Hidden Half-Empty Bottles  – Should I Dump Them Out or ???

Hidden Half-Empty Bottles – Should I Dump Them Out or ???

Some variation of this question comes up often, “I found hidden half-empty bottles of vodka all over the house. Should I dump them out? I did that the last time, and he accused me of snooping…not trusting him.”

Hidden half-empty bottles of alcohol - what should you do if you find or go searching for them?

Hidden half-empty bottles of alcohol – what should you do if you find or go searching for them?

I remember that sick, kicked-in-the-gut feeling when I found my loved ones’ hidden half-empty bottles. Sometimes I’d collect them all and line them up on the kitchen counter – to let Alex know I knew. (For those who know my story, I have had several loved ones, male and female, who’ve abused or were dependent on alcohol, to whom I’ve given the composite name, Alex, and the pronoun, he.) Sometimes I’d dump them out and leave the empties, and sometimes I’d grab one and track Alex down and confront him, shaking that half-empty bottle, screeching a venom filled spew – my anger, rage and hurt tumbling forth in waves.

None of it worked.

And now I know why.

In a nutshell… people who don’t have a drinking problem, don’t hide bottles of alcohol. People who aren’t worried about someone’s drinking, don’t go searching for hidden half-empty bottles.

Neither one is healthy. They both need help. Yes, I needed help, and Alex needed help, and my kind of help wasn’t working.

So I’d like to use this post to share a brief overview of what I wish I’d known then – “then” being the decades I’d spent living with and loving the Alexes in my life, while trying to control how much the Alexes drank.

What You Need to Know if You Find or are Searching for Half-empty Bottles of Alcohol

1. Don’t confront until you understand. The best thing you can do if you are in this situation – or approaching this situation – is to understand what you are dealing with. It is not “normal” to hide alcohol bottles, nor it is “normal” to go looking for them. So what causes people to do either? Understanding this comes in three parts, for which I’ve provided a few key links for further information.

  • Learning how alcohol changes brain function and how changed brain function in combination with key risk factors explains how someone comes to hide alcohol bottles (they do not “want” to hide them, but their brain is overriding all rational thought because of the nature of the brain disease of alcoholism – one of the addictions):

NIDA’s Drugs, Brains and Behavior > Drug Abuse and Addiction (alcohol is considered a drug)

Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse

  • Assessing the scope of your loved one’s drinking problem helps you appreciate how much is too much; that there really is a drinking problem. The links below share two anonymous ways you can assess a loved one’s drinking patterns:

Alcohol Screening and Brief Counseling – CDC Urges Health Care Professionals to Use New Guidelines

World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Test (AUDIT)

  • Understanding the impacts of secondhand drinking (the impacts of coping with your loved one’s drinking behaviors) on you explains how your brain has changed, which helps explain why you might be searching for hidden half-empty bottles. The Health Consequences of Secondhand Drinking | Drugging

2.  Know what you want to say. You may need time for this. You may need to talk with a therapist who specializes in what addiction or substance abuse does to family members or attend a 12-step program that supports family members and friends of people who drink too much or do some further research on what happens to the brains of family members who have been living with secondhand drinking. The following post can help with what to say when you are ready:

What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem

3.  When you are ready, set a date and time to talk. As difficult as this may seem to do (mostly because you want to confront them, now!), you’ll want to have a time when you know there will be no distractions, your loved one will be sober and you will be calm. This also allows you the necessary time to prepare your talking points of what you want to tell them and what you want them to do (see the link above). You may also want to have a “brokered” conversation. This means having a neutral third party – not an intervention, necessarily – but a neutral, knowledgeable person to help keep the conversation from getting out of control.  One example of a “brokered” conversation is the service I provide  (NOT that I’m suggesting you use mine, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about).

To Answer the Title Question – Should I Dump Them Out or ???

Dumping out the half-empty bottles of alcohol will not “make” them stop drinking. It will likely add to their shame and self-loathing, however. So the better approach is to take the above three action steps, as those can lead to real change for both your loved one and yourself.

If you have any specific questions, always feel free to email me at lisaf@breakingthecycles.com. There is no charge for these sorts of email exchanges.


Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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27 Responses to Hidden Half-Empty Bottles – Should I Dump Them Out or ???

