What do alcoholics drink?
June 29, 2010 12:27 AM   Subscribe

What do alcoholics drink?

I'm just curious about what experienced alcoholics drink, and where and when, The strategies they come up with for, say, concealment, or whatever else. Wine, I've heard, will allow you to skip eating. A friend of mine told me that before he quit, he'd settled on vodka because it was clear and easier to hide/disguise.

Deductions are fine but actual cases are better.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord to Health & Fitness (75 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"Alcoholic" is a pretty broad term. Are you talking only about people who have a serious alcohol addiction that they hide from their loved ones? Or just anyone with an alcohol problem?
posted by radioamy at 12:47 AM on June 29, 2010

There is no neat and tidy definition of an alcoholic. If you binge drink heavily a few times a week and still manage to get up, go to work, and spend the day sober you'd still fall under many doctors' definitions of alcoholic.

It sounds like you're describing a functional alcoholic who drinks during the day.

In which case, yes, spirits is more normal because it's a cheaper way to stay drunk. Vodka is also popular because in generic form it is dirt cheap.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:48 AM on June 29, 2010

Vodka is said to leave no tell-tale alcohol breath.
Enough wine, or really any alcoholic beverage, will dull the appetite enough to make actual eating at mealtimes negligible (if not eating is the aim of the drinker).
A longtime alcoholic will also know how much to consume to not appear drunk, and will dose him/her self accordingly.
The real tell is the smell of alcohol that comes through the pores (non-drinking diabetics can exhibit this also).
As far as what alcoholics drink... basically it's alcohol, but the specifics are different for everyone.
(That's kind of like asking 'What do sci-fi readers read?', if you know what I mean...)
posted by mdrew at 12:53 AM on June 29, 2010

On "Intervention" there is an episode of a poor woman who would buy, like 20 airline-sized bottles of vodka a day, stash them in her purse or car or pockets, and down one every time she went to the bathroom, outside for a smoke break or into the back stock room at the shop she worked at. EVERY DAY. By the end of each day of filming for the episode she's be so effed she couldn't event walk.

You can watch it here. It's heartbreaking but in the end she gets a lot of help.

There was also a case in Houston a few years back of a raging alcoholic who'd acquired esophageal cancer due to his addiction. Because he couldn't swallow, he'd taken to giving himself sherry enemas with the help of his wife as a way to direct the alcohol right into the bloodstream. He ended up dying of alcohol poisoning and the wife was arrested but charges were later dropped.
posted by Brittanie at 12:53 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some alcoholics I've known have no problem drinking cheap beer in the evenings by themselves watching TV. Some alcoholics I've known have no problem drinking hard liquor at the bar surrounded by friends. I've only known one who took a flask around with them during the day, and they were probably drinking vodka for the reason you cite in your post. I've seen some alcoholics attempt to futilely hide their addiction by cramming empty beer cans into every conceivable nook and cranny of their homes. I've seen others not give a damn and regularly make a theater of the event for all to see.

Alcoholism will manifest itself in a multitude of ways depending on the person, their family, their social circle and their culture. You're going to get a hundred different answers.
posted by quadog at 12:54 AM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think I know what you're getting at, and they all have their "poison," as the saying goes. Some like bourbon, some gin, Pete Townshend liked brandy. Some for taste, some for concealment or other non-sensory reason. I imagine lower-alcohol beverages would be more popular as "being drunk" became more a part of the experience than "getting drunk." Beer 'n sports, for instance. It's pretty hard to drink 12 martinis over a football game.
posted by rhizome at 1:01 AM on June 29, 2010

A hundred different answers is what I want
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 1:02 AM on June 29, 2010

Wine, I've heard, will allow you to skip eating.

There's nothing special about wine in that regard. Once you get to the point that your body is getting its calories from metabolizing alcohol any kind will do -- alcohol is alcohol. Though it should be pointed out that some alcoholic drinks contain carbohydrates (beer, cocktails) whereas others are just pure alcohol (vodka, wine.)

