Written by: Nicki Hari
Last Updated: January 30th, 2023
Spotting the signs of alcoholism in someone you love can be tough, especially when it comes to secret drinking.
At the height of its popularity, Friends was the most watched show on TV with armies of devoted fans making topics like Jennifer Aniston’s hair and supposed rifts between cast members national news. Yet, despite this obsession with every detail of the programme and its six famous stars, the vast majority of the 52 million viewers failed to spot that actor Matthew Perry was secretly struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
In fact, it wasn’t until the recent release of Perry’s autobiography Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing detailing the decades he spent in the grips of addiction that most people had any notion of the extent of his struggles.
So how is it possible that tens of millions of avid fans had no idea what was happening in front of their very eyes?
How alcoholism hides in plain sight
Alcoholism is an insidious condition which is a master of disguise and deception. It often hides in plain sight making it difficult for loved ones to know what is happening.
In fact, there are a huge number of people around the world who are addicted to alcohol who you may work with, sit next to in school or even live in the same home as you without you ever guessing. These people are the ultimate “functioning alcoholics”, seemingly able to perform all their daily responsibilities and, in the cases of people like Perry, do so very successfully. And yet, underneath, the destruction of alcohol addiction is likely still being wrought.
One of our former clients, Richard, explains how he was able to have a successful career despite his alcohol addiction because he was able to deceive both himself and others:
“I am a book publisher and my work enabled me to drink, as alcohol is socially accepted, which made it worse. I didn’t consider it alcoholism because I had a job but my problem was right in front of me in a San Pellegrino bottle full of wine. I was often drunk in meetings so I was definitely a functioning alcoholic but I was being paid so I felt like I didn’t need help.”
So how can loved ones, and alcohol addiction sufferers themselves, start to see past the lies and deceit of the condition? How do you know if someone is drinking in secret?
The hidden signs of alcoholism
Being able to recognise the subtle and often overlooked signs of alcoholism is crucial for seeking the necessary help. We are not talking about being visibly drunk all the time, smelling like alcohol or suffering from alcohol-related diseases.
We are talking about the hidden signs of alcoholism that lie in the grey area, shrouded by uncertainty, social acceptance of drinking and misdiagnosis.
These hidden signs include:
- Drinking before or during events or engagements where alcohol is not part of the event
- Missing important engagements or events without an explanation
- Drinking alone
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Lying or becoming defensive about drinking behaviour, frequency and extent
- Drastic changes in sleep patterns due to late-night drinking, hangovers and general poor health
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Extreme mood swings
- A sudden lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Forgetfulness and memory blackouts
- Continuing to drink even though it is causing clear and obvious harm
Part of the difficulty for loved ones is that even if these signs are spotted, they could potentially be caused by something other than alcohol addiction. Some people may drink before events because they are suffering from social anxiety or they may be losing weight and struggling to sleep because of stress.
That is why it is so important that friends and family voice their concerns as soon as they spot the warning signs of alcoholism. If you suspect your loved one has a secret drinking problem, speak to them. Even if it turns out not to be alcohol addiction, these are still signs that something is wrong so it is important to have the conversation.
But what if these signs remain hidden?
Surely there must be an easier way to identify alcoholism in a loved one.
To explore this, let’s consider an important question: what does an alcoholic look like?
What does an alcoholic actually look like?
The first thing to understand is that alcohol addiction experts don’t like to use the term “alcoholic” to describe sufferers. It carries an immediate stigma and this stigma often colours the way we imagine those people to be.
Perhaps the most obvious media portrayal of the classic “alcoholic” is the character Frank Gallagher from Shameless. Gallagher’s character was dirty, unkempt and dishevelled; he was dishonest, adulterous, light-fingered and idle; he abandoned his family, cared little about his children and partners and was completely averse to the idea of work.
Are there people like Frank Gallagher in the real world who are addicted to alcohol? Certainly.
Are there people like Frank Gallagher in the real world who have never touched a drink? Of course, there are.
Alcohol addiction is a condition that doesn’t care if you are from a tough council estate in Manchester or you are a Hollywood TV star making $1 million an episode, with serious consequences no matter your wealth or social standing.
The problem as highlighted by the cases of Richard and Matthew Perry is that the vast majority of people with alcohol addiction look exactly like you and me and are able to fool both themselves and the rest of the world that there is no issue.
Perry says if fans look back, they can know which substances he was taking like this:
“When I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I’m skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s lots of pills.”
That doesn’t exactly clear the matter up.
Why do people hide their alcoholism in the first place?
It’s crucial to understand that people with alcohol addiction are reliant on alcohol and so, either subconsciously or consciously, they don’t want that crutch taken away. This is what causes denial of the issue, both to loved ones and themselves, making it difficult for friends and family to intervene.
This deception isn’t malicious, however. It is the result of the powerful grip alcohol addiction can have over a person.
So what is the answer?
The most important thing to take from the cases of Richard and Matthew Perry is to throw away our old misconceptions that sufferers of alcoholism all look, act, smell and sound like Frank Gallagher. In fact, there are tens of millions of people around the world who are struggling every day without even their nearest and dearest having any inkling.
That is why it is crucial to be aware of the hidden signs of alcoholism and be ready to have open and honest conversations with our loved ones who may be secretly drinking. We may be totally off the mark but at the very worst, the conversation may lead to the sharing of other concerns or problems.
Alcohol addiction thrives when it is able to get a person alone, separate them from their loved ones and support network and slowly break them down. By spotting the hidden signs early and offering our love and understanding, we can all ensure that the people we care about are never left to suffer on their own.
We offer excellent alcohol rehab treatment and this could be the first step in your loved one’s journey to recovery.
If you have any questions about spotting the hidden alcoholism signs in a loved one, or you want to find out more about identifying secret drinking, get in touch with us at Primrose Lodge today.