Alcohol Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant or hotel knows it is incredibly hard work.  The physical exhaustion of waiting tables and the high stress of customer service can take a serious toll on the wellbeing of employees.  It may not come as a surprise that the hospitality industry has one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse of any other profession, only surpassed by construction workers and miners.  There are many factors at play that contribute to these numbers, including restaurant culture and the consistent availability of alcohol. Some leaders in the industry are beginning to take a more serious look at addiction among employees, and how best to provide resources as well as preventative measures for those who might be struggling.


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Stress of the Job

There is a reason anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry becomes a life-long advocate of generous tipping.  Restaurant and hospitality work are stressful and tiresome. The job requires constant physical activity as well as quick thinking.  Workers are often required to do side work that they haven’t been trained for adequately, or may be forced to work late with unpredictable hours.  The night shifts at restaurants and hotels create even more risk of mental distress because they disrupt workers’ natural sleep patterns.  

Additionally, the hospitality industry requires a great deal of face-to-face interaction with demanding, and sometimes rude customers.  Part of the job is maintaining professionalism and courtesy even while being criticized or berated. Constantly putting on an act can be emotionally draining and make it difficult to find a healthy way to process anger and frustration.  Hospitality workers are also forced to meet high standards of service without the promise of job security in return. Most restaurants and hotels don’t offer benefits such as paid leave or sick days, and without a union advocate, hospitality workers don’t have anything protecting their position from the next person in line to claim it.  Restaurant and hotel employees often come to work while sick or during family emergencies because they know they will lose their position if they don’t.  

Problems Within the Culture

The staff at a hotel or restaurant is a culture all its own.  It can be full of cliques and social hierarchies that ostracize and even bully new or underperforming workers.  Studies have found a high rate of both physical and emotional abuse in the restaurant industry as well, especially from management.  This environment creates poor morale as well as an epidemic of mental health issues. Employees often turn to alcohol during or after their shift to cope with a lack of emotional support from coworkers and management.

Alcohol is incredibly accessible to those in the hospitality industry.  While it may be common for people to grab a drink after work to build camaraderie with coworkers and unwind from the stress of the day, this ritual takes on a whole new meaning when alcohol is circulating in and out of your hands all day long.  Employees in this industry often drink on the job, sneaking mixed drinks in the busser station or throwing back multiple drinks at lunch. Some managers even condone this behavior, allowing their employees to drink as much as they would like as long as they continue to work quickly and efficiently.  

And then, of course, there is the shift drink.  A common custom in the restaurant industry is to reward employees with a free drink at the end of their shift.  This first drink often turns into many, however, and as more employees end their shift the staff gathers together to drink and socialize.  This same process may happen every day, regardless of what time it is or day of the week. Over time, this can lead to daily binge drinking for every member of the staff that chooses to participate in this bonding ritual.

Creating Change

There are several ways leaders in the hospitality industry can create a healthier, more stable environment for their workers.  Employees with addictions and chronic health issues such as anxiety and depression will eventually begin to perform poorly, so it is in the best interest of management to prevent this downward spiral.  Educating employees about the risks of substance abuse in the hospitality industry can help them to be more mindful of their behavior and the influences of those around them. It can also be helpful to change certain aspects of the culture, such as the customary shift drink, and replace them with healthy team building activities for the staff.  Additionally, employees who are exhibiting signs of addiction or poor mental health should be talked to seriously about how they can best seek treatment.  

Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress and emotional challenges of their job, and in doing so they may develop an addiction.  If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental illness, a quality treatment program can provide you with strategies for maintaining long-term sobriety.  At Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals ready to coach each client through the 12-Steps and beyond. By structuring treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders, Burning Tree facilitates an environment of healing and holistic wellness.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives through high accountability and life skills that foster lasting sobriety. We specialize in treatment for the chronic relapser, and believe that with the right tools, you can put an end to the cycle of addiction.

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My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

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