From simple price perspective it's hard to beat generic cheap vodka in terms of most bang for the buck, so it's the go-to drink of choice for a lot of drunks. Though that's not to say that there isn't infinite variation among habits as everyone else has already pointed out.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:07 AM on June 29, 2010

The wine and vodka were just examples. And by "alcoholic", I mean anyone whose life revolves enough around it that they've come up with some behavior to accomplish it. Necessity is the mother of invention!
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 1:22 AM on June 29, 2010

Most of the alcoholics I've known were "functioning" alcoholics who never made a secret of their drinking. A lot of them drink scotch of varying quality; when I worked in an office, the scotch was poured into the ubiquitous office coffee mugs and sipped throughout the day the way I would sip coffee. The alcoholics I knew in high school would fill empty water bottles with vodka or would drink most of a bottle of orange juice and then refill with vodka so it looked like juice (or would split some kind of soda pop into two bottles and the top off with vodka or gin or whisky).
posted by shamash at 1:44 AM on June 29, 2010

Of alcoholics I've known well, the first few who come to mind:
1. Drank beer from high school to age ~35, and since then drinks red wine. (Now aged 52.) It's only beer and only wine, so no concealment is needed. Drinks only in the evening, but for several hours.
2. As a teenager during the 1920s, drank cocktails made of whatever illicit alcohol was available and popular. Bck then, sh said, "everyone liked to get happy." Later, mostly drank sherry because it "wasn't the drink of an alcoholic." Got drunk virtually every day of her life till she died at 88.
3. Bourbon, martinis, red wine. Only at "cocktail hour" and at the dinner table, though he can sit at the table for a long, long time. No reason to hide any of it, because it's normal and enjoyed at civilized times. Very nostalgic about "The Thin Man" movies, in which Nick and Nora, in evening wear, drank martinis -- and their child popped in briefly to say good-night.
4. Vodka, thinking it was less easily detected. A college professor, drinks thoughout the day. Nobody is fooled.
posted by wryly at 1:46 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my home town, it was known that some of the poor indigenous folk drank methylated spirits, well known enought that metho was kept in the convenience store refrigerator. I've known other alcoholics (single older men, mostly) to subsist on beer. Roll over in the morning, and open one warm.
posted by b33j at 2:30 AM on June 29, 2010

A hundred different answers is what I want

There aren't a hundred answers, there are hundreds of thousands of answers. As many answers as there are alcoholics. There aren't any special tricks or rules, people who abuse alcohol drink as wide a range of drinks as people who drink without being an alcoholic. Your question is too broad as it's written. Either you don't understand alcoholism or we don't understand what you want to know. "Wine, I've heard, will allow you to skip eating" makes me think it's the former (there's nothing special about wine that makes you eat or not eat and any alcohol can be consumed in place of food).
posted by shelleycat at 2:41 AM on June 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think most big drinkers will drink whatever is at hand. and whatever is the most natural to drink at the time.

beer before dinner, wine with dinner, whiskey, spirits whatever after dinner. Gin & Tonic on a hot day. Pims and lemonade... Bloody Mary if its before Midday.
posted by mary8nne at 2:42 AM on June 29, 2010

What do alcoholics drink?

Alcoholic drinks.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:18 AM on June 29, 2010 [19 favorites]

I sell alcohol for a living. I have dozens and dozens of regular customers. The only possible uniformity among all these people is that they buy what their circumstance/means allow.

This says nothing of thieves, though.
posted by The Potate at 3:19 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I worked at a resort in the Virginia Appalachians. My immediate supervisor's name was Catfish and he was an alcoholic. He drank beer, I never really cared enough to find out the brand, but it was from a can and definitely cheap. He probably drank before work. He lived nearby and went home during his lunch break to drink. I know because I went to his house a few times. Then after work he would just sit outside his house and drink. He would also often have a cooler in his truck with beer and sneak one during work.

As far as concealment, there wasn't a whole lot of that going on. But he did try to pass himself off as not having a problem. He told us all of how he took a few weeks off to prove to himself he didn't have a problem. The way he drank also gave the impression of him just being one of the guys who is drinking a beer.

During the winter his job was plowing the roads and he would just drink inside the truck and no one really cared. This resort had trouble finding and keeping good help on the wages they provided, not to mention the type of employees they found. So even though everyone knew what Catfish was doing it just wasn't cared about. At least he wasn't doing crank (meth).
posted by bindasj at 3:52 AM on June 29, 2010

I drank beer, a twelve-pack a day (or more). When times were good it was Heineken. When times were bad (as it mostly was during late-stage alcoholism), it was Milwaukee's Best, or whatever was cheapest that day. There was no tastes great, less filling. It was what can keep me drinking for a few hours until I pass out that I can afford with the money in my pocket. It sucked.
posted by netbros at 4:07 AM on June 29, 2010

Street drinkers tend to go for cut-price beer or bottled litre cider, presumably because it's cheaper per portion and per unit. But of course this is not the same of all alcoholics. Or even all street-drinkers - just the ones I've seen.
posted by mippy at 4:34 AM on June 29, 2010

