ask the readers: my boss has a drinking problem

I’m throwing this one out to readers to solve. A reader writes:

I have been working at a small but fast-paced company for a long time. Even during difficult economic times, it has thrived. This is because the company owner has nurtured a loyal client base and has carved out a nice niche.

However, years ago, the owner began disappearing. Because we were a loyal and competent staff, we were able to keep the company running smoothly. Over time, however, we began losing clients. Our employer had hit a rough patch, losing important family members and friends and found it difficult to function, and so stayed home. We were understanding and supportive and did what we could. This continued for a while and has been very damaging. And, now it has come to light that alcohol and substance dependency has come into play. This explains the long absences, missed meetings, irrational behavior, etc. The company has since slipped further into turmoil.

I have been able to get into a few phone conversations with this person, and they usually end in a cathartic emotional outpouring of grief while wallowing in self pity, dwelling on the past, and making false promises about getting it back together. There are periods of sobriety, but this only lasts a few weeks. Still it is like night and day, and while sober, I am reminded of the invaluable service this person is capable of providing. Still, being realistic, I have been looking for another job. Other employees have quit as well, and they have not been replaced. Our vendors have not been paid and have since filed lawsuits. There are debt collectors calling daily. Obviously, it is time to move on. This is out of my hands.

My question is, is there anything I can do to help this person who is suffering? There are thirty years between us, and we are not very social with each other outside of work. But there is still a bond there and I just want to help. I know that this is not really my business, since I am not a family member, but apparently, no one else knows about this. All family members are out of state and therefore easily fended off. We all know something is wrong, but no one will really get involved. I am the only one who knows the details behind this. My boss has confided and unloaded a lot on me, and I feel like I can’t just turn around and leave.

What do you guys think?

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob*

    If the relationship is as strong as you indicate, you need to have this person get professional help. I don’t know well enough what that would indicate – probably something more in-depth than AA – but something significant and immediate.

    That being said, is there any chance at saving the business? The OP seems to have a good handle on what is going on. If there is a chance to do so, the current owner needs to step aside and let someone who is capable of leading the business, take over. Perhaps the OP is that person?

    If not, the OP needs to look out for number 1 and leave. Do what you can to get the owner all of the professional help he needs, but you can only do so much. Good luck and let us know what happens!

  2. Anonymous*

    This is way out there, but depending on your relationship, (and if you want to), I don’t suppose he’d be willing to have you take over the (admittedly sinking) ship? You need to hire staff, sell your products, and pay your vendors, and the owner doesn’t necessarily need to be the one managing the day-to-day operations.

  3. fposte*

    If you can help your boss, that’s great. If you haven’t suggested AA, do; if you have information about a local meeting, that’s also great.

    However, that’s also a big “If”–if the boss has acknowledged that he’s an alcoholic and hasn’t yet gotten help, you can’t drag him there in a way that’s going to fix him. In fact, I’d suggest you might want to have a look at the Al-Anon website ( or go to a local Al-Anon meeting to get some perspective on what you can and can’t help with and what is and isn’t your responsibility. That may also help you decide what you want to do as far as taking those self-recriminating calls, because they may not be much good to him and I doubt they’re beneficial to you.

    It sounds like you’ve sanely separated this issue from your own economic needs; kudos to you. But just in case you needed to hear it, you cannot help him by sacrificing your own financial stability to bolster his self image, and you can definitely hurt yourself. So definitely move on with your job search even as you see what possibilities there might be for you to nudge somebody you’ve respected to drier land.

    1. Satia*

      I was hoping that someone would mention/recommend alanon.

      The very fact that you think you can help suggests that you will need the support and wisdom of alanon. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to help an alcoholic but you can help yourself through detachment and accountability, creating healthy boundaries, and knowing when you need to let go.

      Going to alanon will allow you to hear stories of coping with addiction that is not your own. They also have resources–books and other publications–to take home and reinforce how you can ensure your own sanity when dealing with the insanity of someone else’s addiction.

        1. Gina D*

          Ditto. Run, don’t walk to Alanon. Your boss is lucky to have a dedicated and concerned employee that is bustin’ butt while he gets sicker. Good luck.

  4. jmkenrick*

    This is really out of my area of expertise, but from my reading of your letter, I think you’ll regret it if you don’t do anything.

    My thoughts are these:

    As you’re preparing to move on (I’m assuming you’re already looking for other postions, and I’m also assuming the owner is aware that the company is falling apart in their hands) give your employeer as much warning as possible.

    If you were to alert friends or family members of your employeer, personally, I think it might be wise to do your boss the courtasy of tactfully letting him/her know that you’re going to be taking that action, so they don’t feel ganged up on.

