do I have an obligation to tell my bosses about my substance abuse problem?

A reader writes:

I am high-performing mid-level supervisor at my job. That’s not just a self assesment; in my most recent performance review, the GM of my branch told me that he is impressed with my work and he even wants to start preparing me for a management role!

So what’s the problem? Well, I have a history of substance abuse. I am currently in treatment, working with a psychiatrist to address the underlying mental health issues that fuel my self-destructive behavior. I am doing so much better than I was a year and a half ago, and still making progress down the long road to sound mental health. But I am not quite there yet, and in the past year I’ve had a few of slip-ups and ended up calling out because I was too hungover to work. This wasn’t every month or anything, maybe three or four times in 12 months. I’d like to say, “That’s it, last time will be the last time that I screw up like this!” But while an optimistic approach to recovery is good, anyone who has been around an addict or been addicted themselves can tell you that a moment’s determination is no guarantee of long-term success.

So far I have not received any pushback on this. I’m sure it helps that I very rarely get “regular” sick enough to use a sick day, so I have always had plenty of sick time available to cover these incidents. I am highly conscientious about following the call-out policy and giving as much notice as possible, and I am sensitive to how my absences affect the team. I don’t tell them the real reason I’m calling out, just that I’m not feeling well enough to work.

I feel desperately guilty about my behavior. I feel that as a supervisor, it’s my job to put my personal issues aside and be there for my team, and I’m letting them down in a big way. Sometimes I wonder if I have an obligation to be honest with my supervisors about my struggles. Even though my attendance doesn’t look objectively bad from the outside, I know that my behavior is ethically wrong. It’s wrong to impact productivity and make my team take on my workload for something that I technically could have prevented, with just a bit more self-control. On the other hand, I truly love my job, I am interested in advancing eventually, and telling my bosses about how I am secretly a sad booze-bag and it’s impacting my work would almost definitely destroy their confidence in me. I know I’m capable of being better, and when I get there I don’t want my past to hold me back from reaching my true potential.

What do you think I should do?

What would you think you should do if this were a different type of disease? What if you had, say, digestive issues and a few times a year you ate something you shouldn’t and were too sick to work the next day? Would you feel ethically obligated to explain the situation to your employer, or would you feel it was sufficient to simply call in sick on those days?

You’re feeling like substance abuse is different, and it is. But missing work three or four days a year doesn’t rise to the level where you’re obligated to disclose what you’re struggling with.

Missing work because of a hangover feels gross. And because it’s in the context of an abuse problem that you’re working on, I’m sure there’s a huge amount of shame and stigma and guilt attached to it in your head.

But if you accept that substance abuse is a disease, and that you’re not being cavalier about this — and you really don’t sound cavalier about it — I just don’t think you have an obligation to confess your personal struggles.

I do think you have an obligation to be really honest with yourself about your addiction’s impact on your job and your coworkers. But three or four sick days a year is on the low end of what most people take, so any argument that you should disclose the cause of those three or four days would be more about our feelings about substance abuse than it would be about the actual work impact.

I don’t want this answer to read as “rock on with your addiction!” because of course that’s not what I mean. But you’re in treatment, and you’re working on it, and you don’t have to jeopardize your job or reputation just for the principle of it.

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. Katniss*

    Great answer! OP, this advise is spot on.

    And from one person in recovery to another, good luck!

    1. Anon Druggie*

      Seconded from another in recovery! Keep coming back, and give us an update. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

    2. serenity*

      I agree. This might be the best advice Alison has given that I’ve read and that is a high, high bar!

    3. Specialk9*

      This letter is full of so much of that admirable, painful self -honesty. Blessings (of a non-religious sort) sent your way from this internet stranger who admires the way you’re going about this.

    4. MJChomper*

      OP this made me cry.

      please don’t feel guilty and don’t kick yourself for the few times you’ve called in. And don’t get down if it happens again in the future. Alison’s answer is perfect and hopefully you will take it to heart.

      As someone who has been in your shoes (and will always have dependency issues), I personally believe ignorance is bliss when it comes to our coworkers’ knowledge of our substance abuse/dependency issues, regardless of how progressive an organization is and how open minded its staff are. On one hand, who knows what your associates are going through or what their families and friends have been through? Substance abuse and dependency knows no boundaries. On the other hand, there are still some folks out there who are not as educated or well-versed on the intricacies of how the disease of addiction works, and you just never know how someone will react or how it may skew their view of you, however unfairly. That sucks, but it’s true.

      Keep on keepin’ on, try your best to stay on track, and do not kick yourself if you slip up. It’s a process, a learning experience, and there are so many grey areas when considering what is OK and what you should look out for. Stop feeling guilty. Also remember to look to your right and your left while you’re in the office; odds are everyone you see around you has been touched in some way by this disease and you are absolutely not alone in your struggle.

      Unfortunately with its stigma, we will never truly know how many others we associate with on a daily basis are dealing with substance abuse and dependency, either their own or with their loved ones. Rest assured you’re not alone. It sounds like you’re kicking ass professionally & personally, and those you work with feel the same way.

      You should be so proud of yourself – you’re strong and hardworking and that’s amazing! You are not alone and you can’t let this disease convince you that you are. It’s not a matter of being weak or succumbing to urges. It’s a matter of looking at everything as a learning experience and keeping your chin up.

      Good luck – you’ll be in my thoughts.

      (I know this is a very late comment but I couldn’t help but add my thoughts. You’re awesome and you need to remember that!)

    1. Artemesia*

      This. I would only disclose if it became a FMLA issue and you needed protection under disabilities act. Otherwise why damage your reputation given the biases around these issues.

      1. designbot*

        Or if you thought they’d find out from some other source and you want to get ahead of it. Although even as I say that, be careful with this line of thinking because it may never even come up. I had a health issue that one doctor insisted was because of “(my) alcoholism” (news to me! I was shocked and terrified) and though I was convinced he was off-base, I wound up disclosing to my company’s HR because I was afraid it would come up in another way and I’m the sort that’d rather address things head-on than always wonder. But then my other doctors were adamant that the one doctor was full of it and it turned out I just confused the issue by bringing it up.

  2. Mananana*

    Congratulations, OP, on both your work success and your recovery progress. Even before I read Alison’s answer, I had formulated my own: Don’t tell. Because, quite honestly, I don’t see a reason to. You’re meeting your work obligations and, according to your bosses, are doing a spectacular job. I urge you to talk to your therapist about this inclination to tell your employer — I worry that it may be a part of your self-described self-destructive patterns.

