The Friday Fermentable: "Mixing Drinks With Work and Staying Sober, Too" (NYTimes)

i-b071250e5183c3856f3c0fe92346b5db-SFS and KZ 40s 515px.jpg

Figure 1. SouthernFriedScientist (@SFriedScientist) and Kevin Zelnio (Deep Sea News; @kzelnio) and their 40s preparing to leave to attend the 4th International Symposium on Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems - Hydrothermal Vents, Seeps and Other Reducing Habitats - in Okinawa, Japan. Yes, Dr Zelnio, those are absolutely gorgeous beards.

I don't know if Kim Severson of the New York Times knew this when writing her thought-provoking article earlier this week, but it coincided with the annual meetings of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) and the College of Problems on Drug Dependence (CPDD). (btw, this timing is annoying for researchers who work in the general area of substance abuse who would normally like to go to both meetings. DrugMonkey has pointed out that the pending merger of NIH's NIDA and NIAAA, a logical step, has not been met with enthusiasm by RSA, further reflective of the rift in the substance abuse research community).

But I digress.

My point of bringing up Severson's article is a question that interests me given the context of The Friday Fermentable; namely, what happens if you have a career in the alcoholic beverage industry but become an alcoholic or alcohol abuser?

Leaders in the hospitality industry have long acknowledged that alcohol and drug abuse are dangerous byproducts of a stressful business with ready access to both. Food service workers have the highest rate of illicit drug use and the third-highest rate of heavy alcohol use among major occupations, according to the latest data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. (Construction workers and miners drink the most, and installation and maintenance workers are second.)

According to the results of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's (NIAAA) 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) where over 43,000 Americans are queried every ten years, an average of 4.65% of the US population (or about 10 million citizens) met the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism over the preceding 12 months. The breakdown by sex, age, and ethnicity as well as trends between 1991-1992 and 2001-2002 can be found in tables at the NIAAA website but the complete, peer-reviewed publication is BF Grant et al., Drug Alcohol Depend 2004; 11:223. Lifetime alcoholism prevalence among the general population of Western countries runs at about one in six individuals.

One of the main tenets of any alcohol treatment program is to avoid people, places, or situations where alcohol might be available or provide cues that otherwise trigger alcohol use. But what if you have invested in a career as a wine merchant, bartender, or high-level hospitality manager and are diagnosed with alcoholism? And what if, as Severson reports, you are a recovering alcoholic with seven years of sobriety and about to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America but face an intensive, three-week wine course? And, if already in the industry, does one jeopardize one's job by not drinking?

Some restaurant owners say they have no problem making room for employees who don't drink (although no one suggested that a sober sommelier would be a great hire). Chefs can ask other cooks to taste dishes with alcohol, bartenders can follow formulas and waiters can gather pairing suggestions from knowledgeable colleagues.

"Service is so much about reading other people and verbal skills and eye-hand coordination," Ms. Gand said. "We have waiters who are allergic to chocolate and they can still serve chocolate desserts. And certainly, when Beethoven went deaf he could still write music."

But a stigma exists. Bartenders, waiters and wine experts who are in Alcoholics Anonymous contacted for this story wouldn't talk publicly -- not only because the organization's traditions suggest they don't reveal their membership to the media but also because they don't want to jeopardize their livelihoods.

Nevertheless, several individuals agreed to share their stories and this is the best part of this report. In the article, Severson interviews several people who have been successful at maintaining both their jobs and their sobriety including a New York City bartender, former private chef Liz Scott and author of Zero-Proof Cocktails, and British celebrity chef Michael Quinn whose Ark Foundation helps other chefs and restaurant workers with alcohol issues. (one tangent: when pulling up Liz Scott's book, I cam across Preggatinis: Mixology for the Mom-to-be and Margarita Mama: Mocktails for Moms-to-Be.)

While these stories are encouraging, my gut feeling is that they are exceptions to the rule. For example, well-known British wine writer, Alice King, wrote the book High Sobriety: Confessions of a Drinker based upon her early rise to writing success and subsequent descent into the vortex of alcoholism. King's February 2008 article in the Daily Mail is sobering - literally - and details how the need for drinking for a living catalyzed the deterioration of her life.

In any case, kudos to Kim Severson in writing a very interesting article for Friday Fermentable fodder.

An aside: alcohol and substance abuse in academia

The concept of availability in substance abuse prevalence is relevant in the context of health professionals. By far, the most-studied groups are physicians and other health care professionals who are subjected to board licensure (pharmacists, nurses, dentists). For example, while physicians as a group exhibit a lower prevalence of alcoholism than the US average, their abuse of other substances runs at least twice that of the national average, depending on the study (source).

Interesting to me is that I cannot find a single paper that addresses alcoholism or abuse of other substances amongst biomedical researchers or, more broadly, university professors (Although readers will remember the hotly-discussed 2008 Nature survey on use of cognitive enhancers by profs.). While most of us do not have unusual access to substances to abuse, one need only go to a scientific or educational conference to obtain anecdotal evidence of alcohol abuse amongst our peers. As many of us in cancer research have been driven to the career by family experiences with cancer, I, for one, would love to know the prevalence among substance abuse researchers of personal or familial substance abuse.

But is the prevalence really greater than that of the national average? Is our stress level close to that of a laid-off automobile worker. I don't know.

What do you think? Am I missing any relevant literature?