    Do your absolute best to leave the company in the best condition you possibly can, even though you know it’s a sinking ship.

  5. snuck*

    I see you having three options career wise:

    Bail from the sinking ship like other employees are (without shame I might add!), hang around for a long haul and close your eyes and hope for the best (which sounds precarious), or hang around for the long haul and push the boss for someone (whether it be you or someone else) competent to step up and take over (this is assuming the boss doesn’t want the company to fail at some emotional level?).

    I understand in working with the boss for 30yrs you’ve built up a loyalty to him. Explain that to him, and ask him what you can do to help. Separate this from your work relationship (don’t do it in a work call or on work time), and I’d also suggest talking to an AA or similar helpline for ways you could help. Listening to him recant the same issues over and over and over isn’t helping, he sounds like he needs rapid practical help, whether that be from his family or professional help. You can say to him “Look boss-man I really care about you and it sounds like you are struggling a lot – do you mind if I talk to your family about this because it sounds like it’s time to ask for help from them before this gets any further out of hand”. If he says no, then you can say in future conversations “Well boss-man – I don’t know what you want me to do about this, it feels like you’ve been on the same page for years/months and frankly I wish you’d find a way past it. I’m fond of you after 30yrs, but you really need to find someone else to talk to about this that is professionally skilled at this, I am afterall just a caring employee” and politely close down the conversation.

    You can still do the friendly support stuff even if you take career option one. You aren’t responsible for this man’s actions, the health of his business, or his mental health. You can be caring and supportive (within tight boundaries) and still leave. Thirty years of service doesn’t mean you have to stay just because he’s having a tough time of it.

    1. Jen M.*

      “You can still do the friendly support stuff even if you take career option one. You aren’t responsible for this man’s actions, the health of his business, or his mental health. You can be caring and supportive (within tight boundaries) and still leave. Thirty years of service doesn’t mean you have to stay just because he’s having a tough time of it.”

      Very well said. It’s not too much different from having a family member who is an addict. You have to distance yourself for your own good, but it can be done in a caring way.

      I will echo the advice to look into Al-Anon to learn how to do this.

      I went through it myself with a partner, and I struggled for a long time. The whole thing did not end well, but I learned a whole lot.

      Very sad situation. I wish you and your boss the very best of outcomes!

    2. Laura L*

      I think that there is a 30-year age difference between the OP and the boss, not that they’ve worked together for 30 years.

  6. AG*

    I so feel for you. And for your boss; addiction is a terrible and destructive thing and so tough to manage when it’s consumed you – and SO sad to watch. I totally agree with the others who have suggested AA. But I know how hard it is to approach him about that, given your past attempts. If you really want to reach out, not knowing your boss’s personality or temperament, here’s my suggestion – go to – find a local meeting or local headquarters and see if you can stop by and pick up some pamphlets or other literature, along with a meeting schedule. If you can’t hand it to him in person, I’d leave it on his desk with a note saying something like – ‘I care about you and this company – I’d like to see you get back what you are losing…’ If he finds it in private, maybe he’ll take the time to look and maybe even act on it – he wouldn’t have to discuss it, just take his first step. This is all presumption on my part; you have to use your best judgement. If he CAN turn around, it may pay for you to stick it out. If not, you have to leave. I wish you both luck.

    1. Natalie*

      If you do stop by a meeting, it’s polite to make sure you’re stopping by an “open meeting” – one intended for guests who are not alcoholics. Some people in AA take the Anonymous part very seriously and would not appreciate someone coming by a closed meeting just to get literature.

  7. Your Mileage May Vary*

    If you don’t have experience being close to someone with an addiction, please attend an Al-Anon (or similar) meeting. You will discover that addicts tend to share the same behaviors. Knowing what those behaviors are in advance will help you decide how involved you want to be.

    I do believe that addicts can be in recovery. I know a lady that kicked a 20-year IV meth habit. I know others who decided to sign away their rights to their children because they preferred their addiction. (I am in social services.) But the decision to enter recovery is the addicts’ alone. And since your livelihood is dependent on your boss making that decision, I would set a deadline: if boss isn’t actively seeking help by X date, you leave. You can still be boss’ friend, if you wish to, after you no longer work there.

  8. Realistic*

    What fposte and Your Mileage May Vary said — Al-Anon is a wonderful resource to help you decide what you can/should do/not do. Anything you do to cover up for this person is enabling your boss to continue the addiction. And, sometimes, that’s what’s right for the company…. but it may not be right for you. The members of Al-Anon have been there, and can help you sort out what actions will protect you emotionally and otherwise. Good luck.