    I wish you nothing but the best.

    1. Maolin*

      This is an excellent point – the urge to disclose might very well be part of the self-destructive tendency.

      As a senior manager in healthcare with 7+ years of sobriety, I agree with Alison and many others here, there’s no need to self-report. There is still, unfortunately, a terrible stigma with addiction and mental illness and any issue with absences or your performance will be seen through that lens. It could poison your professional relationships and reputation, and could possibly even follow you outside your current workplace. It can actually be more detrimental for subordinates to know that their boss is in active addiction than it is for the boss to know. But perhaps more importantly, outing yourself as actively addicted or in early recovery can pose a threat to your recovery efforts. Addiction recovery and mental illness are hard enough to navigate on their own, but having dual-diagnoses and being stigmatized by the boss and/or subordinates is too risky in early recovery. Using sick time for an occasional “mental health day” is just as legitimate as it is for the flu.

      I wish you all the best in your recovery – it does get better. Take it one minute, one hour, one day at a time. This atheist found that the methods and tools used in traditional 12-step rooms to be just as helpful and supportive as it is for other recovering alcoholic/addicts. Having the support of someone that’s walked the same road you’re just beginning is as important as having a professional overseeing your treatment plan. Good luck!

  3. Sarah*

    It seems like part of the reasons that the OP feels guilty is that they feel their absences are preventable. I can’t speak to that, but I can say that MANY illnesses, injuries, etc., are preventable. If I hang out all day with a sick friend against my better judgement, and then need to call out sick the next day…well, that’s preventable and I should have known better! If I go running in bad footwear and sprain an ankle and need to take a day to rest…you see where I’m going with this.

    1. fposte*

      I was thinking about how comments in the previous post are full of people talking about why their weekend behavior makes their illnesses worse. Digestive illnesses are a great analog for that, because I can on the one hand know that eating a hamburger might do bad things for my Crohn’s, but on the other hand that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to take a sick day when I go ahead and eat the hamburger anyway.

      1. CheeryO*

        This is so true. I have an autoimmune disease that flares up when I drive for long periods of time, fly, or go for long hikes with a backpack. I still do all of those things, and you better believe I’ve taken sick days here and there as a result. Part of my mental calculus for staying in my current job is the generous sick leave and lack of judgment for using it.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, ultimately if you’re not going to be fit to work, whether due to self-inflicted illness or otherwise, there’s no reason to go into the office. It doesn’t really do anyone any good for you to sit in front of your computer in a haze for 8 hours just to assuage your guilt (and are you really getting that much more done than if you’d just stayed home?).

      3. many bells down*

        Yeah my husband and I have made a lot of dietary changes recently … and then this weekend we went to Red Robin and ate big fat greasy burgers. Hoooo boy did we pay for that all day Sunday.

      4. Close Bracket*

        That is a facile comparison. People who have digestive issues have far more control over their food choices than addicts have over their use habits. People with digestive issues have the ability to choose to eat food that they know will make them ill only on days when they don’t have to work the next day. Weighing the number of sick days you have left against just how badly you want to eat that hamburger is nothing like the process an addict goes through. You are in full control of your decision making faculties. Their decision-making faculties have been hijacked by their addiction.

        1. MakesThings*

          Well, there’s also the very real issue of food addiction. It exists too. To say that people are always in control of what choices they make around food is not very realistic.

        2. selena81*

          i really really hate that ‘feeling sorry for alcohol-addicts and their lack of control, while mocking fat people for their lack of control’ mentality.

  4. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Oh LW, this letter just made my heart hurt for you. I have to echo Allison’s words here, you have a disease, and much like most people who suffer from a disease, you are bound to miss a day of work here and there, and based on your letter, it really is here and there. I have folks reporting to me that miss FAR more days of work than you, and they are not recovering from anything (I have a team of sharer’s, so I feel confident saying this). You are not doing anything ethically wrong, you ostensibly are granted sick days as a benefit, and you are using them accordingly. You are clearly working so hard to not only get to a better place personally, but professionally, and I know it’s so hard to change the narrative in your own head, but please try to recognize and be proud of your accomplishments. I wish you so much strength, peace, and love.

    1. ExcelJedi*

      “You ostensibly are granted sick days as a benefit.”

      I wish we didn’t think of them that way. Sick days shouldn’t be a benefit; they should be the cost of doing business when you employ humans, because human bodies are not perfect, and sometimes they need to not be working in order to get back to optimal performance. Everyone needs them, for many different reasons – chronic or acute, mental or physical health, etc. No one should feel shame over taking as few as 3-4 sick days per year, no matter what the reason.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        I’m speaking in terms of how (many) companies view them, and it is as a benefit.

        1. ExcelJedi*

          Oh, yeah, I got that 100%. I’m commenting on how we Americans view them as a society.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            We have a woman who just started in our department (an internal transfer), and on Monday she sounded terrible, but made the statement “I pride myself on never having taken a sick day”, and I think that mindset contributes to the attitude that somehow there is shame in not going to work when you’re sick. And my company gives folks a truly insane amount of time off, I could call in sick for an entire month, and STILL have PTO!

            1. mlle t*

              There is a woman at my job who says things like that! In the six months alone, I’ve gotten sick twice, both times immediately after she came in to work sick. I’m not saying she’s making everybody around her sick by coming in when she shouldn’t, but…oh, wait, yes, I’m definitely saying that. It sucks.

              (NB: Obviously it’s a whole different situation for people who don’t get paid sick time, or for whom taking time off due to illness means risking their job – that’s equally crappy, but more to do with employers sucking. My job, though, has phenomenally generous sick leave, and my coworker has been here for years – she could take months of sick time and have some left over. TAKE THE DAMN SICK DAY, CLEMENTINE!)

            2. Quinoa*

              In my first job, one of the two people I shared an office with was mid-50’s and had worked for the organization for decades. Because it was state-run, we had 2 weeks of sick leave AND 2 weeks of vacation time per year and it all continued to accumulate until we used it. Plus the state had to cash us out of both if we had any unused when we left.

              He was very proud of never taking a sick day and having accrued almost 52 weeks of sick leave in his time there. But *I* had to take multiple sick days because asthma and sharing an office with someone who’s got a horrible cold are not a good combination, and I used up my two weeks every year, thanks to him. It still makes me cranky thinking about it.

              1. SittingDuck*

                Sounds like he’s using his sick days as a type of retirement fund! If they all have to be paid out in the end, he ends up cashing out on them when he leaves. So he basically has a full year of pay ‘in the bank’ once he leaves/retires.