My grandpa used to hide those little flattish bottles - I don't know the size, but they're bigger than the airline bottles and not big and round like the ones you see behind a bar. Cheap whiskey; he had it by his chair too, and in the kitchen, to add to his coffee/soda/whatever. They were everywhere in his house. I don't know who he thought he was fooling or why he felt the need to hide them in his own house - his wife was at least as much of an alcoholic as he was. Maybe it was so he could be sure to get his share? I have no idea. It was something I first saw as a child and as he was the only grandpa I knew, I accepted it as fairly normal.
posted by lemniskate at 4:49 AM on June 29, 2010

Most of the alcoholics I have known personally drank beer, or wine, because those seem to be the most socially acceptable drinks. I haven't known anyone who was a living-in-the-gutter type alcoholic, and I suspect those are more rare than the "functional" alcoholics who get up and go to work every day, then come home and start drinking at dinnertime.

About 7 or 8 years ago I worked at a gas station in east Texas, and at 5 o'clock we sold a lot of cheap 12-packs, plus one can for the road (we sold beer in single cans and even had little brown bags to put them in, this blatant encouragement of drunk driving was shocking to me but didn't seem to phase anyone else!). We'd see the same guys every single day, buying 12-packs of beer, and no one ever said anything about them being alcoholics. Then, on the other hand, we had the raggedy guys coming in buying malt liquor with dirty change--they were the "real" drunks.
posted by cottonswab at 4:50 AM on June 29, 2010

I once read a story in the NYTimes about homeless alcoholics who mixed tomato juice into cheap beer to ward off the malnutrition of their all-beer diets.
posted by homuncula at 4:52 AM on June 29, 2010

Read Moscow Stations, by Venedikt Yerofeev. It documents some of the concoctions that desperate Russians used to get drunk on.
posted by scruss at 4:57 AM on June 29, 2010

The contents of your drinks cabinet (see also teenagers).

And of course: NON alcoholic drinks: if you assume that the person remains an alcoholic after going through rehabilitation. It always crosses my mind that an acquaintance who orders soft drinks or water in, say, a restaurant - without explaining why - may be a reformed alcoholic.
posted by rongorongo at 5:02 AM on June 29, 2010

My father, a recovering alcoholic, used to collect good wine as a way of (unsuccessfully) camoflauging his obsession with alcohol. He would crack a good bottle or two with dinner and wax poetic about the bouquet, nectar of the gods, etc and proceed to get sloshed. Before and during the meal, he would sneak off and drink Grand Marnier. Presumably it was palatable in the quantities he needed because it was cheap.

I had an alcoholic acquaintance who unfortunately died last year on a bender. I knew him for about two years before he died. When I first met him he would make decadent mixed drinks, such as rum and coke with lots of freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice, daiquiries with fresh and frozen berries, etc. By his last six months or so, he no longer had the patience/capacity to make these concoctions and would drink a lot of cheap cookers, flavoured vodka, etc.
posted by Ladysin at 5:08 AM on June 29, 2010

An alcoholic may drink anything with alcohol in it, depending on their preferences, resources and level of desperation. Having grown up in a land of raging drinking problems and sky high alcohol prices, I've seen people drink e.g. windshield washer fluid, eau de cologne and hand sanitizer.

At that stage concealment is obviously not much of an issue anymore, but sometimes people try to make it safer by sieving whatever they drink through stale bread or by mixing it with, say, buttermilk. Sometimes people die or go blind for drinking methanol, of course.
posted by sively at 5:18 AM on June 29, 2010

What an odd question.

My dad drinks Scotch, and lots of it. Most of his calories come from booze, so I think the wine thing you heard is one of those urban legends - he consumes very few calories of non-food.

I've had an alcoholic housemate who drank beer, and an alcoholic house guest who drank literally anything she could get her hands on: wine, spirits, cooking sherry....
posted by DarlingBri at 5:50 AM on June 29, 2010

An alcoholic family member of mine, aside from the gallons of vodka she'll consume, will drink mouthwash. Cheap, and innocuous if you don't know her problem. She 'stashes' like a squirrel, and a few times when she has come to visit, after a week or so after her departure we've found bottles of mouthwash stuck under the couch, behind the shoes in the closet, etc. When I say, "visit", I mean a couple hours in the afternoon -- who knows how much she'd stick away if she stayed a weekend or something. She has a big purse. Not to make light of it, but sometimes it's OK to find humor to soften the pain of an alcoholic in the family.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:03 AM on June 29, 2010