  9. jane*

    Turn around and leave. You need to take your career to a more functional place. Do it now, while you still have your sanity.

    It is very nice and noble of you to want to help this person deal with his personal problems. By all means, organize an intervention, suggest resources, take him to a rehab clinic. But you need to separate this situation from your career.

    1. Ellen M.*

      ^this. You cannot help the boss if he does not want help and you will only get caught up in more enabling behavior and do harm to yourself and your career.

      1. Andrea*

        This hits way too close to home for me, so I’ll keep it brief. But you need to leave for the sake of your own career. If you want to try to help on your own time, go for it. But make sure you are taken care of— career-wise, financially— before throwing your energy into trying to help.

  10. moe*

    I don’t find it plausible that you’re the only one who’s aware of the problem, OP–and if it’s something you’ve only had a couple conversations with him about, and someone you don’t socialize with outside of work, I’d suggest you steer clear of any further involvement. I don’t think you’re in the best position to help him with this. Find another job and move on… it’s not your battle to fight.

  11. Anonymous*

    You cannot help an alcoholic unless the alcoholic wants help. The best thing that you can possibly do for him is to get him to counseling, if he’ll do it. Any counseling – psychiatric, rehab center, religious, AA, whatever – though I strongly recommend someone who specializes in addictions if at all possible.

    The only other thing that you can do for an addict is be honest with him about how the addiction is hurting him, hurting business, and hurting other people (especially yourself). Any sugarcoating will allow the addict to try not to own up to the consequences of addiction or deflect blame elsewhere.

    After that, put some heavy-duty emotional buffers in place to protect yourself. You can’t control the addict, you can only control your reactions to him.

    Anything else will just prolong the inevitable or get you hurt. Addicts only stop when life becomes so bad for them that they must. You can’t force treatment on them. I say this as a woman who’s had to watch both her parents suffer from alcoholism for as long as I can remember. They still haven’t hit the point where they’re willing to admit the problem, and I expect that at least one of them will die of alcohol-related medical problems before that happens. It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t save addicts from themselves. Only they can decide to make the change.

    1. Anonymous*

      I should also add that, even with an addict who wants to change and is in recovery, relapses are common. They are expected. You don’t just enter a program and come out a week later (or a year later) fixed, like a broken bone. Being an addict is effectively a permanent condition – it’s more a question of how long can you stay sober despite the addiction.

      Replacing one addiction with a different one is also common – sometime with a “better” addiction and sometimes with a worse one.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        My brother replaced alcohol with cigarettes, and died from lung disease. For at least a decade, I don’t think he took a single breath during the day that wasn’t full of cigarette smoke. To me, it didn’t seem like a choice between this addiction OR that addiction, but apparently it did to him (but then I’m not the one who had an addictive personality).

        5-1/2 years, and I still miss him.

        1. Natalie*

          It’s pretty common for alcohol and drug addicts to successfully quit those addictions but never be able to give up smoking.

          Consider that alcohol and drug addiction don’t just shorten your life, they can also affect your thinking and ability to function on a day to day basis. For all their faults, smokers don’t typically blackout, abuse their loved ones, or drive impaired because of their addiction.

          1. Anonymous*

            While I agree that smoking, in many ways, is a preferable addiction to others, I will point out this:

            Over 440,000 people die every year from cigarette-related deaths. That’s many, many more people than die from alcohol-induced car accidents and alcohol-induced domestic violence. It’s about 10 times greater than the number of gun-related deaths a year. It’s far higher than deaths from all homicides and suicides combined.

            About 50,000 of those deaths each year are from second-hand smoke, where a cigarette addict is killing the people around him or her. It’s a much slower, less news-worthy death than a drunk who slams into a car full of teenagers, but it’s much more common. Smokers are more pleasant to be around than alcoholics, but they’re arguably more dangerous to others’ health.

            Comparatively, alcohol’s estimated yearly death toll is 75,000 (some are deaths of the alcoholic, others are death by alcoholic – hard to get good numbers but it looked like a 50/50 split roughly) . Not a trivial number, but no where near the cigarette death number.

            1. Natalie*

              When it comes to the decision to quit using alcohol/drugs, fear of death usually isn’t the main motivator. The substance use has often ruin the addicts relationships and quality of life because alcohol/drug addiction affect brain function far more than cigarette smoking does. When an addict is using all of their will and/or emotional reserves to stay clean, they may not feel they can “spend” anything on quitting smoking. Nicotine addiction also correlates strongly with depression and other mental illnesses, so to some people they may feel smoking is a form of self-medication they need and can tolerate, versus whatever their drug of choice was.