                Personally I couldn’t get through a year without taking a sick day – typically my sick days are used to care for my sick children rather than myself being sick which I’m thankful is allowed (before we got married my husband took a sick day to care for my son (not biologically his) and his work put up a stink and refused to pay him for the day, because he used a sick day to care for someone who wasn’t technically related to him, regardless of the fact that we were living together, and engaged, and he is the only dad my son has ever known……so they suggested next time he needed to care for our son he LIE to HR and just tell them he was sick himself……)

                That being said – I can see how it would be nice to have a full year of pay banked for when you leave……

                1. Quinoa*

                  Seriously? They refused to pay him for a day of sick leave for caring for a sick kid? That’s just stingy. I’m sure there was some sort of precedent-setting they were worried about, but setting up a situation where you encourage employees to lie to you seems like a worse precedent.

        2. DivineMissL*

          Well, I view my PAID sick days as a benefit; if I’m sick and have to make a choice between working while sick or staying home and losing out on pay, that’s no benefit.

    2. Emi.*

      Especially “something that I technically could have prevented, with just a bit more self-control” — OP, I think you are being too hard on yourself. You’re recovering from addiction! This is not “just” a matter of self control. (You probably know this, but it sounds like you could do with a reminder sometimes?)

      1. Kj*

        I totally agree. OP, I have anxiety and I take a mental health day every now and then to decompress and get back on my feet. Could I have worked that day? Yes, but at great personal cost. A sick day to deal with mental health is like what your hangover days are and you are doing it rarely and thoughtfully. Keep working on recovery of course, but feel no guilt for having an illness that needs a day off every now and then.

        1. Lara*

          Absolutely. Why work 20 days at reduced capacity when one day off will bring you back to 100%?

  5. Bea*

    We all mess up and fall down, you’re working on yourself and that’s important. There is no reason to expose yourself to your employer or staff unless you decide it’ll benefit you more.

    There is still a huge blurry outlook on addiction and recovery. I wouldn’t want to have them possibly react poorly and upset your program.

    You deserve to keep your privacy. This is business and as long as you’re not off the rails and needing extended leave to seek treatment, a hangover happens to so many people and falls into the “none of their business” category.

  6. EvanMax*

    This is great advice from Alison. Most illnesses could be framed to fault the sufferer if you really wanted to. You caught the cold/flu because you didn’t wash your hands enough; you needed time off for a knee replacement because you weren’t careful enough with your joints; you have cancer because you didn’t avoid the right carcinogens, etc.

    Calling out “sick” because of a hangover when you made the deliberate decision to go out drinking the night before, even though you knew you had work the next day, you just didn’t care, is poor and despicable behavior. Calling out sick with a hangover because you have a substance abuse problem, and even though you are in treatment you had a relapse, is completely legitimate, because you ARE being responsible, recognizing your own limitations and seeking assistance with make a change. You aren’t using sick leave as a crutch to allow you to party more days in the week, you are using it as intended to treat and recover from a medical issue.

    1. LouiseM*

      You don’t think “despicable” is going a bit far? I mean, yes, it’s irresponsible and I wouldn’t be happy if an employee of mine who was not an addict missed work because of a hangover, but I can think of a whole lotta worse things too.

      1. EvanMax*

        No, I don’t think the word “despicable” is too far. Willfully behaving like this, when you have your full faculties about you to make a conscious choice, is contemptible behavior.

        I agree that there are other things that are even worse, of course, but other things being worse doesn’t mean that this hypothetical thing isn’t bad too.

        (And to be fair, I suspect that the percentage of people who behave this way without SOME level of substance abuse issue is smaller than we all think.)

        1. CMDRBNA*

          Wow, someone really does not understand addiction.

          Taking the OP at her word, calling out 3-4 times a year is not excessive. I have chronic depression and have taken mental health days, because using a day of sick leave is, IMHO, better than potentially having a crying jag at the office. Am I physically well enough to go to the office? Technically. And I call out sick maybe twice a year, unlike most of my coworkers who are out constantly because of sick children.

          If that makes me despicable, I’m cool with it.

          1. LouiseM*

            Good examples.

            It’s also a little confusing to me that EvanMax started this comment with listing all the reasons that many illnesses could be called “preventable”–but then said that a hangover is, I guess, the one exception? To me, either you have a good sick leave policy or you don’t. It’s not about policing the “right” reasons to use sick leave.

            1. my two cents*

              I don’t dig EvanMax’s verbiage either, but I suspect that what they *meant was more along the lines of ‘getting sick happens, but those who plan on getting rowdy on a school night and THEN call off the next day (instead of presumably taking a vacation day ahead of time) are terrible’.

              Despicable is a bit heavy handed – maybe ‘jag coworker behavior’ is a bit closer.

              1. EvanMax*

                I’m placing this up here to get it nice and high in the thread, even though it’s a bit more than a direct response, since I can’t just edit my post.

                I spent 10+ years in “coverage” roles, mostly retail, where if some one calls out at the last minute it’s not like they can just get to their work tomorrow, or that everyone can just pitch in a little to cover them, but instead some one else who had that morning and/or day off has to give up their own personal plans to come in and take over. If no one is available, then you may also run into safety issues where some one is alone by themselves in a store where they never should be. I didn’t get in to all of this in my initial post because I didn’t want to say things that would make the LW feel even guiltier than they already do, because the LW is a different case. The LW isn’t doing this on purpose.

                If you need to take a sick day, you take a sick day, of course. But if you really just want to arrange for an unplanned vacation day to sleep in, or to watch a sporting event, or some other thing that really could have waited, you aren’t just taking advantage of your company perk; you are taking that day away from your coworkers. THAT is the context where I used the word “despicable”, where you are willfully taking a day off AWAY FROM some one else, any ruining whatever they had responsibly planned in advance.

                And again, to clarify, that is NOT the case of the LW, or people with anxiety/depression/anything else who need a mental health day, or people who engage in an activity that they didn’t expect to injure themselves but get hurt and need emergency time off to deal with it, etc. What I was writing about, instead, is a person who engages in behavior that they KNOW will cause them to miss their shift the next morning, even though they have the full faculties to decide not to, because they don’t care about the fact that they are hurting other people.

                1. Grumble*

                  You are projecting the shitty norms of skinflint retail onto the rest of work. A competent and ethical retail company should be able to creare a cover system that can cope with one lousy absence.

