Updated July 18, 2023
People working in the hospitality industry face constant pressure to keep customers happy and to keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes. The variety of jobs in the hospitality industry in bars, restaurants, hotels and more keep people on their feet for hours at a time at all hours of the day and night. While people in the service industry work their long hours, they are often surrounded by a social atmosphere that prominently features drinking.
Working in the hotel and restaurant business is associated with a higher risk of addiction compared to many other career paths. One study found that 19.1 percent of people working in the accommodation and food services said they abused alcohol or used an illicit substance within the past month. Arts, entertainment and recreation was the second highest addiction-prone field included in the survey with 13.7 percent of workers reporting the same thing. What makes alcohol abuse in the service industry so common? How can you recognize when someone is struggling with addiction? Addiction may be difficult to talk about, but it is of vital importance. Learn more about alcohol addiction in the service industry and what to do next.
Alcohol abuse in bar and restaurant workers is understood to be a common issue. Not everyone in the industry will struggle with substance abuse, but many people do, proportionally more than other industries. What factors make substance abuse and addiction prevalent in the hospitality industry?
The restaurant industry, and other industries that revolve around hospitality, are designed to create a relaxed, social atmosphere for customers and visitors. Alcohol plays a big part in that atmosphere. It might be late on a weeknight, but bars and restaurants are still busy serving drinks. Some bars and restaurants have policies against drinking on the job while others don't. If you are a bartender, and one of your customers wants to buy you a shot, why not? It's a free drink, and it's good for tips. You want to be an approachable bartender who keeps up with the party atmosphere.
Even if you can't drink on the job, you are surrounded by people ordering bottles of wine, cocktails and the latest craft beer. They all look relaxed, smiling and laughing with their friends and family. It looks like fun. After your shift, you want to blow off steam. You clock out and hang out at the restaurant or bar for a while. You probably get free or discounted drinks. You treat yourself. After all, you have been working all day. It is easy to grab a drink or two before you head home.
Working in the hospitality industry is different than the typical nine to five job. Hours are erratic, and shifts are long. Bartenders, chefs and waiters can work 10 to 12 hours well into the night. During those hours, employees are under constant stress to perform. Behind the scenes, orders have to be put in, dishes made with beautiful presentation and drinks poured. Then, it is on to the customer-facing portion of the job. That means maintaining a quick pace, making small talk, smiling and hustling for tips. In many positions, low wages make the push to earn nightly tips even more stressful.
On top of those everyday stressors, many people in the restaurant industry contend with workplace bullying. Millions of people are affected by workplace bullying. In 2021, 30 percent of Americans faced abusive behavior at work and another 19 percent witnessed it happen. Managing a bully can be difficult or even impossible without leaving a job. Many people will suffer in silence in the name of keeping a steady paycheck.
So, you're working long hours, constantly on your feet, and your manager is actively targeting you. This is a recipe for stress that lasts long beyond working hours. Everyone handles stress differently. Some people throw themselves into exercise or a creative hobby. Other people binge their favorite TV show. Alcohol is also a common mechanism for coping with high levels of stress. A drink after a long day at work is one thing, but drinking to relieve stress can become a habit and lead to alcohol abuse or addiction. Research has also shown that alcohol can actually have the opposite of the intended effect and increase stress.
Many people in the service industry form social circles together. It makes sense. You can share experiences with your coworkers and other people who work in the industry. You all worked that same long shift. You all had that one terrible customer who was impossible to please. The irregular and long hours can make it hard to meet up with your friends who have regular, set hours. It is naturally easier to see the friends you make at work. Often, those social circles revolve around drinking.
You most often think of peer pressure and drinking in relation to teenagers, but adult social pressure can be just as powerful. Peer pressure may be easily recognized as one person or an entire group encouraging you to drink. It may be more subtle, offhand comments or questions. Or, it could just be a powerful urge to fit in with the group. It can feel a lot easier to fit in than to stand out from the crowd. After a long shift, everyone goes out together to blow off steam. You trade off buying rounds for the group. Turning down a drink probably won't go unnoticed. You don't want to risk the teasing, or worse, falling out of your social circle. So, you take that next shot or that next beer.
People who work in the service industry are often surrounded by excessive alcohol use. Working nights and weekends, they see customers come in and order round after round of drinks. After the end of the shift, many of their coworkers do the same thing. The risk of alcohol addiction is well known, but it is often ignored. Drinking is a social norm. Turning down a drink can often raise more eyebrows than ordering another one. The term "binge drinking" has entered the lexicon as more a badge of honor than a major concern. You binge tv shows, so why not binge on drinks? Fit in as much fun as possible, all at once. It is a socially acceptable form of entertainment.