              This isn’t true for everyone in recovery, but it is pretty common. Rates of tobacco addiction are much higher among people in recovery (and people with mental illness).

    2. Anonymous*

      I am a frequent reader of this blog with 20 years sober. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment, and others that suggest Al-Anon.

      As sad as it is, we have a saying that AA is for people who want it, not people who need it. You cannot shelter this person from himself. If he wants to discuss what is going on, try to disengage and recommend calling AA, asking him if you can call AA to arrange a 12-step call for him (they will take care of everything), or as a last resort, call his family and/or arrange an intervention with a mental health professional that specializes in addiction. They may ask you to participate in this. Go ahead and do what you think is best, but be careful that you may face retaliation. Don’t put youself or your job in jeopardy.

      After that, you have to let him go and do what he has to do. Good luck.

      1. Natalie*

        If you’re able to share and don’t mind, what does a 12-step call entail? I’ve never heard of that.

        1. Anonymous*

          Someone mans the phones at the AA office when you call the number (available in the directory/google/yellowpages/whatever). They have a list of people who are available to physically go to someone’s home and talk to them, share their experience, and offer to take them to a meeting then or at another point in the near future. The 12-step volunteer/s (usually in pairs for safety concerns) will call the alcoholic, confirm that the person wants a visit, and will go to their home.

          I have lived in cities where volunteers take turns having the. Calls routed to their homes for 12 or 24 hour shifts, where someone’s paid position is to do this, even on night shifts, and where there are actually 12-step parties like a slumber party to hang out at someone’s house all night when they have the calls coming to their homes.

          For those that may not be familiar, the 12th step is where we carry to message to the still-practicing alcoholic (but only the ones who have expressed an interest in recovery).

  12. Dan*

    Note: You may be in a different industry but the rules are not much different.

    Ok… so we are in the same boat! I completely understand where you come from and how you feel. It is very overwhelming to deal with someone else’s problems when you have your own. I started working in this place and the owner and I were having professional relationship, until he started turning it into a friendly, by trapping me in it. He’s got multiple family issues that have been running in the family for the past several years and not only that affects their family but it affects our staff and their families, because the level of stress is beyond anything believable and most of our staff ready to leave, both front and the back of the house.

    The business started losing customers and ridiculously fast loses money, from over 6 digit sales a month we went down to 4 digits, so he decided to sell it, so he can deal with his issues. To add gasoline to the fire, our Chef went on a 3 MONTHS vacation and no word of coming back.

    As a sous-chef , I decided to step up the game and sat down with the owner. I told him he needed to stay away from work and get help and solve family problems, as it only brings damage to the business and people around him . I asked him if he trusted me to enough to run the place. He said he did, but wasn’t quite sure if that’s right decision to make. I know he didn’t believe in me that I could do it, but I left him no options. The ship was sinking and the wholes needed to be fixed. I took things in my hands. I haven’t had a day off for 5 months now . I worked 160 hours in each 2 week pay period.

    I am only 25 years old and I made myself believe that I can do this. I was scared to death, but I believed in me, and and my team… The only 3 people left in the kitchen. First week I planned what to do, and ran on only 3-4 hour sleep. First day of a second week I called a meeting with the kitchen staff. I decided to create a budget, and ask my staff for help. (Later I discussed this with the front manager and his staff… read further to see what happened). I asked if they would work for less money then what they earned at the time, so it would create more space to use money responsibly, and will bump it back up, when the business recovered. They were skeptical, and I would be too, but I had to believe in me and what I was saying to make them believe it will happen.

    I used every single opportunity to get customers back, called them, emailed them, NOT BEGGED for the business, but promised to raise standards above what they were when the business was at it’s peak, created a new menu, and RE-LAUNCHED the opening. I walked the streets and talked to people why they won’t come back… I contacted suppliers and negotiated deals, even though we owed them money, somehow they believed me , we could recover. Many other marketing tricks were used and it payed off.

    The food cost went down from 48-23%
    The labor cost went down from 39-29%
    We rose above national average of 4.6% after tax sales per dollar, achieving 6.95.

    The point. Get THE MAN help, MAN-UP and TAKE THINGS IN YOUR OWN HANDS… You have to believe in yourself, create a strategy to get business back on track. And if any moral support is necessary , note that there is a stranger who walked a mile in your shoes and made it happen.

    Let us now how as it unfolds.

      1. Dan*

        . Sure i am proud of it, but i’m proud of all people who unconditionally supported me,without their support my idea would remain only the idea that something could have been done. Thanks you for the kind comment.

