Mr. Marriage Counselor: "Someone Smelled Alcohol on Me at Work"

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    Alcohol addiction can be one of the most difficult addictions to recognize and deal with. Because alcohol is such a normal part of today’s culture, it’s consumption is considered a regular part of many people’s daily lives. In fact, in many ways, drinking alcohol has been elevated to a social pastime and is looked upon as everything from a rite of passage, to a sign of sophistication and prosperity.

    However, for many these characterizations create a slippery slope leading to alcohol abuse and even addiction. And if you’ve crossed the line into consuming alcohol at particularly inappropriate times, or in secret, there’s a problem. Especially if you’ve been caught drinking alcohol at work.

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    The truth is that alcohol is an addictive substance and is readily available to nearly anyone and everywhere. There are virtually no barriers to drinking if you choose to. And while there are those that recognize the line between enough and too much and can sip in moderation, there are equally as many for whom that line is very fuzzy or non-existent. Crossing this line can be a sign of alcohol addiction and it can have detrimental effects on lives, relationships and careers.

    What Alcohol Abuse Can Look Like

    Drinking during the day, or in your work environment, definitely means you’ve crossed a line. Below is a question we recently received from a man who crossed that line and whose supervisor could smell the alcohol on him. As a result, he was dealing with not only workplace problems, but also problems in his personal life and marriage. My response to him follows.

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    Reader Question:

    Someone smelled alcohol on me at work and I was suspended. My anger and frustrations are affecting my marriage and work. What do I do?" -George V.

    My Answer:

    First, you're not alone. I've helped quite a few other men who've struggled with alcohol addiction and it's affect on their work. One guy is a doctor and he was suspended by his licensing board last year, but after getting treatment was able to go back to work. Another guy had to go to counseling for a while before his company would let him come back to work. Be hopeful -- most guys are able to keep their jobs if they will get help.

    Second, the anger and frustrations you have in your marriage and work are a sign that some other things are going on for you besides the alcohol. Most often the use of alcohol is the way we medicate ourselves to help us deal with other issues. Anger management classes would probably really help you as well. Full recovery from alcohol addiction means learning to cope in healthier ways with the problems that got you there in the first place.

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    Lastly, your first step needs to be a proactive approach in dealing with your work suspension. Men who respond to this with the attitude that it's a wake-up call and an opportunity have the best outcomes. This means following any instructions or recommendations your employer makes, have a professional counselor assess you and make treatment recommendations, and developing an action plan and implementing it.

    Life Beyond Alcohol Addiction

    With help there can be a life and happiness beyond alcohol addiction. It’s important to understand though that in most cases there are problems that led to, or resulted from, the alcohol abuse and simply stopping the drinking won’t be enough. Addictions of any kind affect more than just you – they also affect your partner, family and everyone you love. For this reason you’ll also likely need to work through the other issues and, in many cases, rebuild trust with those who have been affected. This will include your employer if alcohol has affected your work performance.

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    George put himself, his family and his career in jeopardy by drinking on the job. And while his employer and the others I described above have been forgiving and supportive when their employee has sought help, that can’t be counted on as a given. There are some situations where one slip-up of this magnitude can be the end of a career, especially in positions where harm could be done to others. So if you’re reading this and can relate to George, it would be smart to seek help now, before you’ve created additional and bigger problems for yourself.

    If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol, and it could be an addiction, it’s time to do something about it. The techniques for quitting and then repairing relationships take time and some assistance. Particularly if you've gotten to the point George reached and are drinking at work.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 24, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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