An alcoholic friend of mine drinks his first two martinis with Bombay Sapphire gin, but he makes the next five with Banker's Club.
posted by The White Hat at 6:09 AM on June 29, 2010

An old trick is to hide a bottle in the toilet tank. The alcoholic can slip off for a drink under the guise of using the bathroom.
posted by adamdrici at 6:10 AM on June 29, 2010

I remember an interview with Keith Chegwin (UK children's television presenter back in the 80s) saying when he was an alcoholic he'd have half-bottles of scotch hidden all over the house. He's buy half bottles as they are 'flat' and easier to hide - like sliding them under the sofa. He's also hide bottles beneath hedges and then cycle out into the countryside for a booze up - 'Everybody would see me out on a bike and thought I was getting really fit"
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:19 AM on June 29, 2010

My ex's drink of choice was cheap vodka. It was clear & he'd mix it with cola & ice so it looked like watered down ice-melty cola. He believed it didn't smell either but it is correct it comes out the pores. Of course, he drank what was offered at social events but for his secret binging it was vodka.

As someone who was a married to an alcoholic, I actually find this an interesting question. I don;t know why, but I do.
posted by pointystick at 6:21 AM on June 29, 2010

I agree with sively. I've seen people drink Lysol, Aqua Velva, Rubbing Alcohol, Ginseng Brandy and, Chinese Cooking Wine because often times it isn't controlled by the liquor board, cheaper than hard liquor and has a high alcohol content.
posted by squeak at 6:24 AM on June 29, 2010

My uncle was an alcoholic. He drank beer, specifically Pabst Blue Ribbon and he drank it every day, all day. I mean he would get up and open a can. You know how you drink a glass of water? Beer was his water. I think the only time he didn't have a beer in his hand was when he brushed his teeth and even then I can't be 100% sure. He rarely ate so the only "nutrients" he received was from the beer. For as long as I can remember he had a PBR in one had and a cigarette in the other.
posted by govtdrone at 6:28 AM on June 29, 2010

Alcoholics drink... alcohol. Some drink beer, some drink wine, some drink liquor, some drink whatever they can get their hands on, whether it's fit for human consumption or not.

I don't think there's a more precise answer than that. All the rest you're going to get are stories about particular people's experiences with alcoholics or alcoholism, all of which really only have alcohol as the common denominator.
posted by valkyryn at 6:32 AM on June 29, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention!

You clearly don't know any alcoholics. Or you probably do but don't think that you do. My dad drinks wine. He used to drink gin and tonics when I was a little kid but I can't remember why he stopped. Then he drank beer but started getting some sort of neuropathy in his arms and then he switched to wine. He was one of those guys that The Potate refers to. He's at the supermarket buying it every single day. He used to drink a bottle of wine a night (I'm bad with measurements because I'm not much of a drinker myself, funny that). Then he switched to boxed wine and my sister and I were worried that this meant that he'd turned a corner in some negative way but I think it's just a little cheaper. Since his wife left he's worried about money. He starts drinking at about 5 pm every night. He doesn't conceal anything. He just never goes out at night, and yeah he skips dinner.
posted by jessamyn at 6:40 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I asked Jay Kovar what he know about vodka ‘as a drink’. He said: ‘Sooner or later, all the heavy hitters get to vodka.’ -Roger Ebert
posted by TedW at 6:47 AM on June 29, 2010

I'm bemused by this question. It seems like you've got an answer in mind already and I also think you have a specific idea of "what an alcoholic does".

I'm the last of a multi-generational alcoholic family that contained a huge range of paths into alcoholism: social drinking, solo drinking, whiskey, gin, vodka, mixed drinks, beer. A friend of my father's was hospitalized after attempting to drink everything in his house that contained alcohol, including mouthwash, perfume, and facial astringent. When you're physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, you do what it takes.
posted by catlet at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Alcoholic grandma = Gin. She usually mixed it with Sprite until it bubbled and claimed it was just Sprite.

Alcoholic stepdad = Scotch. Cheaper and cheaper as the alcoholism progressed.

Alcoholic brother = Beer. His new thing is those beer/energy drinks, like Tilt, so he can drink all day and still stay peppy.

Alcoholic friend #1 = Straight vodka.

