Working Around Alcohol at Bars and Restaurants

The service industry is full of individuals employed at either bars or restaurants and rife with employees either in full substance misuse or at the very least on the brink of it. The job duties alone tend to feed into the unhealthy behavioral patterns that can ultimately lead to unmanageable substance misuse with the long nights, late-night hangouts, high stress over short bursts of time, and an overall convivial attitude toward drinking. For many bartenders and waiters, the service industry did not create addictive disorders. Still, employment in the industry can advance the underlying behavioral habits that were already prone to substance misuse. 


Seeking help and achieving initial sobriety can often seem like an impossible goal for those with addictive behavioral disorders. This process is made even more difficult when the atmosphere you work in condones and encourages substance misuse. Many employees in the service industry are unaware of the unhealthy habitual behaviors that they act on daily. Those who do recognize their addictive disorders and find treatment must eventually face another problematic decision when leaving treatment services: Do they return to the restaurant or bar where much of their addictive behaviors began? 


There is no easy answer to this question. Many individuals will be forced to walk a tight-rope when it comes to choosing between being able to pay the bills and finding a safe space for employment that will promote their long-term sobriety. Making matters worse, most unskilled jobs in the labor market, at least those that earn the most livable wage, are increasingly limited to employment in the service industry. Since there may be little in the way of alternative employment options when it comes to earning a livable wage for service industry employees leaving rehab, we have provided some helpful tips listed below on how to manage your sobriety while working with and around alcohol.   


Alternative Employment Options


Before leaving treatment, service industry employees might face this problem — returning to work means a return to the same surroundings that contributed to using in the first place. This return to the familiar is the direct antithesis to the majority of addiction recovery teachings. To be surrounded by the familiar is to unnecessarily tempt an increased risk of relapsing. This can be especially difficult in early recovery. The ideal scenario would involve finding an alternative form of employment. The service industry includes restaurants and bars, and the hotel industry and coffee shops.


While many may not find alternative forms of employment, employees who have undergone addiction recovery treatment and are returning to work in the service industry should work to change some work habits, especially in the early stages of recovery. For starters, these individuals may want to consider applying to a different restaurant. A different setting within the same industry could be particularly beneficial if you drank with the same co-workers or at your previous place of employment. Bartenders, if possible, may want to shift gears and possibly bar-back or even wait tables for the first few months when returning to work early on in recovery. Consider switching from night shifts to lunch shifts. Some form of change in your employment needs to be made. If you simply start back at the same bartending or waiting gig that you held previously, then the likelihood of maintaining your sobriety long-term is that much slimmer. Too many familiarities and triggers will abound.


If alternative employment is not an option, here are some helpful tips on avoiding triggers and reducing the urges of cravings.


  • Create an Open Dialogue: Discuss your sobriety and comfort levels with management and co-workers.

  • Work Week Schedule: Arrange to Have a Regular weekly schedule. Routine is your friend.

  • HALT: Continuously check-in asking if you are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

  • Mindfulness Meditation: This will help you be less reactionary. Another trick that can help curb cravings as you mirror your breath in meditation is to pause on the inhale before exhaling; this will cause your mind to pause and stop the internal chatter.

  • Remove Yourself From the Situation: You do not have to physically leave the building, but you can step away from the triggering scenario. A fellow employee might handle your alcohol orders for a table if you feel at risk. Take a moment to reflect and gather yourself. For the most part, though, a busy lunch or dinner shift may also be the perfect distraction. During a lunch or dinner rush, the burst of activity provides no time to even think about alcohol consumption. Most likely, the slower shifts will pose more of a problem where alcohol consumption is concerned. In these scenarios, you may want to find busywork.

  • Regularly Attend Meetings: If you have to work around alcohol, then let a significant – maybe even matching – amount of time be surrounded by sobriety and discussions on abstaining from illicit substances.

  • Head Straight Home After Work: No late-night get-togethers or even hanging out with co-workers after a shift to wind down. You need to separate the world of work from the world of socializing. Chances are these two worlds, socialization and working, previously became too intertwined, and service industry employees should use caution to avoid future entanglements. 


If you or someone you love is employed in the service industry and needs treatment for an addictive disorder or co-occurring mental health issues, Choice House has dual-diagnosis addiction recovery treatment services to help. We offer men the chance to achieve sobriety and learn the necessary skills to maintain that sobriety even when faced with the challenges of re-entering the service industry workforce. Through various therapeutic modalities, men begin to build a new foundation based on love, empathy, and understanding as they explore their newfound sobriety at Choice House facilities. We are located in the Boulder County, Colorado area, and our treatment services include a 90-day inpatient program, an intensive outpatient service, and a sober living campus. We take full advantage of having the Rocky Mountain National Park literally in our backyard by utilizing a unique outdoor wilderness therapy where men can hike, kayak, and rock climb. New hobbies may be found, and the bonds of friendship formed here will certainly prove vital to the recovery process once recovery patients return to the workforce. For more information regarding Choice House facilities and addiction recovery treatment services, please give us a call at (720) 577-4422.


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