                2. CMDRBNA*

                  Yeahhhhhhhhno, this isn’t relevant to the OP’s situation. She doesn’t work in retail and it doesn’t appear that her taking a measly 3-4 sick days a year (a YEAR) is affecting ‘coverage’ or anyone else’s workload. You’re projecting all over the place here.

                  Also, by your logic, someone choosing to become pregnant is being “despicable” because there’s a very likely chance they could have a complication that would result in needing more time off than they planned.

                3. Specialk9*

                  EvanMax is saying that an *addiction* related sick-day-hangover is actually *OK* in a way that a non-addiction hangover sick day isn’t. They’re trying to be supportive but it came out sounding like the opposite.

                4. Kevlar*

                  ^This. There’s no “projecting all over the place” in this comment. Also, CMDRBNA, that pregnancy comparison is lousy especially when EvanMax said: “And again, to clarify, that is NOT the case of the LW, or people with anxiety/depression/anything else who need a mental health day, or people who engage in an activity that they didn’t expect to injure themselves but get hurt and need emergency time off to deal with it, etc.”

            2. KellyK*

              I think EvanMax’s comment is being misunderstood. He was criticizing a hypothetical person with *no* substance abuse issue who just feels like partying on a work night and takes a sick day and *contrasting* that to the OP’s addiction, which they’re in treatment for.

              1. BF50*

                Do people without some level of substance abuse really party on weeknights and then call out hungover? Maybe once or twice in a career, but there is an argument to be made that this sort of behavior would qualify as an example of someone’s drinking negatively impacting their personal and professional life which is a sign of substance abuse problems.

          2. StudentPilot*

            I think you missed a part in the comment – EvanMax made it pretty clear that he sees the OP as doing the exact obvious – “You aren’t using sick leave as a crutch to allow you to party more days in the week, you are using it as intended to treat and recover from a medical issue.”

            It reads to me like EvanMax is pointing out that some people (not the OP) are irresponsible, but someone (like the OP) is being responsible by getting help and realizing that it’s not a straight path to overcoming an addiction.

            1. LV*

              I don’t really understand the logic here.

              If OP, who is an alcoholic, gets drunk and has to call in sick the next day because of their hangover, that’s okay because they have a medical problem, but if their coworker who is not an alcoholic gets drunk and calls in sick the next day, that’s bad because they were being irresponsible? Why isn’t it considered either acceptable or unacceptable in both scenarios?

              I don’t mean to shame the OP, because they do have a legitimate problem and 3-4 sick days a year isn’t a big deal. Employees should have the leeway to use their sick time as they see fit as long as it’s not disruptive to their work team. But why shouldn’t that same leeway be granted to someone who doesn’t have a substance abuse problem but who realizes on Friday morning that they accidentally had a few too many on Thursday night?

              1. Grumble*

                Because alcohol is evil and it’s use must be punished. The person with the drinking problem at least has the decency to suffer for and recognise their wickedness. While the once-a-year foolish worknight spree drinker is actually pooping on the baby jesus’ face.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeesh, you’re going way overboard, Grumble. Retail rules are different from most other workplace rules, and EvanMax said they come from that environment.

            2. Specialk9*

              Yeah, I read it as “when people without addiction call in sick when they really just chose to party hearty, that’s crappy behavior. But addiction is different”.

          3. EvanMax*

            Please read my posts in full before deciding that I don’t know something.

            What I criticized was someone who is NOT an addict but decideds to go on a bender anyway, because damn the consequences, they feel like having fun tonight.

            I invented this particular strawman as a purposeful juxtaposition OPPOSITE the letter writer, who is struggling with a very real medical issue (just as you are.) The purpose of a strawman here was to take the LW’s guilt over calling out a handful of times a year and say “look, you clearly aren’t this fictional strawman, therefore you actually shouldn’t feel guilty about this because you’re getting treatment and working hard to make better choices.”

            And for the record, I know I’ve left a grey area there for folks who have a medical issue but are not actively seeking treatment. I’m definitely not calling those folks despicable here, but I’m also not going to say that’s exactly the same as the Letter Writer. There’s a point where you have to take responsibility for whatever is within your power to take responsibility for. That’s a whole other can of worms, though, that I wouldn’t feel comfortable painting with a broad brush.

            1. selena81*

              i feel appalled by all the people responding to you who apparently feel that ‘misbehaving is okay, because addicts are allowed to do it too’.
              well, NO: it is NOT okay to be an addict and make everyone around you miserable, neither is it acceptable to continue doing so under the excuse that you are completely helpless against your ‘disease’. But what is FORGIVABLE is being an addict-in-recovery who honestly feels guilty about the occasional relapse.

        2. Anion*

          I cannot disagree enough with every single thing about this comment or your original one.

    2. Cordoba*

      Do you contend that it is despicable if I make the deliberate decision to go skiing or run a marathon on a Sunday, knowing that there is a decent (say 30%) chance that I’ll be too sore the next day to go to work or to be fully effective at work?

      1. essEss*

        I might not call that despicable, but it would call it irresponsible and inappropriate and avoidable. If you are going skiing or running a marathon and you know that it has that type of impact, that is a type of activity that is planned ahead of time and you should have already put it for PTO ahead of time so there isn’t a scramble at work to cover for an unexpected absence.

        1. essEss*

          I want to add on to my comment…. it does start rising to despicable if you are doing it frequently and calling out afterwards instead of planning ahead and taking the PTO in advance.

        2. CheeryO*

          Eh, I’ve had races where I felt fine the next day, and I’ve had races where I felt like complete crap the next day, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate with anything – bodies react to things in unpredictable ways sometimes. Also, not everyone is in a line of work where calling out sick results in any sort of scramble. My work is pretty much my own, and there isn’t much that can’t wait a day.

          1. Cordoba*

            That’s my experience as well. Sometimes I do a run and feel fine the next day, the next time I do the same run I’m hobbling around. It’s not something you can predict ahead of time.

            Same goes for the boozing. Sometimes I’ll have X drinks no problem. Other times I may have <X drinks and be in rough shape the next day.

            In either case, no way am I taking a PTO day in advance because I *might* decide to do something on Sunday that *might* cause me to feel bad on Monday.

            If it happens all the time then sure, that's a problem. But sometimes people overcook it with weekend activities and if this only happens occasionally I think it's fair to chalk that up to part of the foreseeable dynamics of employing humans rather than as a "despicable" moral failing.