Alcoholic friend #2 = Whiskey.
posted by Gianna at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2010

My very functional alcoholic coworker drinks beer and whiskey; he knows which bars have the best specials each nights of the week and changes his drink/venue accordingly.
posted by MidsizeBlowfish at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2010

I have heard cough medicine addiction is common, but I don't know whether that's alcohol content or something else in there.

Someone I know (that's all I'll say) has to check the milk bottles in her fridge to make sure her husband hasn't slipped booze in there.
posted by mippy at 7:14 AM on June 29, 2010

Wine with dinner. Then scotch. Lots and lots of scotch.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:14 AM on June 29, 2010

what i witnessed of an alcoholic friend:

beer as much as possible to maintain the functionality and then adding in the booze to get very drunk.
wine when the alcoholic lady was feeling classy.


wine all the time because alcoholics don't drink wine, they drink liquor.

tv show intervention wasn't around then.
posted by sio42 at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2010

When I was in college, the sorority girls used to take plain bagels and soak them (completely submersed) in vodka for several hours, then set them out on the counter and let them dry. It worked any time of the day, but particularly for those early morning classes, you'd see them munching on a seemingly innocuous bagel for breakfast, when in reality they were getting more and more tipsy. People would also make vodka watermelons and then bring slices of it with them around campus to snack on.
posted by Kattiara17 at 7:30 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

At my dad's wedding, during a dry period before the ceremony, his best man drank the rest of a bottle of Chanel No. 5 with coke, so...the possibilities are endless.
posted by Hiker at 7:33 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I drank anything, but towards the end I was trying to "control" my drinking (I was forever trying to get better but of course I was on a path that almost killed me, and landed me in rehab for 5 months). My idea of control was to buy only as much as I thought I should have over an evening, usually a bottle of wine followed by a bottle of vodka (sometimes it made it into a glass, but more often it did not). I am a 5'5" 125-pound female-- this was no small amount. I knew that I would immediately drink whatever I brought home so I tried to limit that each day-- which of course meant a daily trip to the liquor store. I supplemented this during the daytime, when I finally had a job where I couldn't cover up my drinking and was too sick to function, with cocaine, codeine cough syrup, and muscle relaxants.

The problem with my plan, ultimately, was that when the blackouts began, I would discover in the morning that I had returned to the liquor store the night before, and purchased and consumed another bottle of whatever-- usually vodka.

My addiction put me very much in debt, but I still had access to credit. Had I not, there's no doubt that I would have consumed ABSOLUTELY anything that contained alcohol. I had this sick hope that there would someday be powdered alcohol that I could conveniently cut up with the cocaine. Glad that didn't happen in my time.

I think another interesting question is to ask what recovering alcoholics drink. I knew a number that initially drank 7-UP with orange juice, and many more, including myself, who hit the energy drinks pretty hard at first. Now I go for copious amounts of coffee, the occasional soda, and-- I never thought this would happen-- actual plain water.
posted by mireille at 7:36 AM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

It always crosses my mind that an acquaintance who orders soft drinks or water in, say, a restaurant - without explaining why - may be a reformed alcoholic.

Well, my explanation is that drinks are expensive and add too much to the final bill when I'm going out to dinner. But you are right, and this was the subject of an older AskMe: the reason "not drinking" carries with it a certain stigma is because it is assumed that someone who drinks water or soda while "out with friends" has some sort of reason that he "can't" drink alcohol.

Alcoholics drink whatever is within the economic means to drink. I knew one guy who drank "Night Train" fortified wine because it was cheap and so bad that no one else would ever ask to share it. Also, I've seen guys come in to liquor stores ordering a quarter pint (those "flat" bottles people referred to above) of cheap vodka. That's a sign that you don't care what it is, you just want to be drunk for as little money as possible. I got pretty sad when I saw someone do that, particularly because it was a brand of vodka that we used to buy in large quantities in college because it was the most cost effective when throwing a party: but for a working adult to order that stuff in 4 oz. containers was a sign to me of having really hit bottom.
posted by deanc at 7:57 AM on June 29, 2010

Yeah, nthing that most alcoholics will drink whatever contains alcohol. Some have a
"preferred" drink, but late-stage alcoholism typically narrows those choices. Beer, wine, liquor (vodka definitely gained popularity because it "doesn't smell," but that's not true) cough syrup, mouthwash, perfume, aftershave. I know prisoners would do something with fermenting orange peel and toothpaste and I don't know what else. If you think alcoholics are resourceful, you can imagine an incarcerated alcoholic. Not sure what this is for, but there's no one "type" of alcoholic.
As far as wine substituting for food: In late stage alcoholism, some alcoholics barely eat. A combination of loss of appetite, and inability to keep food down. At this stage, it can be hard to keep the booze down too. Pretty much any booze, in the right amount, can do that.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 8:24 AM on June 29, 2010

