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  • Have you ever hidden your alcohol use from loved ones? While drinking in secret might not seem like a big deal, it’s often a sign of alcoholism (also called alcohol use disorder). This serious disease makes you feel unable to control your drinking habits.

    Why Do People Drink In Secret?

    Most people with alcoholism drink in secret due to either shame or denial.

    Shame

    Like other forms of drug addiction, alcoholism is a highly stigmatized disease. People who struggle with it are often judged as lazy or selfish. That’s why many of them try to hide their tolerances by drinking in secret. 

    For example, they may sneak alcohol before attending a party, dinner, or other social event that includes drinking. They can then drink a socially acceptable amount of alcohol during the event without craving more.

    Denial

    Often, a person with alcoholism will insist their drinking habits are normal. 

    If their loved ones repeatedly argue otherwise, the person may start drinking in secret. Their loved ones may then agree that the person does not have a drinking problem, which makes it easier for the person to stay in denial. Find out how to deal with an alcoholic in denial here.

    How Do People Drink In Secret?

    For some people, drinking in secret simply means drinking when no one else is around. However, some people take steps to secretly drink even when they’re not alone.

    Hidden Flasks

    For instance, they might use hidden flasks. A hidden flask (also called a secret flask) is a flask that resembles another item. Popular examples include sunscreen flasks, binocular flasks, tampon flasks, lotion flasks, and soda can flasks. 

    These items were created to help people smuggle alcohol past security guards and into music festivals, cruise ships, and other alcohol-free areas. A person with alcoholism may use hidden flasks on a regular basis, always having one on hand. 

    Similarly, they might fill water bottles with vodka, as it lacks the dark color and strong smell of other alcoholic beverages. 

    Secret Stashes

    The person may also find sneaky places to hide alcohol at home, such as:

    • in trash cans 
    • in toilet tanks
    • in laundry baskets
    • under or behind furniture
    • in bags, purses, or luggage
    • in bottles of mouthwash, cough syrup, shampoo, or other household items
    • deep in cabinets or closets

    Finally, the person may always have gum, mints, or body spray on hand. These items help mask the smell of alcohol on the person’s breath and clothes. 

    Other Signs Of Hidden Alcoholism

    If you suspect your loved one may be drinking in secret, watch for these other signs of hidden alcoholism:

    Mood Changes

    Many people struggling with alcoholism experience mood swings. In addition, because alcohol is a depressant, they may develop symptoms of depression, such as:

    • sadness
    • irritability
    • anxiety
    • fatigue

    Cognitive Difficulties

    Regular alcohol use can damage parts of your brain and cause cognitive issues, including:

    Financial Difficulties

    If your loved one is suddenly having financial problems or borrowing money all the time, they may be spending too much money on alcohol.

    Unusual Behavior

    When a person spends most of their time drinking, they may neglect responsibilities at work, school, or home. They may also withdraw from family and friends, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and act more secretive and suspicious in general. 

    What To Do If You Think Your Loved One Is Struggling With Alcohol

    If someone you love displays the above signs, talk to them. Don’t judge or shame them. Instead, gently explain that you’re concerned their alcohol use is harming their health. 

    Offer to help them find an alcohol abuse treatment program. This type of program can help your loved one stop using alcohol with minimal withdrawal symptoms and develop coping skills to manage cravings.

    To learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. 

    Our compassionate health care providers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based treatments to help your loved one stay alcohol-free.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2021 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Drinking Levels Defined
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
    United States National Library of Medicine - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on July 22, 2022
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