I think, maybe, there is a misconception that Scotland's problem with alcohol is in the open.

Not only is it discussed in public, it is visible: it is characterised by the young staggering into corners to vomit after nightclubs close, by people with faces too old for their years standing with cans in checkout queues and by men with reddened cheeks and rounded waists lent on bars.

However, there is a hidden side to alcohol addiction and, as much as we as individuals may find it distressing, as a society we are often complicit in keeping it secret. I am wrestling now, as I write, with how much to disclose about my own experiences of this growing up and the truth is it will not be very much. In my house bottles were hidden, coffee mugs were cradled even though the beverage inside was cold, and glasses were quickly rinsed with water.

When Charles Kennedy quit as leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2006 due to an alcohol problem which, it seems, his close colleagues had worked hard to conceal for many years, my heart broke for his then wife Sarah, who had given birth to their son just the year before. So much was written about the political implications of his addiction, so little about the domestic tragedy made up of worry, and disappointment and guilt and anger and fear, which is probably horribly common.

Yesterday, Alcohol Focus Scotland released research which for the first time looks at the impact of alcohol not on the drinker, but on their family and friends. Their survey of more than 1000 adults found half had suffered in some way from other people's drinking.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "This can range from feeling uneasy at aggressive behaviour on the bus, picking up the slack at work because a colleague has called in sick with a hangover, or children living with heavy-drinking parents and the strain this inevitably places on family life. Many of these problems are not being reported, either because they are simply tolerated or because they are going on behind closed doors."

When we know someone who may have an alcohol problem our instinct is to hush it up, think it is not our place to ask the drinker about it directly, or laugh it off. Being drunk on a far-too-regular basis is still seen as funny and crops up in comedy all the time, in a way unemployment or depression does not.

In the US sitcom Friends a character called "Fun Bobby" dates Monica briefly, but it goes wrong when he admits he has an issue with alcohol, quits drinking and becomes decidedly boring. I'm not having a go at Friends - if any programme has ever promoted having a laugh over coffee instead of beer it's that one - but I think this storyline shows how our relationship with alcohol remains mixed up.

Drinking at a light level is fun, but I don't think many people who know an alcoholic would describe them as "fun" when they are drunk.

We should all be more honest with each other about alcohol. If you're interested, there's a survey trying to collect the true picture of drink and drug use in Scotland and around the world at www.globaldrugsurvey.com.