I grew up in Northern Ontario where alcoholism was highly visible and rarely discussed. I remember that vanilla extract and PAM cooking spray were both kept behind the counter at the supermarket, as those were easy targets for shoplifters looking for anything with alcohol content.
posted by Gortuk at 8:26 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another episode of "Intervention" had a lady who would drink giant bottles of Listerine. Her family had cut her off regular alcohol. She had them hidden all over the house.
posted by meeshell at 8:26 AM on June 29, 2010

I drink nearly every day after work, so many would consider me an alcoholic.

I drink bourbon (not rotgut but not Woodford Reserve, either), and beer most days. The beer selection varies from night to night, depending on my mood, but can fall anywhere between Pabst Blue Ribbon and Westvleteren 12. I usually drink the bourbon straight with a beer back for the first couple of rounds, then go to just beer.

If I'm out for fancy dinner with friends/family, I usually switch it up so I don't look like such a barfly. A cocktail before dinner, wine with the food, and usually a chartreuse or something like it with dessert.
posted by brand-gnu at 8:31 AM on June 29, 2010

Sooner or later, all the heavy hitters get to vodka.

My family used to know a guy who drank vodka (openly, at family functions), and my dad would always proclaim that it was an alcoholic's drink - while drinking his dirt-cheap Black Label beer all day long. It strikes me now as rationalization, like he didn't have to consider himself an alcoholic as long as there was someone worse-off than he was.

Although, Dad gave up his beer when he developed gout. Seriously, just stopped drinking one day. (This is same guy that quit smoking cold turkey, so who knows).
posted by cabingirl at 8:33 AM on June 29, 2010

Tommy Johnson was a blues singer who recorded a bit in the 20s. He was a renowned alchoholic, and he drank canned heat, which we would call Sterno.

He even wrote a song about it, and a fine one at that.
posted by kensington314 at 8:38 AM on June 29, 2010

My great aunt would have a can of beer in a can cozy. I honestly don't know how many she had a day, but I never saw her without a can in her hand.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:40 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Observations of a few I've known: one would drink anything containing alcohol, including cold medicine and cooking vanilla. Another drank a half-pint of cheap whiskey during his five mile commute home from work - only way he could face his home life. Another preferred beer, lots and lots of beer, the cheaper the better. These were all men. As for women - one tried to cover her alcoholism by being an oenophile - she was incredibly educated about wine and food pairings and such, but also couldn't get through a day without it. And the other would drink cocktails before dinner, wine with dinner, and liqueur after dinner. Somehow the formality of having the proper drink at the proper time made her feel like she was something other than an alcoholic.
posted by chez shoes at 9:08 AM on June 29, 2010

There was a fairly recent article in the Independent by a accident and emergency doctor about the effects of alcohol. I can't find it now but I remember there was one guy who would get himself admitted on some pretext so he could drink all the alcohol hand-washes on the ward. And another guy who basically could not walk because of extreme DTs so had to get his daily litre of vodka delivered up to his flat by the supermarket home delivery
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:14 AM on June 29, 2010

My dad was in in rehab a few years ago at the age of 70 or so. He was a vodka drinker. He was in a program with a lot of younger people and said that the majority of them were beer drinkers. He was pretty amazed at that since to get to the level of drunk they needed, they were often drinking a case or more of beer every night. he found it much more efficient to drink hard alcohol.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:20 AM on June 29, 2010

During his worst binges, one relative of mine was really into cheap, nasty blackberry schnapps. His parents found several empty/partly full 1.75 liter bottles around their house. I believe these were probably consumed in 1 or 2 sittings.
posted by partylarry at 9:28 AM on June 29, 2010

My friend's mom would make her own wine and go about her daily business at home with a wine glass in her hand. She'd sip from morning to evening and refill the glass every time it was empty. She never got completely smashed, but she was buzzed all day, every day. It doesn't seem like a lot, but you can empty a lot of glasses sip-by-sip in a full day.

After her husband died, she realized she had a serious problem -- one that I think I'm the only one who ever noticed -- and quit.
posted by klanawa at 9:29 AM on June 29, 2010

One of my aunts would drink anything. LITERALLY ANYTHING. You know those decorative bottles filled with some kind of liquid (I guess some kind of alcohol) with flowers and stuff floating in them? She drank the liquid. She was pretty bad though. She once tried to mow her lawn while trashed and flipped the mower over and lost 2.5 fingers.

