Functioning Alcoholics in the Workplace: We Think We’re Stealth But We’re Not

I used to work as a television producer in New York, interviewing music artists and writing scripts for MTV News video segments.

I had a coworker who was an alcoholic. Every time I stepped on the elevator with him, I could smell the potent fumes of alcohol emitting from his mouth and skin. Maybe he didn’t drink in the daytime, but last night’s binge was lingering today. Little did I know that I, too, was probably gushing the same odor.

In my functioning alcoholic days, I used to drink a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer every night. Later, I would drink much more than that, but problem drinking starts small and gets worse and worse.

Especially in the creative realm, drugs and alcohol seem to be inescapable. There are always drugs at parties when you move in creative circles. And they’re done out in the open.

A friend of mine who used to work in a jingle house (a company that wrote and recorded music jingles for advertisements) talked of smoking weed in the stairwell several times a day, almost like a regular cigarette break. The boss was even in on it.

Cocaine was readily available in my office, although I didn’t partake. On one occasion, an editor actually asked me for a dollar bill — not for the vending machines, mind you. When he returned the bill, he was noticeably full of pep.

Everything’s hunky dory until your drug and alcohol abuse begins to affect your work. You’re late every day, arriving haggard and disheveled. You miss that morning meeting on a regular basis, failing to offer up ideas for the day’s work. You procrastinate. Your mind starts to wander, constantly anticipating the end of the day when you can go home and crack open another beer.

Toward the end of my six-year tenure at MTV News, I withstood a major manic episode. By then I was drinking and smoking pot more than ever but also cranking out stories and working ‘round the clock. No sleep was required because I was manic.

They say it takes one to know one. My elevator buddy worked on the digital side of things, whereas I was a video guy. We had different bosses. I believe his boss said something to him about the odor and the flagrant behavior. He finally got help and fought to become sober. I, however, floundered for another four years until I was back on the straight and narrow. I don’t know how I managed to go stealth, but I did. A lot of smoking and gum chewing was involved in my cover-up scheme, though that doesn’t usually mask the smell all the way, since the alcohol emanates from your pores as well.

When you’re stuck in the depths of addiction, you don’t realize you have a problem. Sometimes it takes someone to kick you in the ass. No one kicked me in the ass at work — I was still producing good work — so I continued my nefarious behavior.

My journey was different than that of my elevator buddy. But soon my addiction would catch up with me, and nearly destroy my life.

Now I work from home, which can be isolating, but I make my own hours and if I need to take a break, I take a break. I could easily fall back into old habits, and probably no one would know, but I’m done with drinking for good. I know I am. It just seems like it would be gross to me now.

If you’re a problem drinker, you probably don’t realize it. You just go about your life, thinking things are fine and dandy.

But I’m here to tell you that if you are drinking to the point of reeking of alcohol the next day, you are in trouble. If you can’t make it through the day without a line of coke, you are also in danger. Stop addiction in its tracks before it becomes a serious problem. Sober up and keep your job. And while you’re at it, cut down on your drinking and drugging — if not for job securitythen for your health and safety.

Conor Bezane is a writer who covers mental health. He’s contributed to MTV News, AOL, and VICE. His first book The Bipolar Addict is available now on Amazon.

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