Hidden signs of a drinking problem: 8 indicators of alcohol disorders

Are you aware of the little things in the course of everyday life that signal an alcohol disorder? Learn what to look for in this guest article from Addiction Treatment Manager, Billy Henderson.

minute read
By Billy Henderson

Alcoholism and Deception

Alcohol addiction is one of those rare diseases which convinces those suffering they don’t want to get help. Someone who is battling addiction learns how to hide their struggle. In fact, they often become adept at deception. Hiding a relationship with alcohol allows a person to continue drinking, often to ease emotional pain that has been caused by deep hurt in the past. So, how can you know when a loved one is hiding a drinking problem?

Billy Henderson, Addiction Treatment Manager at The Priory Hospital Glasgow, discusses why it’s so important to be aware of the little things that can go unnoticed in the course of everyday life.

Why Alcohol Breeds Secrecy

Alcoholism is a disease which inspires secrecy and loneliness. The people around a problem drinker may not notice the signs of a problem. Often, the problem drinker may not know that they suffer from it. In fact, patterns of problem drinking are confusing. People often don’t know the limits of moderate drinking vs. problem drinking. However, there is an added characteristic of alcoholism that makes identification even more difficult:

Alcoholism is a physical and mental disease that often communicates
to the individual that they don’t have it; this is called denial.

Without intervention, a drinker can go on for a long time, either rationalising their behaviour or not noticing it, without reaching what you might call a ‘rock bottom moment’. The longer someone drinks at dangerous levels, the higher the likelihood of complications and illness in the future.

Could You Spot a Drinking Problem in Your Own Home?

Denial is frequently present with any alcoholic. A person with a drinking problem will often rationalise the amount they drink, convincing themselves it’s a regular amount. This type of deception, however, contrasts with the deeper deception they employ to hide how much they’re drinking from family members, friends, and work colleagues. Often, someone who is drinking too much may rationalise their behaviour by saying they don’t want to have their loved ones worrying unnecessarily about them. There’s also self-preservation involved: for example, a problem drinker will want to protect their career by hiding problem drinking from their employer.

However, the lies and half-truths contribute to an additional kind of pressure. When someone drinks in an unhealthy pattern, continuing the deception leads to more extreme measures to hide drinking from the people they know and love. This can involve clever, sneaky ways to access alcohol:

  • travelling further afield to buy alcohol where recognition is less likely
  • selecting favoured hiding places for alcohol around the house or office
  • using a hip flask
  • hiding alcohol in soft drinks containers
  • mixing spirits or hard liquor heavily into soft drinks

…each of these methods may be employed to hide the true level of their alcohol consumption. However, time wears a person down. Over time, someone who is hiding a drinking problem will fail to cover their tracks and the drinking is revealed.

How to Identify Hidden Signs of Alcoholism

Alcohol can adversely affect anyone. Alcoholism will manifest in different ways for different people. Knowing what questions to ask of yourself and being honest with yourself is important. To understand how you cope with stress, how alcohol reacts with your mind and body, are all parts of understanding addiction.

There are a range of signs which could indicate someone has a drinking problem. Eight (8) key indicators of an alcohol problem include:

1. Lying about or covering up how much drinking is going on.
2. Drinking heavily while alone.
3. Passing out from drinking too much.
4. Missing special occasions as a result of drinking.
5. Drinking alcohol first thing in the morning.
6. Experiencing cravings for a drink that affect mood or concentration levels.
7. ‘Self-medicating’ with drink because of pre-existing problems
8. Negative effects to life at home, work or social relationships.

Problem Drinking in the U.K.

Does the UK have an alcohol problem? The NHS estimates that 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK are dependent on alcohol – however, most don’t seek help. With alcohol identified as a factor in more than 60 serious medical conditions, including heart disease and liver disease, various cancers and mental health problems (Public Health England), it’s vital to be aware of the signs and to be prepared to act on them. Alcohol also tends to exacerbate mental health problems.

Many people suffering with depression and anxiety try to self-medicate
with drinking and, ultimately, only make the problem worse.

You are more likely to read about the problems surrounding binge drinking, particularly among students or younger people, in the media. While binge drinking is an issue, this focus can allow other problems to slide by unnoticed. The Office of National Statistics reported that while drinking in many age categories had reduced, those aged 55-64 were now the most likely to be drinking at ‘higher or increasing risk levels’.

Retirees who drink persistently and frequently putting themselves at the most risk. Problems such as boredom in retirement, or ‘empty nest syndrome’ where children leave home and move on with their lives, can lead to older people filling their time with drinking alcohol. It’s important to know your own personality reacts and copes with emotional issues, and avoid self-medicating.

With this in mind, Priory Group has developed an interactive campaign www.priorygroup.com/the-addiction. By taking people through a narrative journey and allowing them to see how easily overlooked the signs of alcohol addiction are, they will increase their own awareness, pass it on, or even notice they have a loved one who is actually struggling with addiction. Would you be able to spot the hidden signs of alcoholism? After taking a look at the narrative, we hope you get a better feel for what to look for.

What next?

If you do recognise these signs in a loved one, Priory offers a free addiction assessment which can help them work toward the best possible solution.

Questions About Hidden Alcohol Problems?

Please leave us your questions in the comments section at the end. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

About the author
Priory is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK including mental healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and older people’s care. As the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, Priory provides professional, specialist treatment programmes for a wide range of addictive substances and behaviours.
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