Another of my aunts died at 40 due to liver problems. She abandoned her children and disappeared for over 10 years. Who knows what she drank, but it was enough to kill her at 40.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:38 AM on June 29, 2010

Anecdotes: my wife had a friend who was alcoholic, and chose peppermint schnapps, as it smelled like mouthwash. She would drink throughout the day while at work, but some times she would drink with homeless people and pass out on the beach.

At his worst, my dad was finishing "forgotten" wine glasses because he didn't want to see the drink go to waste (I imagine this as some mix of alcoholism and being frugal, but I may be rationalizing his problem).

On one of those intervention shows, the mother was going around the house drinking mouthwash.

At their worst, an alcoholic will drink anything with alcohol.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on June 29, 2010

I had a roommate who drank Jack Daniels and beer in a slow and regular way, from the moment he got home from work until late at night. He was a conniving sociopath though and rarely allowed himself to get drunker than the people around him.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:39 AM on June 29, 2010

Drunk stepfather #1 - beer, probably a case a day. Drank any time he wasn't at work. Smoked pot whenever he wasn't drinking.

Drunk stepfather #2 - beer, god knows how much. He didn't work and seemed to be pretty close to completely shitfaced all the time. Absolutely could not go without for any length of time. Used to steal my mom's grocery and bill money to get his beer if she couldn't afford to buy it for him at any point.

Ex-husband - spent his younger days binge-drinking several times a week, mostly beer but would drink mixed drinks if we went out. Wasn't an all-the-time drinker but binges became a huge problem because he did really stupid shit when he was drunk. Quit on his own before our daughter was born.

Ex-husband's grandfather - would drink a pint or more of whiskey every evening he didn't go out, get sloshed and be hateful to everyone around him. Good times.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:59 AM on June 29, 2010

I think a lot depends on whether the alcoholic is willing to drink in plain sight or not, and on whether they are in denial about their alcoholism. For instance, my father was a functioning alcoholic for his entire adult life, until it killed him. He was in denial about having a problem, but he never hid his drinking. Instead, he chose behaviors that would give him deniability about being an alcoholic. He drank beer all day long, but never "the cheap stuff" because that's what alcoholics do. He drank gin and tonics at night, and at social functions, because that was a "respectable" drink. He never veered from his routine, and basically kept himself at a constant "maintenance level" of intoxication.

My grandmother-in-law, on the other hand, was not willing to drink in plain sight, so she bought whatever was cheapest and could give her the quickest drunk. After she died, we found empty bottles of various brands and sizes all over her house.

Stashing bottles seems to be a common denominator for alcoholics who are trying to hide their problem, because we're still finding empty vodka bottles hidden in all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies in the house we've been living in for 15 years (the man who previously lived here was an alcoholic who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound).
posted by amyms at 1:16 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I once drank Krystal champagne and I once drank Listerine. If I was buying it'd be Spanish cava or strong lager. If you were buying, it'd be whatever you'd buy me until I either passed out or wore out my welcome and you made your escape.
posted by essexjan at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The case that I'm closest to, his drink was vodka. Bowman's Virginia Vodka, and there would be bottles of it stashed in various places in the house (under the couch, behind books in a bookcase, etc) where the kids (and maybe the wife) were less likely to find it. Not sure why it was Bowman's Virginia Vodka, maybe it's cheapest?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:17 PM on June 29, 2010

But yeah, he would also drink wine or cocktails openly if those were suited to the occasion. I think the Bowman's Virginia Vodka was just the "after hours" stash.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2010

And I knew someone in grad school, younger, whose drink was bourbon. When she managed to cut back, she did it by never drinking bourbon again.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:26 PM on June 29, 2010

Buckfast Tonic Wine?

When my drinking was less under control I used to shoplift the 1.75 liter bottles of Smirnoff from a grocery store with a camera-less beer cave. I was a high school vegan who weighed maybe 90 pounds. Mixed with the dollar store soda my mom would buy, the bottle would last me two weeks of drinking alone every night, then I'd steal another one and repeat the process.

