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Closet Alcoholics: Signs to Look For

Closet Alcoholics

It can be heartbreaking to have someone in your life who’s keeping secrets about drinking. Maybe their breath smells like alcohol, but they deny they’ve been at the bar. Maybe they’re spending more and more time out of the house, or locked away in their own separate room. Maybe they’re waking up hungover, but trying to hide it.

If you’re experiencing this, know you’re not alone—and it’s not your fault. By learning more about closet drinking, you can be better equipped to handle your loved one’s behavior and even help them to get help.

What is a Closet Alcoholic?

A closet alcoholic is a person who suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD) but manages to keep their alcohol habits hidden from friends, family, and colleagues. Often, a closet alcoholic maintains a normal facade, performing daily activities and responsibilities without apparent issues, making their struggle with alcohol less visible to those around them. They may seem “high-functioning” which may be their excuse for drinking.

The Disease of Alcohol Addiction

Signs of Alcohol Dependency

Signs of alcohol dependency can manifest in various ways, affecting an individual’s physical health, emotional wellbeing, and social life. Here are some common signs:

  1. Craving Alcohol: A strong, often irresistible urge to drink.

  2. Binge Drinking or Loss of Control: Inability to stop drinking once it has started.

  3. Withdrawal Symptoms: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shaking, and anxiety when not drinking.

  4. Tolerance: Needing to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.

  5. Neglecting Responsibilities: Failing to fulfill work, school, or family obligations because of drinking.

  6. Continued Use Despite Problems: Continuing to drink even when it causes physical, social, or interpersonal problems.

  7. Giving Up Activities: Abandoning hobbies, sports, or social gatherings in favor of drinking.

  8. Spending a Lot of Time Drinking or Recovering: Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from alcohol’s effects.

  9. Using Alcohol in Unsafe Situations: Drinking in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so, such as driving.

  10. Desire to Quit But Unable: Wanting to stop drinking but being unable to do so.

Recognizing these signs in yourself or someone else can be the first step toward seeking help for alcohol dependency.

Signs of Closet Alcoholism

Identifying a closet alcoholic can be challenging due to their secrecy and ability to maintain a semblance of normalcy. They may not exhibit the same signs listed above that other alcoholics do. Signs of a closet alcoholic may include:

  • Unexplained Absences: Missing events or being frequently late without a plausible explanation.

  • Isolation: Preferring to spend time alone, which may be used to drink in secrecy.

  • Defensiveness about Alcohol Use: Quick to dismiss or hide their drinking habits when questioned.

  • Physical Symptoms: Showing signs of withdrawal or excessive drinking, such as tremors, chronic fatigue, or unexplained injuries.

  • Secretive Behavior: Finding hidden stashes of alcohol or noticing they drink alone.

What Should You Do if You Suspect Your Loved One Is a Closet Alcoholic?

If you suspect your loved one is struggling with hidden alcoholism, approach them with empathy and concern, avoiding judgment or confrontation. Encourage them to talk about their challenges and offer your support in the recovery process by seeking professional help. Treatment options can include therapy, medication, support groups, and lifestyle changes, all aimed at helping individuals regain control over their alcohol use.

How do I know I’m a Functioning Alcoholic?

If you’re able to fulfill your responsibilities at work, home, or school despite regular alcohol intake, but find yourself unable to control or reduce your drinking, you might be a high functioning alcoholic. Continuing a pattern of heavy drinking despite its negative effects is a key indicator of alcohol abuse.

Understanding Alcoholism

Risk Factors for a Functioning Alcoholic

Being a functioning alcoholic means you’re able to maintain your job, relationships, and other responsibilities while still having a serious alcohol addiction. This situation is harmful for several reasons:

  1. Health Risks: Chronic alcohol consumption, even if you’re functioning in daily life, can lead to severe health issues, including liver disease, heart problems, neurological damage, and increased risk of certain cancers. These conditions can develop silently and become serious before you recognize the need for intervention.

  2. Mental Health: Alcoholism is strongly linked to mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. It can exacerbate existing mental health issues or contribute to the development of new ones.

  3. Relationship Strain: Even if a functioning alcoholic maintains outward appearances, their relationships can suffer. Trust issues, emotional detachment, and neglecting family or social obligations can strain or even sever important personal connections.

  4. Work Performance: Over time, alcohol dependency can impact work performance. Even high functioning individuals may start to show decreased productivity, missed deadlines, and increased absences, risking their careers and financial stability.

  5. Risky Behavior: Alcohol impairs judgment and increases the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior, including driving under the influence, which can lead to accidents, legal issues, and harm to oneself or others.

  6. Dependency and Denial: Functioning alcoholics may be in denial about their addiction because they manage to keep their life together, delaying the pursuit of help until the addiction worsens.

  7. Quality of Life: Chronic alcoholism can diminish overall quality of life, leading to a cycle of dependency where alcohol becomes a primary coping mechanism, preventing individuals from finding healthy stress relief methods and enjoying life fully.

Recognizing the dangers of being a functioning alcoholic is crucial, and seeking help early can prevent the long-term consequences of alcoholism.

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

Recognizing an alcohol problem and the need for help is the first step towards recovery. At SCRC, we offer excellent outpatient care for men seeking help with alcoholism. Outpatient rehab allows clients to continue working or attending school while receiving treatment, which can make all the difference for someone who’s unwilling or unable to take time off.

By understanding the signs of a closet alcoholic and recognizing the serious nature of alcoholism, even in high functioning alcoholics, SCRC aims to provide support, education, and resources for families affected by alcohol use disorders. We offer outpatient addiction treatment for men who are ready to start a new chapter.

Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward recovery, and professional help can guide you through the process of regaining control over alcohol consumption. Reach out to our admissions team today to learn more about how we can help your loved one make lasting change.

Southern California Recovery Centers

Southern California’s Premier Outpatient Addiction Recovery Center


Yes, many closet alcoholics are high functioning, meaning they can maintain their job, relationships, and social obligations while secretly struggling with mental illness and alcohol addiction.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and fifteen or more for men. It’s a key indicator of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol abuse can be identified by a pattern of alcohol use that leads to significant impairment or distress. This includes failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home due to drinking and continued use despite having persistent social or interpersonal problems caused by alcohol.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical term used to describe the condition often referred to as alcoholism. It includes a range of behaviors from mild to severe addiction and is diagnosed based on specific criteria, such as an inability to limit drinking and spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.

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