        3. Thor*

          At what point do we get to stop letting work control our lives? Sorry, it’s the weekend, and I’m not going to not do a recreational activity because there’s a small change I may need to use a perk offered by my company.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Uh. When we crashed the bike, my boss told me if I got on the motorcycle again, I would be fired.
            I called the DOL. Yep. It’s legal. What we do over the weekend can bleed over into our work week.

            1. Close Bracket*

              Legal, but stupid. What if you had been in a car accident? Or a skiing accident? Boating accident? If we regularly fired people for engaging in dangerous behavior, we would not have a workforce.

        4. Specialk9*

          Yeah, back when I did Olympic distance triathlons, I made arrangements for the next day’s hobbling. Sprint tris I didn’t have to make arrangements for.

          If I had a super important job (eg surgeon) that would impact people by my failure to plan for predictable outcomes, that’d be pretty thoughtless and casual about impact on others, in a way I would be troubled by. In my case, it just meant planning to telework, and not scheduling meetings that required in-person attendance the day after.

          So I think the key factor is how much your thoughtlessness impacts other people.

        5. Safetykats*

          Yes, I’m going to agree. I do some pretty significant bike races, and when I think there’s a good chance I’ll need extra recovery I let my boss know in advance. Sometimes it works out that I’m fine, but it’s easier for my group to be surprised by me showing up at work (bonus!) than to be surprised by me not showing.

    3. Temperance*

      LW has an addiction issue. Maybe lay off on the judgment?

      That being said, I have missed work due to drinking too much. Many people have. There are also people who miss work to watch baseball games, football games, etc.

      1. essEss*

        Not sure which response you are responding to due to the weird nesting. But in this comment chain, we were all agreeing that the ‘despicable’ comments do not apply to the OP because they are showing appropriate behavior to change this. The comment chain was about people who choose to do this without any regard to trying to stop.

          1. EvanMax*

            No, because you were responding to me, and I most definitely did not call the LW anything other than a responsible person who is seeking treatment and shouldn’t blame themselves for having a medical condition.

          2. essEss*

            The person who used the “despicable” comment specifically said that it didn’t apply to the OP. The commenter said that the OP was being responsible.

          3. Specialk9*

            Yeah, go back and re-read, they were supporting the OP, using awkward language. (I’m posting this several times bc I want to make sure OP doesn’t misunderstand and get their feelings hurt.)

          4. Temperance*

            I’m not sure saying “everyone else who does this thing except for you is despicable” is really a meaningful difference between calling LW “despicable”.

            1. EvanMax*

              Also not what I said.

              Look, the LW feels crappy about their behavior, right? What I said was a validation of their feelings combined with a defense of their actions.

              If someone who had their full faculties about them chose to go on a bender knowing that it would cause them to miss work the next day, that is crappy behavior.

              That is also not the case of the LW either (or, honestly, most other people who actually do go on a bender, for that matter) who is dealing with an addiction issue, and is not in full control of the situation. In that case, ESPECIALLY because the LW is actively working to improve their situation and seeking treatment, there is nothing to feel crappy about.

    4. Legal Beagle*

      Yikes. This is putting a lot of moral judgment on the innocuous “problem” of a person taking an occasional sick day.

    5. Yorick*

      Let’s all remember that there are jobs where you can call in sick and no one has to scramble to cover for you. Even when some assignments have to be covered by a coworker, it can still be minimal.

  7. Amity*

    Hey OP, I just wanted to tell you you’re awesome and send you some good vibes! You show a lot of self awareness which is immensely helpful in recover. If you’re comfortable sending in an update further down the road, please do so. Good luck!

  8. anon for this*

    One thing — is stress a major trigger? If so, my concern about the promotion isn’t for the company, it’s for your own recovery. That is so much more important than a single job offer. (I say this as my husband just got a major.promotion at work with a ton of added travel — and he has a serious drinking problem and he’s inconsistent about treatment. I am honestly terrified.)

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I wanted to raise this issue too.
      OP, you have stress from the current position. It’s being treated but not under control.
      A promotion would have a LOT more stress.
      Would you be placing yourself in a position where treatment and recovery become more difficult?
      Every one goes through stressful seasons. That’s a time to back off and heal. Adding a burden during these times can many times send people over the edge.
      Could you discuss the timing issue with your boss? You could tell him that there’s a lot going on at home right now (truth!). Instead of taking the promotion go for breadth instead?

    2. ArtsNerd*

      I’m so sorry you and your husband are struggling with this.

      It’s definitely something OP may want to keep in mind.

    3. Bea*

      I know my brother has had to leave after promotions due to the effects on his addiction as well. I can churn out 60hr weeks but he hit 50 and the decline in his ability to cope safely has nosedived :(

      I’m sorry you’re in this situation and wish the best for your husbands health.

    4. Emmie*

      I am really sorry about your husband. My former fiancé was an alcoholic, and I am sending lots of special healing vibes to you.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Good point about stress.
      OP, some people are just plain hard workers. Do you work too hard? I liken it to a roller coaster, if we go to high that means there is a potential for going too low. Understand this is a very real pattern. If you are working long days OR let’s say you just work hard for the normal hours you work, it’s very natural to get tired/stressed/overwhelmed.

      If this sounds familiar to you start stacking the deck more in your favor. Work less late nights, go home on time more often. When you are at work, make sure you are taking breaks. Take a walk at lunch. Walking does many good things. It sounds too simplistic to work and yet it does.

      My last suggestion is when you think the time is right, take a day off for no other reason than to take a day off. Think about it this way, if the only time off you take is because of drinking then you could connect days off to relapses. Why not connect days off to something else? Like relaxing, visiting with people or going to the library or book store for the entire day. Right now the way you have it set up, days off are not enjoyable, they are guilt ridden. Why not give yourself a guilt-free day off so you can experience something else?

      I assume you are using all your vacation time, but if you are not, get there make that happen also. So let’s say you get three weeks of vacation time. This is a vacation every four months. Spread it out though out the year so you know you have a break in stress coming up soon.

      If stress is a deal and it is a deal for many employees, then build a plan to help process the stress.

  9. Ellen N.*

    The use of the word branch makes me think that the original poster may work in banking. In my view, if the original poster has access to funds the answer should be different. Unfortunately, I’ve known enough addicts to know that addiction usually gets bad before the addict gets it under control. During the time the addiction is in control it is unwise for the addict to have access to other peoples’ money.

    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      I work in a “branch” and my field is not banking. No cash on site here at all.
      I think that AAM’s advice is spot on.