  1. As soon as I read the title and saw the picture, I was reminded of how I used to hide bottles of vodka. I knew it was wrong, but I was so ashamed of how much I needed to drink that hiding it was the only way.
    You hit the nail on the head when you say that people with a drink problem don’t hide bottles. That is so true and in my opinion, if you are hiding your drinking then that is a sure indication of dependency.
    One of the things I was amazed at when I was in rehab was the lengths some of the alcoholics went to to hide their booze. Back of cupboards, in the toilet cistern, underneath clothes in wardrobes, underneath the car seats – anywhere you wouldn’t normally look.
    And many also took to decanting their alcohol into juice or cola bottles to make them look non-alcoholic. I have to admit that at the height of my addiction, my first job when bringing home the groceries would be to pour out the fizzy drinks bottle leaving just enough to colour the vodka which I filled it up with. I would then put that bottle at the back of unopened cola bottles, just in case anyone looked in my cupboards – even though at the time I lived alone. (Paranoia is another part of addiction!).
    I can’t tell you how much I hated doing that or how much shame I felt. All I know is that at the time, my need for alcohol over-ruled any rational thinking.
    Thank God those days are behind me.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences, Carolyn. It is incredible the kinds of hiding places and lengths to which one will go to hide their alcohol. But, as you explain, the need for alcohol over-rules any rational thinking, which is at the crux of the brain disease of alcoholism. I’m so happy for you that you’ve done what it takes to put those days behind you, as well. Thanks, again!

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Carolyn. Very helpful…

  2. Kyczy says:

    As a powerless kid that is all I could do to express my fear and anger – I just wanted it to STOP! It was later that I learned that this was not useful and only increased, as you say, her “shame and self loathing”. I didn’t know that then, and I am glad I don’t have confront that now.
    Another great article. Thank You

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Kyczy. Let’s hope that elementary school curriculum will start to incorporate this kind of information because a parent’s drinking problem affects one in four children before the age of 18 and the chaos – the childhood trauma – of growing up with it sets up one of the key risk factors for developing a drinking or drug misuse problem.

  3. Herby Bell says:


    Amazing how I too returned to shameful vignettes of my own-then the solution to recovery, outa my subcortical middle brain and into my neocortex I went, (thanks, long-term practice…). Along with your help, I was reminded of how dysfunctional and quite sick it can get for all involved. While giving a talk to a High School class recently, a student asked this very question about what to do and how to address these issues best. While I supplied her with an adequate answer, you have enlightened me with your great, 1-2-3 response. Always learning from you, Lisa Frederiksen. Thank you!

    • So glad you like the approach, Herby. And how wonderful you had a high school student feel “safe” enough to ask you such a question – kudos to you for a presentation that set the stage for such an exchange.

  4. Beth Wilson says:


    You have such an ability to transport your reader through space and time. I went instantly back to my childhood, cowering as the threats to “pour it all out” fell on my father’s deaf ears. Haven’t had that particular memory in a long, long time. Ironically, I also had the memory of standing at my own kitchen sink a few days into sobriety and pouring my own alcohol down the drain. Now that’s a memory worth reliving!

    • Oh Beth — I can see you there as a little girl. I’m sorry – truly. And something most people do not understand is those kinds of experiences are the very definition of childhood trauma, and childhood trauma is one of the five key risk factors for developing the brain disease of addiction because it changes the child’s brain circuitry making their particular brain more susceptible to drinking (or using drugs) and to the effects of drinking on their brains. In your case, you had three of the five key risk factors – childhood trauma, genetics, social environment – before you had your first drink. The remaining two key risk factors are early use (drinking in adolescence) and mental illness. It’s awesome how you sought and found sobriety, and I agree, pouring your own alcohol down the drain is a memory worth reliving!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    While I have not experienced half empty bottles, I have discovered half used drugs and drug paraphernalia at times. Waiting until the right time I think is key. You both have to be able to communicate in a calm manner and that is the perfect time to suggest that someone get treatment in a way that works for them. I also feel that the less labeling, the better. Not using the word alcoholic eases some of the shame and leave that door open to making positive changes. Anyone would be lucky to have your services in a “brokered” conversation! Take care and thanks for an informative post!

  6. This is really good, Lisa. Sometimes in the midst of a crisis we need to have a plan at our fingertips. You provide that here. And what good sense it makes to push away from the table for a bit of time and formulate an approach. I especially like “Don’t confront until you understand.” In such a situation, knee-jerk reactions are more than understandable. However, calm and reason go a looong way toward helping things go well in the immediate – and looong term. I really enjoyed Carolyn’s comment, by the way. You’ve been there, Lisa, and you’re passionate. Makes for more than worthy material. Thank You!!!

    • Thanks, Bill. Boy I spent ages and countless hours shooting from the hip with my various loved ones. It never worked and now I know why – which at least helps with letting go of resentments. I appreciate you stopping by and always love your insights and feedback.

  7. Once again Lisa, you capture an issue and make it real – day to day – for your readers. You give good practical answers to the ‘every day problem’ of the many people in this situation! Thank you!

