What is Secret Drinking? - Rehab Guide

What is Secret Drinking?

What is Secret Drinking?

what is secret drinking man drinking in dark

If you think a loved one is secretly drinking, it could mean they are at risk of alcoholism. In this article, you will find out more about the signs and symptoms of secret drinking and what to do about it.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one is developing a damaging relationship with alcohol through secret drinking, help is available.

What is Secret Drinking?

Anything from underexaggerating how much you drink to keeping alcoholic drinks hidden in desk drawers can count as secret drinking. The idea is being secretive about how much or even that you are drinking at all.

Why do People Drink in Secret?


It might seem like anyone who is secretly drinking is hiding alcoholism, but that isn’t necessarily the case. However, it is well worth keeping an eye out for signs of alcoholism if you find a loved one is drinking in secret. If someone seems withdrawn, depressed and drinks constantly despite negative consequences, these are signs they may be struggling with alcoholism.

Social stigma

In some places and social groups, all alcohol is frowned upon or not allowed. This includes many religious and cultural groups as well as families and workplaces. Given the shame involved, even people who occasionally drink socially might keep it secret from people in their social group.

Alcohol-Related Trauma

Growing up with a family member with alcoholism can lead to secret drinking out of learned behaviour. Even if someone is not drinking in a negative or dangerous way they might feel compelled to hide it out of habit, shame or fear.

Treat anyone with a family history of alcoholism with care and kindness to prevent making the problem worse. It is important to be aware, though, that people with an alcoholic parent are statistically more likely to fall into alcoholism themselves.

Abusive Relationships

People in controlling or abusive relationships might hide any drinking from a spouse or partner out of fear. If someone you know mentions hiding even a normal amount of drinking from someone they are in a relationship with, they may be a victim of abuse and controlling behaviour. People in these situations may hide social drinking or visits to places with alcohol and seem afraid of being found out.

The Signs of Secret Drinking

It is important to remember that alcoholism isn’t a choice, but that doesn’t mean that trying to help won’t be frustrating. Sometimes, you feel like you do not want to bother anymore, and the urge to walk away is sometimes strong.

Approaching someone you suspect is secretly drinking will require patience and little expectation. It is unlikely that their response will be positive, as you will threaten what they think they need the most.

Spotting the signs isn’t easy; the main aim of someone secretly drinking is to deceive. So much of the person’s energy will go into thinking about how to hide their alcohol intake, but we can’t permanently hide everything.

Let us look at the common signs of secret drinking.

  • Lying about drinking and how much
  • Making excuses for drinking too much
  • Hiding alcohol in discrete locations
  • Having an unexpectedly high tolerance to alcohol
  • Seeming tired all the time, unwell, irritable or lacking motivation
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or having trouble sleeping

Not all of the signs are included in this list. So, it is vital to think outside the box when looking for patterns and correlations when flagging the signs of secret alcoholism.

How do Alcoholics Hide How Much They Drink?

Those who want to hide how much alcohol they consume will find various ways to hide it. Below are some of the most common methods of concealing our drinking habits.

Masking the smell of alcohol

Someone who regularly hides how much they drink will carry strong mints or chewing gum around with them, as well as mouthwash, which can be a helpful way of masking while also providing a source of alcohol.

Hiding how much they drink

Hiding the amount of alcohol might sound obvious, but how we can conceal alcohol is not so obvious. Let’s take vodka, for example, it is clear and is easily replaced with water, or you may start buying boxes of wine instead of bottles. It is not uncommon for secret drinkers to hide alcohol in a shampoo bottle or a water bottle, or the classic flask. Whatever doesn’t raise suspicion.

Stashing bottles around the house

Stashing bottles around the house may sound similar to hiding alcohol in shampoo bottles or a flask, but it is different. An alcohol stash increases the chances of taking a secret drink in passing by hiding bottles at the back of cupboards, behind the couch or even in the car. If you happen to find alcohol in an unusual place, then you could be living with someone who has an alcohol addiction.


Another sign, which may be subtle depending on who it is, is not wanting to get close. For example, if someone is suddenly acting distant, it could be that they don’t want you to smell the alcohol on their breath.

man hiding alcohol bottle

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism

Spotting the signs and symptoms of alcoholism in yourself or another can be vital to gaining access to life-saving treatment. Still, it isn’t always straightforward, especially to the untrained eye. The difference between drinking too much and full-blown alcoholism is significant. So, it is essential to be able to differentiate between the two.

The Physiological Signs of Alcoholism

  • Frequent intoxication and lack of control around the consumption of alcohol
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • They are taking more risks whilst intoxicated. As the need for alcohol increases, they may start drinking and driving at work or while caretaking a minor or drinking under the influence in general.
  • Progressively drinking more alcohol or more potent alcohol as tolerance to alcohol develops.
  • They suffer from adverse health effects due to their alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious physiological health problems.
  • They develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they are not consuming alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal occurs when the body and brain are starved of alcohol as an alcohol dependence has occurred. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening and can vary from anxiety and insomnia to more severe symptoms like delirium tremens, hallucinations and seizures.

What can I do About Secret Drinking?

Talking about secret drinking can be difficult. Telling someone you love that you know they are drinking in secret might cause denial to emerge, whatever the cause.

Here are some tips for talking to someone about hidden drinking:

  • Don’t assume you know why they are hiding their drinking. There can be many reasons for hiding drinking, but not all of them are alcoholism.
  • Never pass judgement or put blame on someone for secret drinking. Fear of judgement and anger are some of the main reasons people hide their drinking.
  • Speak to a professional if you suspect alcoholism is the cause. Our advisors are available to chat, or you can call us to speak in person.

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