More like this

I'm very proud today to see one of my formative professors, Dr Fulton Crews, quoted extensively in a USAToday article on a new, web-based alcohol awareness initiative, "Rethinking Drinking," from NIH's National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Division of Treatment and Recovery…
The 75th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous has brought out a spate of legacy media articles about the organization, most singing the praises of an unscientific movement begun during The Great Depression that still forms the basis of many clinical drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs. My…
In a fitting end to what became simple math week here at Terra Sig, an article by Tara Parker-Pope in the Wall Street Journal addresses the issue of supersized alcohol portions. A subscription is required so I'll quote heavily. Considerable data has accumulated to suggest that there are health…
Please accept my apologies in advance for taking another edition of The Friday Fermentable to bring you a sober (pun intended) story about alcoholic beverages. The heat, beginning training for a half-marathon, and other stuff have my personal alcohol consumption at nil so I don't have any recent…

My casual observation is that those in the hospitality industry also more often are smokers.

As someone who was a cocktail lounge bartender for 20 years (3 star hotel) I can tell you that F&B workers really are a bunch of drunk, nicotine addicted druggies for the most part. The stress in the job is immediate and intense, the pay sucks, the abuse is high, job security almost non-existent, average education level low - all factors that lead to heavy abuse.

Global Drug Policy, your source that claims lower rates of alcoholism amongst doctors and higher rates of other addictions is wrong-- and not surprisingly, it is wrong in the direction of blaming addiction on availability, given that its political purpose is to support drug prohibition.

The little peer reviewed data that exists finds that the prevalence of addictive disorders in physicians is similar to that of the general population…

The stress in the job söve is immediate and intense, the pay sucks, söve the abuse is high, job security söve almost non-existent, söve average education level low - all factors that söve lead to heavy abuse.

I am the author of "Preggatinis: Mixology for the Mom-to-Be," (thanks for the mention, btw) and I also have many years in and around the hospitality industry under my belt. I would like to see restaurants and bars not only encourage healthy lifestyles in their staff - starting with health care benefits - but also offer more quality nonalcoholic drink options to their patrons.

Global Drug söve Policy, your source that söve claims lower rates of alcoholism söve amongst doctors and söve higher rates of other söve addictions is wrong söve and not surprisingly söve , it is wrong in the direction of blaming addiction on availability, given that söve its political purpose is to söve support drug prohibition.

in my experience working the service sector in the late 90s/early 00s, consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs were extremely common before, during, and after work.

By former serviceperson (not verified) on 28 Jun 2009 #permalink

As a bartender I can also chime in and say that alcohol use and abuse is very much a part of the gig, but definitely and almost exclusively by the young set. It's often an extended party for them at the end of the night... an unwinding if you will... they have a pocket full of cash, the energy to let 'er rip and that's what they do. It's a natural. The biggest tip cups I've ever had are from off duty people in the Bar Biz.

However, that behavior obviously takes it's toll for those who stay in the profession because if you keep that shit up when you're older you're just plain gone. Meaning you're unemployed or you're dead. And as far as AA goes, I also know more than a few guys who continued being bartenders long after joining AA because they regarded their gig as their livelihood now not that party.
Interesting discussion, Abel.

One of the main tenets of any alcohol treatment program is to avoid people, places, or situations where alcohol might be available or provide cues that otherwise trigger alcohol use.

The Big Book of AA says this, "In our belief, any scheme which proposes to shield the sick man is doomed to failure. If the alcoholic tries to shield himself, he may succeed for a time, but he usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever."

Whereas AA is not the only treatment option for alcoholics, this basic tenet rings true for many in sobriety. If you are truly in recovery from your alcoholism, being around alcohol, serving it, cooking with it, being with people who are consuming it - simply doesn't matter. There is no reason for someone in solid recovery to shy away from their profession because of previous problems with alcohol. Granted, you might not want to be sprung from a treatment center and go directly to the bar, but it is more than possible once stability has been achieved.

Great blog topic. I heard years ago (when my 8th grader was in an outpatient program due to excessive marijuana use)-from a number of parents- that the restaurant industry was the worst thing that ever happened to their kids. Years later, cooking was not only appealing to my son, but the restaurants were among the few employers that didn't require drug tests for hire. A couple of years of working as a server... and my son was almost dead due to combined alcohol and opiate abuse. Of course he might well have encountered the same fate (with addiction vulnerabilies on both sides of the family) in the construction industry (also attractive to him!) which reportedly exceeds hospitality in alcoholism. But ten months out of inpatient treatment (with a considerable amount of 'lapsing'), his request for help going to culinary school sounds more and more like a not-so-good idea.
Incidentally, in my limited experience (a brief acquaintance with a alcohol abuse researcher/professor...and 15 limited access students in his program), personal/family experience with substance abuse is a major factor in a person's interest in this field.

Interesting. I quit drinking 30 years ago and subsequently was offered a job as a bartender one night a week in kind of a trashy chic bar in an about to be gentrified neighborhood.

I'd been sober maybe 12-15 years at this point, and the job never once made me consider drinking. It did however make me consider killing a few drunks. I also found myself making really bad choices about who I slept with, ate with, and spent recreational time with. They all seemed to have way too much free time. Dunno, maybe the booze was a symptom of my lazy side. All I know is that life is much simpler without it. I now actually remember why I'm in court and I never wake up with anyone who was much prettier the night before.

As my first sponsor said, "you don't go into a whorehouse to hear the piano player". I guess this is what he was talking about, God rest his soul.