    2. LouiseM*

      Wow. Let’s take the OP at her word that her addiction is mostly under control and not jump to assuming that she will embezzle. If the worst thing work-wise that is happening right now because of her substance abuse problem is that she has a hangover 4 times a year and misses work (and I don’t mean to minimize how terrible this must be for you, OP) then it really doesn’t follow that she’ll jump to committing felonies.

    3. p*

      I’d have to disagree with you here. Addiction looks different for everyone. While for some it might lead to financial issues and temptation to steal (which is the image we so often see portrayed in the media), that certainly isn’t true of everyone. Frankly, statements like this are part of the reason there is such stigma and shame around addiction. This is someone trying to deal with a disease, and you’re likening them to a criminal.

      1. neeko*

        “Frankly, statements like this are part of the reason there is such stigma and shame around addiction. This is someone trying to deal with a disease, and you’re likening them to a criminal.”

        Thank you.

        1. Anion*

          Yes. Being in recovery means you shouldn’t be trusted around money because you’ll probably steal it? Jesus.

      2. Anon for this*

        Thank you. I’ve been sober for 4 years, but my drinking never caused me to steal. The prevailing image of addiction is part of the reason I couldn’t identify my own problem for so long.

        1. anon for this*

          It’s also been the reason my husband hasn’t been totally dedicated to sobering up. He has a high level job that he is doing well at, and we have no money issues or anything like that. He’s not violent or living on the sleep or missing work. So, obviously, he doesn’t have a problem! Drinking 6-10 standard drinks a night and passing out at 7pm is totally normal and healthy. {eyeroll}

          I love him and he’s making some progress, but it is soooooo slow. It’s a million times harder to see the need for change when you’re a functioning addict.

          1. Seejay*

            The hoops an addict will jump through, even when they’re barely functioning, is mind-boggling. Before she hit the bottom, my mom’s major hoop was “alcoholics only drink in the morning and that glass of brandy with a raw egg in it I have in the morning doesn’t count because it’s a hangover cure, plus it has an egg in it”. Within a few weeks it was a full bottle of brandy, plus a carton of eggs every morning… but “not an alcoholic” because “eggs”.

            The bottom wasn’t far off from there. Thankfully. And we can look back at that story now and laugh at the insanity of it but that’s nearly 35 years past and a good glimpse at the logic in an addict’s mind.

          2. Specialk9*

            That’s a lot to drink. I’m sorry you’re having to worry so much. Do you go to Al Anon? My family member has found it very useful.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          This is such a good point. I know people who I would definitely say have alcohol problems (in the sense that their drinking affects their mental health and functioning) but whose pattern doesn’t fit the “alcoholic” mold, and therefore when I and other friends have tried to talk to them, they are full of “proof” that they can’t be alcoholic.

        3. Anon55*

          Congratulations on 4 years sober!! I hope you, the OP, and anyone else affected know that lots of people look at recovering addicts with the utmost respect for what you have achieved.

    4. neeko*

      This comment is completely unhelpful to the OP. Not all people suffering from addiction steal and many types of industries use the word branch.

      1. pleaset*

        I agree with your comment, but want to call out your using the word “all” when the person you’re commenting on used the word “usually.”

        Those are not the same thing. This may seem like a quibble, but it’s important to play that sort of language came. Your argument is strong enough without it.

        1. Yorick*

          This is really not important. The person hedged and said that addicts *usually* steal, but obviously meant that OP can’t be trusted around money because addicts steal.

    5. Samata*

      I would say this answer and assumption is why it is in the OP’s best (and appropriate) interest to continue working on them, use the sick days as they are now, which is in an acceptable manner and not feel guilt or any unnecessary need to disclose the information to anyone.

      I realize we all ready things different, but the OP here seems to be conscientious, sincere and very self-aware. It appears to be a disease he is managing, in similar vein’s as others Alison mentioned in her advice.

      FWIW: I also worked in a “branch” once and we didn’t even have petty cash.

      1. Samata*

        Oh my that grammar was awful – but my hair was on fire and the smoke was making things foggy.

        I was trying to say the OP should continue working on themselves and not feel unnecessarily guilty about managing their disease in the manner they are right now. Alison’s advice was great and the parallels she gave were appropriate.

    6. Cordoba*

      Alcohol is cheap and readily available enough that pretty much anybody with a job can obtain sufficient quantities of it without resorting to crime.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I don’t think the financial element is usually as prevalent for alcoholics as it is for other addicts because booze isn’t that expensive. I mean, you can get a 30 rack of beer for like, $25.

        1. Cordoba*

          Broke college students with seem to be able to get their hands on dangerous quantities of alcohol without too much trouble. I doubt they’re embezzling to do it.

    7. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      Let’s not broad-brush like this, please.

      I have a family member who’s a recovering alcoholic. He had access to cash. Never once did he steal. This assumption is not just harmful but incredibly insulting to the LW or people who are reading, but ato those of us who support them.

    8. Lissa*

      Even if I agreed with your assessment, how is this helpful for the OP? Is she supposed to quit her job if she’s close to funds, or tell her bosses she’s a theft risk? This just doesn’t seem like anything useful for the OP, who presumably knows what she’s at risk to do, which at this point seems to be “sometimes have to call in sick to work.”

    9. Lilianne*

      Please know that there are much more functioning addicts than the sort of stealing unreliable addicts you are alluding. These people can absolutely do good work and the cases you are thinking about are stereotyped edge cases. It’s really discouraging to see this kind of prejudice.

    10. Lara*

      This is kind of self selecting though. Many addicts are able to conceal their addiction – you’ve likely only *noticed* it in the cases where the addiction got bad before recovery.

    11. bunners*

      Honestly, my first assumption was that they worked for a library system. Funny how those mental associations work!

      That said, this is hogwash. I come from a family where alcoholism not only runs in the line, it skips merrily down it smacking people over the head with a bottle of wine, and yet not a single one of those alcoholics I’m related to have stolen from work. I might be more concerned if OP had a gambling addiction or one to an expensive street drug, but the fact of the matter is that in most societies the majority of people can afford to be an alcoholic on their own dime.

      1. bunners*

        Also, I realize that this reply is very late but OP, if you see this: I’m so farking proud of you. The kind of strength it takes to get to the point you’re at in your recovery journey is impressive as hell and you deserve all the credit in the world for making it there. Your letter has the kind of self-awareness to it that I’ve really only seen in my family members who have gone on to have successful and extremely long term recovery and even if you’re not feeling super up on yourself right now I’m confident that you have what it takes to reach that point too.