I had a large ugly purse from the thrift store I bought specifically for this purpose.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2010

The ones I have known all have their preferred liquor, usually tequila or vodka, because those can easily be disguised as water, but when they are/ were desperate, out of drink, and it's outside of booze-buying hours, anything alcoholic will do, even mouthwash, cooking flavor extracts, salted cooking wine, etc.
posted by ishotjr at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2010

All these supposed diguises via what a person drinks surprises me. The people I know that I would consider alcoholics don't hide anything. In fact these (3) people fully admit they are alcoholics (and either worry about it, or don't at all). None is a raging drunk, per se. They drink many different things depending on tastes and resources. One guy drinks (collects) expensive wine. The other guy drinks PBR, and maybe "locally grown" beers (Chicago = Goose Island). My SIL, who is the least alcoholic (IMO) drinks vodka (Grey Goose) but not because it's stealthy necessarily (btw, it's not - if someone has been drinking vodka you can smell alcohol on their breath just as with anything else).

My ex, who was probably an alcoholic but got it together somehow slowly all by himself - used to drink Mexican or Polish beer in many forms - but it was the Makers Mark staight up that was probably the problem..
posted by marimeko at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2010

I know one that only drank beer. Then and now (several years sober), he could have a glass of wine & quit - but claimed with beer it was the whole case or nothing.

Another friend took to hiding bottles around the house of cheap liquor (quicker), but never touched his expensive, top-shelf, aged collection.

So, alcoholic != guzzles anything he/she can get down his/her throat.

That's my input.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:19 PM on June 29, 2010

My ex drank boxed wine. He would hide it in the hamper in the bathroom and when he wanted a drink, run the sink while he poured into the glass. He would also hide it in the storage area of our garage. We have a fridge out there so he would go get snacks and sneak a drink.

I knew he relapsed based on his smell - his sweat was rancid - he started snoring again and his stomach was hard.
posted by miss meg at 6:26 PM on June 29, 2010

Interesting question. This one sure brings back some memories.

I used to live in a studenty party flat with several people (none of us were students, except me for the first month I lived there). The oldest guy in the flat was an alcoholic. (I really wish I had realized this before I moved in.) He had a preferred drink, sure, but now that I think about it I only really ever saw him drink it a few times. Really, he would drink whatever was around. Whatever was cheapest at the pub or whatever was on offer at the supermarket. If the pub was too expensive, he'd smuggle cans of cheap lager in and pour himself pints in the bathroom. He would drink half your drink if you left it there and he had no problems with asking people to borrow money he couldn't really afford to pay back. He and his girlfriend were in charge of the bills and the rent for the flat -- one time we all were on a night out and he would not stop bothering me to go to the cashpoint and get him the rent that I owed him in a few days just so he could continue drinking. At our regular pub, we knew one of the barmen and he would give us free drinks occasionally. My flatmate milked that for all it was worth. He got barred from the pub one time because of his actions after putting away a few too many of these free drinks.

I can only think of one occasion where he tried to hide his drinking (generally, if he was drinking, day or night, he didn't care who saw him). His girlfriend was trying to sober him up one afternoon with cups of tea and when she looked away, he'd pour a little whiskey into the cup.

If you had some alcohol, he had no problems with asking you for his share, whatever it was. There was this one absolutely horrific time -- OK, this is a long and depressing story, so I'll shorten it -- where he took my friend's bottle of Hennessy, poured himself like half an Old Fashioned glass's worth of it, and downed it in about two seconds. Five minutes later he was incoherent and couldn't move.

He'd also drink things like Special Brew (which a friend of ours who had pretty much pennies to his name would bring over), and one time, after drinking all the alcohol at a party, he went out and bought a case of Sainsbury's Basics Lager. This completely grosses me out but it wasn't unusual for him to, at last call, go around finding 3/4 empty pints and other glasses of drink that people had abandoned and drink the rest of them.

I remember him drinking wine a couple time at dinner parties we hosted that he hoped to turn into drinking sessions. Yeah, whatever was available, really. Once I was drinking scotch and he helped himself to a glass of it, even though his girlfriend was right there saying, 'But you don't like scotch.' It clearly didn't matter to him at that point.

He was also kind of like this with drugs, but that's beyond the scope of this question.
posted by Put the kettle on at 8:48 PM on June 29, 2010

Well, if anybody's still reading, thanks. I'd have said so sooner but I couldn't get to the internet for a whole day.

I wasn't looking for a specific, "right" answer to this question, just as the answers I marked weren't really "best", but rather some of the more interesting replies from people who'd gotten the general idea. Sorry about my broad terms, I didn't want to limit the answers. And I didn't want to give many examples because... well, when you give examples, there's always somebody who thinks you're just talking about the example, know what I mean?
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 2:10 PM on June 30, 2010

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