Ask an Addict: So Your Boss Has a Drinking Problem…

Dear Katie,

I work across the street from a bar, and about every month I go there on a Friday night to unwind with my manager and some of my co-workers. Lately, my manager has been overdoing it, drinking till the point of blackout. When he’s sober, his personality is somewhat abrasive and cocky (for lack of a better word), but when he’s drunk he embarrasses his team and, I’m sure, himself. He also makes a fool of himself in front of coworkers from other departments, who also frequent this bar.

During the most recent blackout, I had to remind him repeatedly when his next commuter train was scheduled to arrive, and after missing four in a row, he finally dashed out (per my insistence) to catch the last train, and when I saw him the following Monday, his face told me he hadn’t made it (I learned from his manager that he had face-planted into the pavement, and then slept in his office).

Is there some way I can express my concerns to him? Is it out of place for me to point out that he’s hurting his own reputation, as well that of our department? I’m afraid he’s going to get in serious trouble if he keeps developing this reputation in full view of everyone we work with.

Thanks for any help you can offer, 
DrunkBossConcerns

Dear DBC,

I receive many questions along the lines of “should I/how do I confront someone about their drinking or using?” The reason I publish variations on a similar letter so often is because the minor distinctions here matter. You’ll probably approach a boss differently than you would a friend or an acquaintance. But there is something fairly universal on the other side of the equation that might be helpful for me to explain: how it feels to be called out on your substance use.

A disclaimer, DBC: I don’t know if your boss has an alcohol addiction. It sounds like there are some serious warning signs but I’ll get to that in a minute. What I want to outline is how it felt for me when I was called out about my drinking and using. This is not to dissuade you from potentially talking to your boss (or anyone else) about potential substance use disorders (SUDs). It’s just so you have an idea of how the person on the receiving end of the conversation might feel.

The first thing to know is how adept alcoholics like myself are at all things DENIAL. Whether or not your boss actually has a SUD, odds are, he knows his drinking has gotten him into trouble on occasion (be it occasionally or on every occasion).

But it’s not as simple as knowing or not knowing. It’s difficult to put words to this feeling but here goes: when I was active in my addiction, I knew somewhere deep down that alcohol was a problem for me and yet I didn’t think alcohol was my problem. Alcohol was my Russia in the Donald Trump presidency. Everyone could see that my relationship to alcohol—whatever it was—was damaging my life. But I so desperately didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted it to not be the case so badly that I pointed to anything and everything else (Fake News! Hillary Clinton! The DNC!) in hopes that people would stop looking into my painfully, troubled and destructive relationship with alcohol. In this way, I understand Trump’s insistence that he’s misrepresented and misunderstood (though I still think he’s delusional in the most literal sense). I had been approached by friends and loved ones about my excessive drinking since I was a freshman in high school, so accusations were nothing new (and that’s how I saw them—accusations, not kind, loving interventions)…continued

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