        As someone else said up thread, it might be a good idea once in a great while to take an honest to god mental health day here and there too, just to see if you can break this cycle of guilt and self flagellation? And also, if you’re not talking to a mental health professional about this issue in particular I would highly recommend it.

        Best of luck to you – I do hope you come back with a positive update sometime!

  10. HRH The Duke of Coriander and Gomasio*

    Agree with Alison. If you were having weekly issues I would consider telling them but it isn’t a big deal right now.

  11. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    OP, you’re not a “sad booze-bag.” Recovery takes so much strength and it sounds like you’re doing admirably.

    1. Cheeky*

      Yes, indeed! And please remember to be kind to yourself, OP. Shame and guilt are toxic to our sense of self, and you deserve to be treated kindly, including to yourself.

  12. caryatis*

    OP–it’s true, after all, that a hangover means “not feeling well.” That’s a vague description but not a lie. Also–if you’re drinking late at night you may still be under the influence early next morning, hungover or not, and I would say it’s a bigger dereliction of duty to show up to work intoxicated.

    Bon courage!

    1. Faintlymacabre*

      Yes. I firmly believe that sick days are for feeling crappy. You might be feeling physically crappy, mentally crappy, or feeling crappy about having to go into work. Whatever it is, take the sick day!

  13. neeko*

    Really great response, Allison.

    OP, good luck with your recovery. I’m rooting for you. It’s a tough road but it’s so so so worth it.

    I am also in recovery – almost 3 years sober. I still don’t disclose that I’m in recovery to people at work unless I know them fairly well though I don’t think anyone at my job would treat me differently. There is a very real and shitty stigma, even towards people like me who are no longer using/drinking and my kneejerk reaction is always to stay private about it.

    1. Anon Druggie*

      Anonymity is a beautiful thing. There’s a reason why I use this name in addition to my regular AAM name.

  14. Umiel*

    I have worked as a counselor in the field of substance abuse for 25 years, and I agree with Alison’s feedback. There is a reason that the federal rules around the release of substance abuse treatment data are so strict, and there is a reason that one of the “A”s in AA stands for Anonymous. Even today there is so much stigma around substance use issues that it just makes it too risky.
    Poster, it reads to me as though you are doing everything you can, and you don’t sound at all like someone making excuses. I wish you the best in your work for continued sobriety.

  15. Storie*

    It sounds like you are struggling a bit with imposter syndrome, stemming from your addiction. You do an amazing job at work and yet feel like it’s not the “real” you, if they only knew, etc.

    I wanted to tell you this is common, addiction or not. I’ve been a superstar at work and in my offtime, am riddled with insecurity and anxiety about my performance and my field in general.

    What helps me is to flip it–and remind myself, look what I’m capable of DESPITE everything else working against me. Soak up the praise, because bosses don’t lie. And use that to keep me going…one day at a time.

    Good luck, OP.

    1. Junior Dev*

      I’m in a similar situation with anxiety rather than addiction. It’s easy for me to look at the times I can’t sleep and have to call in sick as a sign I’ll never be successful at work. I’m trying to reframe it from “I’m so bad at X” (being on time, focusing, social interactions, being responsible for my work assignments, advocating for myself) to “I know I struggle with X, so I’m proud of myself for doing Y, and I should probably look into Z as well.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Another good point for OP to take to heart.

      OP we don’t get to tell our bosses that we are lousy workers. That is up to them to decide and we have to let them. I am sure your boss is saying you do great work. It’s okay to believe her. Give yourself permission to believe her.

  16. Tardigrade*

    You have earned this, and a disease you are seeking treatment for and seem to be managing well should not hold you back. I don’t think you have any reason to disclose this to your bosses considering you are high performing and it hasn’t affected your work (seriously, kudos for being so conscientious but 3-4 days/year is not an abnormal about of ass-coverage for your employees).

  17. Sunshine Brite*

    What do you see as your true potential? Are you wanting a management role? Do the additional responsibilities align with your strengths and interests?
    Mental health/substance use can be tricky and still so unfairly stigmatized. I worry you’re holding that stigma within envisioning yourself as a “sad booze-bag.” 3-4 times per year of an illness getting in the way of work is not that much but it feels different with alcohol use even though there is a physical component to the disorder.

    My worry for you is that you would push yourself too hard in a supervisory position right now if you go into it
    feeling “that as a supervisor, it’s my job to put my personal issues aside and be there for my team, and I’m letting them down in a big way.” Your obligation is to you and your health and your goals. Yes, if the team is part of your goals you’ll work towards their success but don’t let yourself get lost in the process.

  18. Penny Lane*

    It seems to me the obvious question is “what does your therapist think”? You are seeing one to help you, right?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Therapists don’t always give great work advice though. There have been reports of some pretty questionable work advice from therapists here over the years.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, this really isn’t in the purview of a therapist. Talking over the pros and cons of a management position in terms of impact on mental health might be, or even practicing scripts on how to bring it up with a boss, but workplace norms are not really something they usually have much expertise in.

      2. Mananana*

        Therapists aren’t there to give advice, and I dare say the good ones don’t.

        Now, as I mentioned earlier, I think it would be good for OP to explore WHY she feels she should disclose. And a good therapist can help her work through that. But as to IF she should disclose? Heavens no. I work in the behavioral health field — asking work advice from a therapist is like asking investment advice from a dog groomer. You *might* get a good retirement plan from the groomer, but that’s generally not their wheelhouse.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, my therapist would never have answered an outright question like “Should I tell my boss about this?” She’d have asked me questions to guide me to understanding why I felt like I should tell my boss and whether that was the right choice for me. Generally therapists are there to push you to give yourself advice rather than do it themselves.

          Now, if you’re in a specific recovery program, that might have different, specific steps. But a therapist isn’t usually going to give you “homework” like that.

      1. Millennial Lawyer*

        An addict taking any kind of medication without guidance from a doctor, including psychiatrists, is dangerous. Plus, I am not sure what type of medicine you’re referring to that can replace seeing a therapist. Therapy saves lives (and so do _ Anon groups like AA).

        Regardless of the disagreement, I don’t think this is the appropriate forum for advising people how to deal with their addictions.

        1. Bea*

          Uh Addiction Medicine is a specialty. Not medicine for addiction. The comment is steering to a therapist who specializes in addiction, therapists are like attorneys, some are for taxes but shouldn’t touch employment law.

        2. Brunch with Sylvia*

          I think the comment is related to the sub specialty of addiction medicine…not an addiction medication per se

      2. Millennial Lawyer*

        Therapists aren’t there to give advice, and I dare say the good ones don’t.