This normalization of excessive drinking is common, but it can be particularly pervasive in the hospitality industry. Here, coworkers swap stories about their worst hangovers and how many drinks they can hold. These "war stories" are a kind of social currency. The more crazy drinking stories, the cooler the person. Drinking culture starts to become the norm. It can be hard to recognize when social drinking starts to cross the line into alcohol abuse or addiction when everyone around you is drinking heavily. It looks and sounds like everyone is handling their drinks just fine and having a good time doing it. Everything is normal until you take a step back and think about it.
Substance abuse is not always easy to spot. It can be even more difficult in the hospitality industry where alcohol use is so common. If you work in the service industry and notice these signs in yourself or someone you know, it is possible you are seeing signs of alcohol abuse and addiction.
It is not uncommon to hear people in the service industry boast about how they can handle a long shift after an equally long night of drinking, despite the hangover or even still being under the influence. Maybe you start to notice that the person making that boast is starting to slip up at work. They might be showing up late, taking frequent bathroom breaks, forgetting simple tasks or frequently dropping things. When these issues arise at work, you could be seeing someone who is still drunk or experiencing alcohol withdrawal. If drinking is affecting work performance, it is a problem.
When people in the service industry make a habit of calling off work, coworkers will notice. It is possible they have something else going on in their lives, like school or a family emergency. Alcohol abuse or addiction is another possible cause. If you have noticed this person struggling with their work responsibilities and then start to take more and more days off, this is a red flag. Alcohol abuse and addiction can take a heavy physical and mental toll, which will make it more difficult to keep up with life's responsibilities.
It can be hard to admit you or someone you care about is abusing alcohol or addicted to it, but withdrawal symptoms can be increasingly difficult to ignore. Withdrawal symptoms include:
You might also experience anxiety and depression. Some people can hide these symptoms or convince themselves they are not related to alcohol. But, as you lose more control, symptoms become more difficult to manage. If you observe these symptoms in yourself or someone you know drinks habitually, it is possible you are seeing withdrawal in action.
Alcohol is known to lower inhibitions. A glass of wine to help you feel less nervous on a date is one thing, but using alcohol and participating in risky behaviors is a big red flag. If you notice a coworker hopping into a car to drive home after a night of heavy drinking, insisting they are "fine," this is a major risk to their safety and the safety of others. An increase in risky sexual behaviors or aggressive behavior can also indicate alcohol abuse or addiction.
Do you have hobbies outside of the social drinking associated with work? It can be easy to be so exhausted from work that all you feel like you are up for is going out for drinks after work. If the other things you enjoy in life — spending time with family, exercising, making things — fall to the wayside to activities that focus on drinking, this is an indication that you are losing control.
Alcohol abuse and addiction may be an ongoing issue in the hospitality industry, but that does not mean people in these jobs can't get help. Some people can change career paths and find a place that does not put them in such close proximity to alcohol, but this isn't always a viable option. Other options include:
The prevalence of alcohol abuse and addiction in this industry is not a secret. Some business owners and service industry workers are trying to change the culture that normalizes alcohol use. For example, some people are forming support groups to talk about the unique pressures of working in the industry. Some people have worked their entire lives in the industry, experienced alcohol abuse and beat addiction. Finding this kind of support group can be a big step toward addressing the problem.
If you are in a management position in the industry, consider enacting policies that discourage drinking in the workplace on the job and after work hours. Try to address some of the common stressors that can lead to excessive drinking. Listen to complaints about workplace bullying and find ways to curtail abusive workplace behavior. No matter what position you work in, don't pressure anyone who decides to turn down a drink. Even something that small can have an effect on the workplace.
Cultural shifts take a long time, especially when that shift is focused on changing a massive, industry-wide issue. In the meantime, you or someone you know could be struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction. Acknowledge the problem and recognize that it is okay to ask for help.
At Diamond House Detox, we have a private alcohol detoxification program that is designed to help people safely detox and face their addiction. Our facilities offer private, luxury rooms, while our professional staff is there to ensure you detox safely under medical supervision. During the inpatient experience, clients have access to group and individual therapy, support meetings and meals made by our private chef. Admitting you have a problem and need help is a scary first step, but it is brave. Our compassionate staff understands how hard it can be for our clients to step through our doors, but once they are there, we will guide them through detox and give them the support they need to start rebuilding lives without alcohol.
We have locations in Elk Grove and Sacramento, Calif. We can pick you up from Sacramento airport or at the downtown train station. We are here to support you and make the decision to get help as easy as possible. If you are ready to ask for help, contact us today. Call today for same day admittance at (800) 205-6107.
Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 27th, 2019.