    1. Anonymous*

      Just curious – did the owner resolve his issues? Do you still work there? (Always hoping for a happy ending :) )

      1. Dan*

        It is a happy ending!!! :) The entire family is going for counseling, I hope things will get even better for them. The business is running smooth and I finally got a day off-today. Thanks

    2. Jen M.*

      Dan, that’s amazing! You are a true superstar! I hope that, as things get better, you can hire a couple more staff and get some breaks for yourself, so you don’t burn out.

      You are an inspiration.

      As for your boss, I hope that he works his stuff out and can step back up.

      1. Dan(Chef)*

        Thanks Jen,
        I appreciate your comment. Currently, we are on a good track. If we continue this tempo, within next 2 months we will able to hire at least another person or maybe even two. Honestly I would rather have one expert and pay decent, then 2 crutches with regular pay. I am psyched about this so much… just like a butterfly! Got a pair of wings :D

  13. Eva*

    As stated in several other posts, addiction is a terrible thing that unfortunately happens to many after a loss of a close loved one – they are self-medicating and as others have said that unless the addict wants help, you can’t do anything about it but it seems to me that he does want to do something about it, however, his problem is he is still grieving and needs help expressing it. Because you did say he has had moments of sobriety.

    Here is a suggestion for you: Find out if there is a local grief counseling center, if you can’t find one contact a pastor and ask him/her about grief counseling in the area. Once you find one, get some information together for him. Hand it to him and tell him something like this, “I know you are having a difficult time but what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you could look into this agency, it specializes in helping those who are grieving. Good Luck.” then walk away but I also think if you know of a family member he might be close to perhaps you can contact them and mention the signs you have seen and suggest to them “he could really use your help.” After this I would keep in contact because I think the worse thing a person who is grieving is to have more people walk out of their life completely.

    I agree you should move on career wise but if you truly want to help him, become a friend to him, sounds like he could really use one. Of course you have to decide how far you are willing to go but good luck with the direction you decide.

    1. Jen M.*

      It’s more complicated than just losing someone. This may be a physiological condition that runs in his family.

      There is a difference between someone who self-medicates for temporary pain and someone who is an addict. The prior will generally bounce back after a time (but CAN become an addict.) The latter will struggle all of his/her life.

      It’s one of the worst diseases ever, IMO.

  14. NewReader*

    I just had to comment here.
    I had a family member in a similar position. The boss’ life spun out of control because of drinking.
    The family member was scared out of her mind to confront the boss. (The boss was very witchy.) But she decided to go in the office, close the door and chat. She figured she had lost the job anyway. The situation was very bad. She thought she had nothing left to lose.
    Family member suggested AA to the boss.

    In time, the boss went to AA. The boss sobered up. And the boss remained a life long friend because my family member had the guts to have that chat. My family member kept her job.

    One huge clue stands out here. The boss is confiding in you. It could be the boss thinks you are a trust worthy, level headed person. You might be able to have that conversation, where other people would not be able to do so.

    It could be that in the end you decide to leave the job. But you could also decide to take one last chance with helping the boss by having a talk about AA, before you leave.
    My family member had obtained information (brochure, contact numbers) from AA before she began her chat with the boss. It helped the boss to see how serious the conversation was.

    As others have pointed out- you do not *have to* talk to the boss at all- if you do not want to. It sounds to me like you might be feeling moved to do something to help someone in trouble. Talk to a couple (2-3) people near you whose opinions you respect and who will keep a confidence. Mull over what they say, too. Then decide.

  15. Liz*

    It sounds like a shame cycle. The boss feels terrible about avoiding responsibilities, and then uses negative behavior to avoid feeling terrible, which causes lost work, which triggers more feelings, which are avoided with negative behaviors., and just typing this is exhausting, let alone living with it.

    Anything you say that feeds into the “you should be doing this instead” cycle will just start the whole thing over again. It sounds weird, but the best result usually comes from making the person feel safer. If he or she criticizes himself, or gives you an opening to do so, resist the urge to say anything like “You should…”

    Instead just listen and try to make the boss feel normal. “I would feel the same way…” “How do you want to handle it?” that sort of thing. It’s like soothing a cranky toddler. Someone who feels this awful just can’t process anything until he or she feels better, and that won’t happen until the reasons for self-punishment are gone.

    Just watch out for statements that sound positive but can be used to reinforce the shame cycle. “You can come back from this” will just make the boss think, “I did make a huge mess that I have to fix… How could I be so stupid!”