  8. Jody Lamb says:

    Hi, Lisa. I remember being 14 or 15 years old, standing over the bathroom sink, watching the beer glunk, glunk, glunk out of the tall cans at snail’s pace. I remember wishing the beer would come out faster so I could run back into my room and the lock the door before my alcoholic loved one could come charging into the room – screaming at me, throwing stuff at me or worse, grabbing, shaking me, hitting me. Over the course of my life, I probably spent collective whole days searching for “the stash” of cans and bottles – and dumping them out. I thought I was helping my alcoholic loved one by getting rid of the “poison.” I thought eventually this person would get exhausted by the hiding and my dumping them out – and give it all up. When I found those cans and bottles, I felt the satisfaction of a detective with a solved mystery. I didn’t understand until well into twenties, that I was 100% hurting myself and the alcoholic by doing this. Thank you for breaking it down to so accurately explain why.

    • Ohhhhh Jody – wow – you are truly an inspiration having survived all you’ve been through and THRIVED! It’s wonderful what you are doing to help children who are living in homes like the one in which you grew up. For readers with children, I urge you to check out Jody’s work – she has videos, books and blog posts that can help – http://www.jodylamb.com

  9. Gaynelle says:

    I was 7 when I started emptying the hidden gin bottles. Didn’t know what else to do. Thought I was helping, but it really just stirred up my mother’s rage. She died a slow, painful death from cirrhosis, when I was only 15. All fine to suggest an adult has a problem if she is searching for hidden bottles. What is a child to do?

    • I’m so so sorry your childhood was taken by this family disease, Gaynelle. And with what was known then and still, for the most part, believed, today, a child remains utterly powerless growing up with a parent who has this disease when there is no one else to help them (the child) understand it, let alone to effectively protect them (the child).

      Today, however, we do have new research and we MUST develop new methods of reaching children who have no idea they need to be reached, in order to share this research and help them. On this topic, I wrote this post, Giving Children the Science of the Brain to Break the Cycles, in hopes it will inspire elementary school education and even relevant pre-school education, with accompanying messages home… http://www.breakingthecycles.com/blog/2014/06/25/giving-children-science-brain-break-cycles/, as a step in this direction.

  10. Tracy says:

    I need help approaching my sister. She is separated from her husband and has been staying with us since Christmas. Her behavior has always been flaky and unreliable and I am assuming she’s depressed. So, I hadn’t really taken notice of her behavior otherwise. I went to her closet for wrapping paper for a gift and discovered several bottles of wine and vodka stashed. I don’t even know where to begin talking to her. I’m afraid for her safety, but most importantly my children’s safety. I have two under 5. She also has a son that has been here on the weekends. That aside, I know I need to talk to her, but I don’t even know where to begin. Our mother is an alcoholic/drug addict and I dealt with all of this as a teenager and made sure my sister and brother never saw the really nasty side of this. I feel like it’s happening all over again. I am at a complete loss as to what to do. I’m already frustrated with her decision making even before I found the alcohol. Now, I’m just stumped. Can anyone please show me where to start? Thank you.

  11. teresa says:

    i got my sister into rehab, she was 4 weeks sober and now is secretly drinking, she wraps the bottles in towels before putting in the bin, i havent found her secret stash and quite frankly not going to look, instead im going to move out and look after myself

  12. Nancy says:

    I just had a new washing machine delivered and when they took out the old one, low and behold there was an empty bottle behind it. This bottle belongs to my son who was living with me for about 3 months. I knew he was still drinking and I could not have him living with me it is way to stressful. I am 71 and he is 44. He has been in and out of rehabs for the last 27 years. He is now living in a sober house, but I know he is still drinking, all the signs are there. I am sure it will be just a question of time before they ask him to leave. At this point I can no longer support him financially or emotionally. He has been given a dual diagnosis. I think we have been through about 23 rehabs. Are there some people that will never stop drinking. My point to him as been, that since he is also a diabetic (Type1) that he has to control that or it will kill him, but that reasoning just not sink in to his brain. I do know alcoholism is a disease, but if you can offer any solutions as to why some people just cannot stop drinking I would love to hear from you.

    • Hi Nancy – I’m so sorry. Please give me a call at 650-362-3026 (there is no charge), and I can talk with you about your concerns and what you might do. If I don’t answer, I will call you back. Lisa

  13. Karren Kemp says:

    My husband went to a rehab center for 2 months been doing real good.. going to AA MEETINGS. . ON regular bases been almost 90 days.. has talked to others with problem been really proud of him tell him all the time..tonight he’s at a meeting and a gathering and a couple speakers.. but i found a empty bottle dont know how to approach dont want to send him down the wrong road.. any suggestions

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