Closet Alcoholic | What Is A Closet Alcoholic?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Someone who is hiding their alcohol abuse may be considered a closet alcoholic. A number of other factors may indicate a need for a substance abuse treatment program.

What Is A Closet Alcoholic?

When the idea of an alcoholic comes to mind, the assumption may be a person that can’t hold a job, possibly divorced, and drinks all day. Or, someone who has lost everything due to alcoholism. However, not all alcoholics are the same.

People with an alcohol use disorder are everyday people, and their symptoms of alcoholism aren’t all the same.

Someone trying to hide their alcohol addiction is often referred to as a closet alcoholic or closet drinker. These individuals will go to great lengths to cover up alcohol consumption. They often engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking to hide their alcohol consumption.

Many high-functioning alcoholics will exhibit this type of behavior. High-functioning alcoholics typically do not meet the stereotype of an alcoholic, and appear to have their lives together. They may be well-educated, excel at their jobs, and have decent relationships. But functional alcoholics are struggling with alcohol addiction.

Whether the person is hiding their drinking because they are ashamed or because they don’t want to admit they have a problem, closet alcoholics try very hard to find ways to keep their addiction a secret.

Common Behaviors Of Closet Drinking

There are a few things people may do when trying to hide their alcohol consumption. If you or a loved one engage in some of the following behaviors, it may be a cause for concern.

Examples of closet drinking behaviors are:

  • hiding empty bottles or cans either in the house, vehicle, or under things in the garbage can so others do not know how much alcohol has been consumed
  • drinking vodka instead of other alcoholic beverages because it is harder to detect due to lack of odor and it is also clear in color. Individuals might put vodka in their coffee, soda, or water bottles to conceal their consumption
  • disguising alcohol in containers that don’t resemble what they actually are, such as secret flasks, empty juice or sports drink containers, or similar containers
  • hiding bottles of alcohol in strange places like a work desk, the bathroom, in your car, closet, or any place other than where people would normally store alcohol for fear it might be taken or discovered
  • lying to friends, family members, or health care providers about drinking or how much they have had to drink
  • using mouthwash, frequently brushing their teeth, chewing gum, or consuming things to mask the alcohol on their breath
  • disappearing for long periods of time when hanging out with friends, family, or coworkers to go drink alcohol
  • drinking alone in their vehicle away from others for fear of someone seeing them
  • denying their drinking when confronted about it or even becoming agitated when confronted
  • being anxious or irritable about things that are not a big deal
  • hiding legal problems relating to alcohol, such as a DUI charge
  • not returning phone calls or text messages to family or friends due to alcohol consumption
  • lying about being sick instead of admitting a hangover
  • leaving work or functions outside of home early to go drink
  • getting to work late because they needed a drink beforehand
  • taking multiple bathroom breaks to sneak a drink

If you or a loved one display any of these drinking-related behaviors, it could mean you are suffering from alcohol addiction. It is not always easy to see or admit there is a problem.

Ohio Recovery Center


Plymouth, Massachusetts

Understanding these behaviors and recognizing them could help someone struggling with alcoholism get the addiction treatment services they need.

Warning Signs Of A Closet Alcoholic

When a person suspected of being a closet alcoholic exhibits some strange behaviors that don’t seem to have a cause or reason, it could indicate that the person is struggling to manage an alcohol use disorder that is spiraling out of control.

Observing a loved one who is simply not behaving as they normally do, acting more secretive, becoming agitated when drinking, being impulsive or having mood swings, these could all be signs that they are drinking more than they want anyone to know.

Additionally, if your loved one doesn’t seem to recall conversations with you or loses a period of time, they could be blacking out due to their excessive or consistent alcohol consumption over the course of a day.

Experiencing blackouts, especially when hiding your drinking from those around you, could indicate a closet drinking problem.

Becoming defensive when being questioned about any of the signs listed above is a good indication that there may be a problem with closet drinking or an alcohol addiction. Setting arbitrary rules about drinking or excuses that make their behaviors acceptable are also signs of a closet alcoholic.

Individuals who are struggling with a closet drinking problem are very much concerned with keeping up appearances, and maintaining that they have their drinking “under control” to anyone who asks.

They believe they are doing a good job of hiding their drinking. But hiding a progressive disease like addiction is harder than people think.

Defining Alcoholism

When a person is unable to control how much alcohol they are drinking, even when it is causing severe issues in their life, it is likely that they are struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The term alcohol use disorder (AUD) is now used as a replacement term for alcoholism.

Some of these problems that a person with AUD might experience include health complications, relationship or home issues, getting in trouble with the law, or negative consequences at work.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

When a person is concerned that they or a loved one may be struggling with alcohol addiction, understanding the signs and symptoms can be a helpful tool.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines some specific criteria for an AUD. If you or a loved one meets two or three of these criteria, a mild AUD may be diagnosed, four or five would be considered a moderate AUD, and six or more indicates a severe AUD.

The symptoms of an AUD include:

  • drinking longer or more than intended
  • being unable to slow or stop drinking, even when it is desired
  • excess time is spent drinking or recovering from drinking
  • craving alcohol, a compulsion to drink
  • work, school, or home obligations are negatively affected by drinking
  • continuing to drink, in spite of the negative effects of alcohol
  • hobbies or important activities cease due to alcohol
  • drinking repeatedly in dangerous situations
  • drinking does not stop even though health and mental wellness are affected by drinking alcohol
  • tolerance
  • withdrawal symptoms

Treatment Options For Alcoholism

Hiding alcohol use is an indication of problematic drinking habits and potential alcohol addiction. It can be helpful to research treatment facilities that include detox, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and an aftercare program that includes outpatient services.

Reach out to an alcohol addiction specialist to seek help in finding a treatment program for you or your loved one. This step can be the one that starts the journey into sobriety. Contact us today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

  • Was this Helpful?
  • YesNo
Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Canton, Massachusetts

Bedrock Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile
Spring Hill Recovery Center


Addiction Resource Logo