    Does that make sense? I think it’s easier if you’ve dealt with a toddler :)

    1. Liz*

      PS- I wouldn’t give someone AA literature unless he asks. It just feeds into the cycle.”Oh no I’m so terrible people think I’m an alcoholic. I’m so embarrassed. That makes me want a drink…”

      My family is just nuts rather than substance abusers, so I could be missing something. I only know how I react when I’m doing something I know hurts me, and usually any friend who tells me rather than asks just makes it harder for me to stop. I think diagnosing someone else might provide a short term improvement, but it won’t last. Eventually the person just rebounds even harder, because he feels worse. Embarrassment is probably te most destructive thing in the world :)

      1. Anonymous*

        That is, emphatically, not how addiction problems get resolved. Your heart is in the right place, but you’re treating it as if it were some depression or anxiety disorder. It isn’t. There may be depression, anxiety, and even shame cycles, but that isn’t the main problem for this boss – this boss is an addict. The main problem is an addictive substance the guy takes that drives him to put the substance above every other thing in his life (including shame!).

        Depending on the severity and range of the addiction, he probably doesn’t remember most of the shameful things that he’s done.

        1. Anonymous*

          Agree. Would be a perectly good response under most circumstances. But if he has had enough, then he will be receptive to AA or other help despite his shame. Or you will be planting the seed for him to do it later when he has hit a bottom. I am the one who posted above with 20 years sober. Many people, myself included, have sucked every ounce of emotional energy out of good, caring people doing exactly this without making any personal progress.

          This person is in a living nightmare. Point to the exit, compassionately and firmly.

        2. Liz*

          I see what you’re saying. Like others have pointed out though, it isn’t the employees job to fix the boss. (or anyone’s job to fix anyone else). If you want to encourage someone else to fix his own problems, being nice works a lot better than anything that can be used to feed into the negativity. I’m not being Pollyanna, I’m being practical :)

          You can’t make someone else get help. You can make it easier to admit he needs help. It’s also just more kind. People act out because they already feel terrible. It doesn’t help to say or imply they’re right. They’ll just agree with you, clean it up a bit, and then rebound even more.

          1. fposte*

            We’re in an interesting position here, Liz, because this time I’m going to be the one arguing for being more direct :-). That doesn’t mean forgoing kindness, which I’m never in favor of, but some of the behaviors that seem like kindness–like patiently listening to the long self-flagellating phone calls–are likelier to be supporting the destructive behavior. Helping him feel normal can be okay, but in practice that more often means supporting the denial that anything is wrong or tiptoeing around the alcoholism. And there’s no real way out of alcoholism without acknowledging alcoholism.

            I agree that you don’t want to just hand him piles of literature that he’s not asking for, but another way out of the shame spiral is to treat alcoholism as the disease it is, speak of it openly, and point out that what we do with diseases is get them treated so that we can get better. That, too, is normal.

            1. Laura L*

              That’s actually a good way to approach mental illness, as well. I know different people react differently, but stigma against talking about it leads to more shame.

            2. Anonymous*

              I like direct. I don’t like diagnosing other people :)

              You don’t know you’re right, and it’s not your job (unless you literally are a paid professional retained for the purpose of solving a problem).

              People just way overestimate their ability to understand another person, and when someone is acting in a self-destructive way ANYTHING that reinforces the self-assessment will just make things worse.

              Seriously, I’m not saying lie. I’m saying don’t believe a self-destructive person, because he is always lying. There’s a difference :)

              1. fposte*

                Sure, when it comes to Asperger’s or such. But if somebody falls in your office falls and their leg is at an angle, it’s not presumptuous to say they broke their leg and that they need to go to the hospital. Obvious drinking problems are pretty obvious, and I think it’s kosher to accept somebody’s presented behavior and statements about it for the purposes of a helpful conversation. You tell me you wish you could stop drinking and you swear you’re going to? I’m going to talk about you getting help for drinking, because getting you help for what you say you’re dealing with is the most helpful tool I have. I don’t see how it’s helpful for me to hypothesize other problems in that situation–if there’s another issue than the one you’re talking about, the professionals you go to for help are the ones who will find it and deal with it.

                And ultimately I disagree with the “anything that reinforces the self-assessment will just make things worse,” especially since it sounds like you mean “don’t suggest somebody has alcoholism.” I think this is an excellent example of a case where refusing to name the problem or even the possibility of the problem is actually contributing to the problem.

  16. Andy Lester*

    Echoing the suggestion to look at Al-Anon. The only requirement for membership is that you’re concerned with someone else’s drinking, which clearly you are.

  17. Anon*

    I assume from the way you’re talking about this that’s it’s not a law firm and that you’re boss isn’t a lawyer, but just in case you anonymized the details and it is, you can contact your State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program. They will have substance abuse counselors and are specifically set-up to help people who refer colleagues and co-workers. (Other professions might have similar, so if your boss is a member of one, that’s also something to look into.)

