Alcohol use disorders are incredibly common in the US—with over 14 million adults affected—and can manifest in very differently on the basis of lifestyle, personality or other factors. Some people prefer to play it off as a joke or a general love of partying. Others are deeply afraid of ridicule or judgment and try to hide signs of excess use, such as by minimizing their use and physically hiding alcohol from their loved ones.
Is Hiding Alcohol Common?
When someone is drinking too much, it’s usually fairly easy to tell. Heavy drinkers with a high tolerance go through a lot of alcohol, sometimes as much as a whole case of beer, multiple bottles of wine, or fifth of hard liquor a day. Consumption at these levels will generally stand out, especially when drinkers choose to consume at unusual times of day or during events that aren’t normally accompanied by alcohol.
Hiding alcohol makes it easier to avoid intrusive or accusatory questions about drinking habits and amounts consumed. If an individual with a use disorder who drinks a fifth a day has a few drinks in public but significantly more in private, consumption will appear normal on the surface rather than raising red flags.
It’s important to note that hiding alcohol isn’t always a sign of alcoholism. Some people who drink socially and responsibly may hide alcohol if they have judgmental friends or family members who believe drinking is immoral or a sin, even in small quantities. However, in most cases, this is a temporary choice to minimize normal habits rather than a permanent choice to alter the appearance of excessive consumption.
Why Alcoholics Might Hide Alcohol
While many individuals with an alcohol use disorder are in denial about the depths of their challenges, that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the potential problems with revealing drinking habits. Some of the common reasons alcoholics might be hiding alcohol from loved ones include:
- Shame in propagating unhealthy habits around those who don’t share the same affinity for drinking
- Disinterest in discussing drinking habits, particularly with friends or family members who have expressed shock or concern in the past
- Ensuring easy access to alcohol to manage withdrawal symptoms when drinking publicly isn’t acceptable
- Masking the true amount of alcohol consumed
- A way to secretly add alcohol to other drinks without being detected
Reasons for hiding alcohol may vary from one person to another, but the bottom line remains: in most cases, ongoing efforts to hide alcohol use may be a sign of a much bigger problem.
Common Hiding Places for Alcohol
For those who are regular drinkers, hiding alcohol can be a strategic practice. Alcohol needs to be easily accessible to drink in secret or add to other drinks while also unlikely to be discovered. These are some of the most popular places for problem drinkers to store their alcohol to avoid detection:
In Other Drink Containers
Carrying around a bottle of alcohol in public, like at the grocery store, is generally frowned upon. However, carrying a water bottle or a more innocuous drink, like a soda, is not. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for those with an alcohol use disorder to hide alcohol in other drink containers, either in a straight or mixed format. This gives drinkers a simple way to access alcohol whenever a fix is needed without raising suspicion.
In Dresser Drawers
Dresser drawers are a convenient place to hide alcohol in a way that’s both hard to detect and easy to access. Most drawers have plenty of room for small bottles, which can be stashed between folded items, in socks or in back corners. There’s nothing weird or suspicious about looking in dresser drawers; changing or folding clothes is an innocent behavior, even among those who show signs of a drinking problem. Typical bedroom behavior, like reading or watching TV, puts alcohol consistently within reach, too.
In the Car
Many people spend a lot of time in their cars on a daily basis, whether commuting to work, running errands or taking their kids to school or daycare. For this reason, problem drinkers who can’t make it through the day without a drink often keep alcohol stashed in trunks or glove compartments. Running to the parking lot for a sip at lunch is much easier and safer than keeping alcohol in a desk to sneak at work, so it’s not uncommon for alcoholics to have hidden access to drinks in a vehicle.
In the Bathroom
Going to the bathroom is a normal part of daily life for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. There’s nothing weird or unusual about semi-regular bathroom trips, making the bathroom a perfect place to keep alcohol. Some drinkers may hide full bottles of alcohol under the sink or in the medicine cabinet, while others will disguise their alcohol as mouthwash to be less conspicuous.
In Bags and Purses
Many people carry purses, backpacks or briefcases everywhere they go on a regular basis. When a drink is needed around the clock, there are few better places to hide alcohol. Liquor concealed in a purse or bag can be accessed and consumed quickly without much disruption. This allows alcoholics to get a fix whenever they need one. For this reason, many alcoholics are very possessive over purses and backpacks, for fear of being discovered.
What to Do When Stumbling Upon a Stash of Alcohol
There is a good chance that those who live with a problem drinker will stumble upon a hidden stash of alcohol sooner or later. Mundane tasks like cleaning the bathroom or putting away laundry often reveal the problem.
It’s important to stay calm and collected after discovering a stash. Pointing fingers, yelling, getting mad or making accusations can cause an alcoholic to shut down rather than open up. Instead, try to ask questions without judgment and express concern about their drinking habits in a way that’s honest but not angry. Offer to talk through things and discuss next steps, and encourage them to dispose of the stashed alcohol.
Some users may react to any attempt at conversation as if it were a confrontation, while others may be willing to entertain that they have a problem and need help. When it is time to seek help, FHE Health is here to provide any advice or support that you or a loved one might need.