstances and emotional environment can be the source of any number of interrelated reasons that lead to becoming a closet alcoholic. Many times, shame and stigma are quite real, and people who struggle with alcoholism are afraid. People who absorb the negative ideas about addiction as a moral failing or weakness may feel ashamed of their problems and afraid of criticism from others. Many people hide their drinking out of fear of being shunned by society or facing consequences at work.

Also, people who are secret drinkers often struggle with denial and self-deception, making up long stories to explain or downplay their drinking. They may still believe that they can control how much alcohol they drink or that their drinking isn't as bad as other people think it is, even though there is more and more evidence of the opposite. This inner turmoil can lead to cognitive dissonance, which in turn can cause people to hide their alcoholism—even from themselves—and so on.

In addition, those who struggle with alcoholism but are able to keep a low profile may feel immense pressure to keep up appearances, which might lead them to conceal their problems. The need to look competent and in charge can be stronger than the need to face one's alcoholism openly. This is true whether the person wants to keep their job, keep the peace in their family, or avoid disappointing loved ones. With all of these complicated internal and external factors at play, closet alcoholics often get stuck in a loop of secrecy and isolation, finding it hard to balance their inner turmoil with what other people expect of them.

How to Face the Fact That You Might Be a Closet Alcoholic?

It takes an incredible amount of courage to face your own reality and be vulnerable enough to admit that you're a closet drinker. Recognizing your behaviors of avoidance and denial that may have kept you from facing the truth of your alcoholism is the first step.

As soon as you have worked up the courage to confront your alcoholism head-on, it is imperative that you seek assistance. It may be beneficial to locate a network of support to validate the challenges you are facing, encourage you, and offer advice that may be put into practice on your path to recovery. Talk about your feelings with close family or friends, go see a doctor, or join a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Commit to yourself and be compassionate about your process. Part of this process is realizing how hard your road is and being able to celebrate your successes and forgive yourself when you mess up. By putting yourself first, making limits, and learning healthy ways to deal with stress, you can heal, regain control of your life, and walk into a future of sobriety, resilience, and happiness.

When Is It Too Late to Get Help?

Getting sober is a choice that anyone can make at any time. However, it is necessary to understand and assume that healing is a journey, not a destination. Regardless of how long you have been struggling with alcoholism or hiding and concealing your alcoholism, there will always be a multitude of resources and programs available that can help you. There are various treatment options, including holistic approaches, therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and various types of support groups. 

This is just a friendly reminder that you can always begin your journey towards recovery and personal wellness anytime. Bear in mind that this process involves more than just beating alcoholism; it's about taking back control of your life, including your happiness and health.


bullet Alcoholism in Perspective (Book)
"Alcoholism in Perspective. Chapter 3 “Drinking Behaviour”"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024
bullet National Library of Medicine
"Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024
bullet Medscape
"Alcoholism Clinical Presentation"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024
bullet Mayo Clinic
"Alcohol use disorder"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024
bullet NIAAA
"Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024
bullet CDC
"Check Your Drinking. Make a Plan to Drink Less"
Retrieved on May 09, 2024

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