  18. Lisa*

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but if the vendors are not being paid …how much longer until the salaries are not paid? Start saving every cent for the inevitable. Unemployment takes a few weeks to kick in, and you won’t know you aren’t paid until your check bounces or is um late. If you live paycheck-to-paycheck like most of the US, you have to consider yourself first. You also should not become your boss’s emotional support as it becomes draining very fast. You should; however, take it upon yourself to find a therapist for him that is close to his house. Speak to the therapist, and try to facilitate an appointment as soon as possible. Your boss doesn’t need a shoulder to cry on or a family member to “fix” him, he needs a professional that can get him to make baby steps toward getting better. AA is great, but can be daunting, and I don’t recommend just AA, its like saying ok… go to AA, see ya. Let’s say he goes to AA, and he doesn’t speak to anyone. That doesn’t help him, and if he is one of a group and never talks or connects to anyone then he won’t get better. No one goes into AA, and immediately starts speaking up and spilling their guts to strangers. So a combo of 1-on-1 therapy and AA is the best option. A therapist can get your boss thinking about an AA program, and introduce him to someone that can make it less daunting to be at those meetings. I think you have a really good shot at getting your boss to spill his guys to a therapist, by making the appointment for him and getting him there the first time. Stay in the waiting room though, this isn’t your life. You will become his emotional crutch if you let him continue to tell you his problems.

    1. Jen M.*

      A therapist may not talk with the OP about the boss’ situation. Generally, they will only speak with family members about the patient. The OP can, however, SUGGEST a therapist or rehab near the boss’ home.

  19. Rachel B*

    OP can best help him/herself and the boss by not being financially dependent on the company. It may be helpful for the longevity of the company to lie about when a bill will be paid or tell a client that the boss is in a meeting when he or she is incapacitated, but an addict needs to realize how damaging his or her behavior is on other people. With the support of Al-Anon, OP can learn how to establish healthy boundaries and continue to support the boss effectively without that conflict of interest.

  20. Just a Reader*


    You can still provide help by looking out for yourself. This company will get a reputation soon, if it hasn’t already, of substance abuse and failure to honor contracts. You don’t want to be tied to that. Remain a friend and try to get him help but do not think about staying for one second.

    1. Ellen M.*

      I have to agree with this. Staying is enabling. And will do damage to the OP in a number of ways.

      1. Dan*

        I strongly disagree with this…. That is always the easy way out. And being coward is not something anyone should be proud of. I know you will say, it’s not being coward but rather THINKING about YOURSELF, which translates to SELFISHNESS. None of those words were applicable that much decades ago, because people were HELPING each other, and that’s how they all succeeded. Nowadays, unfortunately, everyone looks after themselves only. I didn’t back up. I stepped up the game and took upon major responsibilities that I, myself, didn’t believe I could do. Not only that I helped my boss and his family, but I also helped everyone else to keep their jobs, and created a “Black day budget” (that’s what I call it) and that’s for the days when the business is slow to cover the unexpected expenses. DON’T BE WEAK! Trust me it will create a GREAT sense of SELF ACCOMPLISHMENT, and people will show you RESPECT for what you did!

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re being overly hard on the OP, and I don’t think it is weak or selfish to find another job rather than shepherding the previous one through a bankruptcy somebody else caused. It’s great that you were able to pull a business together in a difficult time, but staying isn’t a sacrifice that anybody owes a business.

  21. Jen M.*

    I’ve read all of the comments, and the advice to look into Al-Anon is spot on.

    I think you are right to both feather your nest for a rainy day (save as if the end is coming, because sadly it probably is) and look for a new job. That said, since you DO have this 30-year bond with your boss and he/she clearly trusts you enough to confide in you, I feel like you’d do well to try and have that talk with him/her. It’s a very tough talk, and they may resent you suggesting AA, but I feel it’s a kind way of reaching out before you detach.

    You definitely need to detach. Try allowing him/her to talk to you for, say, 10 minutes and then end the conversation by saying something about having work to do or a meeting to attend. Don’t let yourself get sucked in! (Addicts are good at this.) You want to be a HELP, not a crutch.

    Best of luck to both you and your boss!

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes, yes, yes. Jen, you really did learn a lot! One other saying we have is to be careful not to deprive someone of their bottom. Don’t be a crutch for the addict to the point where they don’t experience the necessary catalyst/pain to get help. He may say he is ready, but his actions belie the truth. Let him get to the point of desperation; then and only then will he become ready to get sober and face this. The day may never come, but you have to detach from that or get entirely emotionally sucked in.

      1. Jen M.*

        Yeah. Sadly, in my case, I learned the hard way. I hung in there, because I loved the person very much. Sadly, they did not love themselves enough to win the fight. The person passed away in 2007.

        I’m still healing, 5 years later, but in 2009, I named my codependency, and I’ve been working on it. I’m living in a much healthier way now.

  22. Realistic*

    The amount of mis-information and emotional baggage about addiction in this thread makes me sad. I’ve worked in the recovery field for a number of years, and know that there’s a lot of ignorance about it, but seeing it here just saddens me. It reminds me that EAPs are often a thing of the past, well-meaning people spread their own prejudices, and some folks just haven’t gotten the word about the biological component to addiction. Sigh. Good luck to you, OP, I hope you find real information about your specific situation, and find the strength to take action of some sort. Addiction is truly cunning, baffling and powerful. May you find help from someone who lives with, or has lived with, the problem of alcoholism. They understand it as perhaps few can. Talk to someone who has been where you are, and learn from their experiences.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I know little about addiction so I can’t be of help here, but it sounds like you can. Will you offer advice based on your work in the field?

    2. fposte*

      Wow, I wasn’t seeing anything that seems at all to contradict to what you said.

      (And if this company’s EAP is a thing of the past, that’s the fault of the owner–who is the addict in question.)

    3. Dan*

      For someone who is complaining about mis-information, you don’t exactly provide any solutions.

        1. Rob*

          I have to second what Dan said. However, I do look forward to reading about how to correctly handle this situation from an expert.

        2. Dan(Chef)*

          Just to clarify, that this is not the same person as the one (me ) who wrote the comment above related to the restaurant business.

          1. Realistic*

            Okay, it’s 1:30 AM and I have spent the last few hours putting out fires for my clients. I apologize for dropping my statement and then disappearing, it’s not what any of us wanted to happen, but sometimes that’s how it works out. I’ll try to make the best attempt at an answer with limited brain cells. In general terms: 1) “there is nothing you can do” and “he has to want help” are — *on the surface* true, but also not true. An interventionist can help coordinate a conversation in which an addict has to make a choice about his/her actions. As someone who the addict has reached out to already, the employee is already in a good position to spearhead this discussion. I have seen interventions in which employees, family members and treasured (and trusted) clients have participated in successful interventions. Are they risky? of course. But, statistically, women stop drinking when they lose their families, and men stop when they lose their jobs/businesses.

            2) Drinking as part of a shame cycle or as a reaction to grief — again, perhaps “on the surface” true, but also not true. Alcoholics drink because they’re alcoholics. They drink because — for a time — they can’t NOT drink. The body is acclimated to needing alcohol, the neurotransmitters in the brain have changed biochemically to require alcohol to function. Withdrawal is physically painful not just emotionally but also physically. The body needs alcohol in the way that the body needs water in order to function properly. It’s an obsession of the mind AND body. While the boss may have started drinking to deal with his emotional pain, at some point, in many alcoholics, a physiological line is crossed. Does that mean recovery is not possible? Not at all. But depending on their physical assessment by a doctor well versed in addiction, they may need medication to change their body chemistry back to being able to form neurotransmitters on their own. Early stage alcoholics who get sober often go on sugar binges (ice cream and hard candies are hot tickets for the newly sober) as a self-medicating way to do this!

            Sigh, again, my apologies. I wish I could have answered this post when my reactions to the posts were fresh in my mind. It is true that there was a lot of supportive, good information in this series of comments. The best of which was that Al-Anon is a good resource available to the employee. The other good parts were the affirmations that the employee needs to take care of her or himself. Financially, emotionally, career-wise.

            1. Anonymous*

              Well said! Seems as though you had plenty of brain cells. I continue to be amazed at the number of people whose lives are touched by alcoholism. I am so grateful for my sobriety and will be saying some prayers for OP and her boss.

  23. Anonymous*

    I have alcoholic and substance abuse family members. (Who doesn’t!!!!??)
    I suggest that if you have 30 years with him, you should have a very frank talk with him and tell him how his behavior is effecting the business, that people will be leaving, that he will be in debt and will loose the business.
    Because, substance abuse people live in total denial.

  24. Lisa*

    Are you sure your boss isn’t Don Draper? (Sorry, sorry.)

    It’s my feeling that the best you can do to help him change is stop helping him not change. Meaning, leave and tell him bluntly, “I have accepted another offer because your choices relating to alcohol use are endangering the business and I can no longer sacrifice my happiness or advancement to cover for you. I hope that you will seek professional help and choose more wisely in the future.”

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