        Now, as I mentioned earlier, I think it would be good for OP to explore WHY she feels she should disclose. And a good therapist can help her work through that. But as to IF she should disclose? Heavens no. I work in the behavioral health field — asking work advice from a therapist is like asking investment advice from a dog groomer. You *might* get a good retirement plan from the groomer, but that’s generally not their wheelhouse.

      3. Millennial Lawyer*

        I don’t think this is an appropriate forum to advise people on how to best treat their addictions.

      4. Lara*

        Depends on why the person is drinking, their level of substance abuse and what kind of medicine.

    2. AnonForThisTopic*

      The only question i would recommend is “what does your SPONSOR think” if she has one – that’s the only person who can help you with this type of situation.

      1. Lara*

        I would think an untrained person in an unofficial support role is even less qualified to comment than a therapist.

  19. Teapot librarian*

    I want to say to you, OP, and to everyone else in recovery: Rock on, you strong people. And if you want to hear an inspiring story, listen to the most recent “Big Block of Cheese Day” episode on the West Wing Weekly podcast.

  20. Used to be Married to an Alcoholic*

    Thanks to OP for writing in, and to Alison for your compassionate response.

    OP, I agree that it sounds like you’re on the right track here. I wish you continued good luck, strength, and sobriety going forward.

  21. lalalala*

    I’m an alcoholic in recovery – in fact, I’m 10 days from celebrating a year of sobriety.

    My disease led me to behave like a real jerk at work and I was calling out a lot more than 3-4 times a year. Kudos to you for keeping it in check for the most part.

    My best advice is to be gentle with yourself. Keep doing what you’re doing and should things get to a more severe point, then perhaps it may be time to loop your bosses in. But for now, keeping moving forward, one day at a time.

    OP, I’m rooting for you!

    1. Anon for this*

      Congratulations on your one year! I celebrate each year with a milkshake, because I figure that the best way to celebrate no longer drinking excessively is to drink something a bit excessive. ;)

    2. LouiseM*

      Wow, congratulations! A year sober is a big deal. Love your advice about being gentle with yourself, I think we can all stand to hear that sometimes!

      1. lalalala*

        My advice is little ironic since I’m chronically hard on myself. ;) Thank all of you for the well wishes!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          For your anniversary celebration take one day where you only tell yourself nice things. If you slip up then forgive you and think of something nice to tell yourself.

          I know plenty of people who really wrestle with their self-talk. They say things to themselves that they would never in a million years say to another human being. For one day pretend you can only say things that you would say to a friend.

    3. Harper the Other One*

      A year is a big deal! I hope you have something special planned to celebrate :-)

    4. bunners*

      Oh, happy birthday lalalala! That’s such a wonderful milestone – I hope you have a special treat or day planned for yourself. <3

  22. BC Enviro Gal*

    Hey OP. I’ve been there. I had a drinking problem for years, and it finally did impact my work to the point that a senior sat me down and said “what’s going on? This isn’t like you?” I burst into tears and told her everything. And from that day on, I had the full support of my company, including medical leave and a slow return to work when I was ready. But it really depends on your employer. If I had an employer that didn’t have a substance abuse policy, an employee assistance line, and a good insurance and medical leave policy, I probably would never have said anything. Then again, I also probably wouldn’t have gotten better either.

    But unlike me, you’re in good shape. You’re doing the right things, getting good help. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and forgive yourself for not being perfect. You don’t need to disclose this to your employer, it’s OK not to. Really, it is. Alison is right on the money. Keep working on yourself, you’ll get there. I know you will. And if you ever need more support or a place to talk or vent, SMART Recovery has a 24/7 online chat for everyone who’s ever had a substance abuse problem, or a friend or family member who has.

  23. MommyMD*

    Do not tell your employer you are a “sad booze bag”. It will only work against you. Get into a good outpatient treatment plan. Never ever drive drunk as this is the quickest way to lose your job.

    1. Anon for this*

      This is harsh. The LW is actively working to help herself and never mentioned getting behind a wheel in that state.

      1. Snark*

        I’ve known a baker’s dozen alcoholics, and most of them drove when they shouldn’t have at some point. It was a little off-topic and harsh, but it was also not totally off base.

        1. Justin*

          Okay, but maybe she doesn’t even drive, period. Maybe she lives in NYC or something. She’s already ashamed and getting treatment.

        2. Anna*

          It has literally nothing to do with the question the OP asked and is condescending. Do you think any person who drives after drinking doesn’t already know they shouldn’t?

          1. Justin*

            …and maybe the reason it has taken her until now to get treatment is because she doesn’t drive?

            Etc etc.

            But I get it, there is a Severe faction of commenters here, so I should probably just leave it be. I just hope OP doesn’t see this and feel worse.

            1. LouiseM*

              Agreed. From the information we have here, OP is doing everything right. This seems like one of those cases where we should stick to answering her actual question and leaving the speculation out of it.

      2. anon for this*

        1. My husband frequently drives drunk when he is waaaay past safe, because, quite frankly, drunk people aren’t particularly good at assessing their own state. I have had him insist he was fine and it was totally cool he drove home instead of calling Uber, when he was so drunk he couldn’t stand up and was leaning against a wall. It’s not universal, but it’s also worth noting. (He doesn’t do this if I’m around because I stop him or drive myself, but I can’t be with him 24/7 and some days he starts drinking on his way home from work.)

        2. I know of two people who got fired as soon as it became public they had a DUI — and one was a guy who passed out in the parking lot of a bar, but his keys were in the ignition and the cops booked him anyway. The “don’t drive drunk” thing isn’t necessarily judgment — it really is something a lot of people have zero sympathy with and will get you fired. It’s a good warning.

        3. The OP seems really on the ball and this advice is probably unnecessary.

        1. Choosy*

          Just wanted to add as a general FYI, in regard to the case you mentioned: DUI is being “in control” of a vehicle while over the legal limit. You do not have to actually be driving the car. Sitting in a parked car with the keys in your pocket is DUI. It’s a serious crime and can rise to felony level if you get caught enough times.

    2. neeko*

      This is what I mean about that stigma being made even when people are talking about trying to recover. Please stop making wild assumptions based on the fact that this person is admitting to being an alcoholic.

      1. Lissa*

        I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily a wild assumption considering the rates of this behaviour, but the OP seems very together and even if she has done this kind of thing in the past, I kiiiinda doubt she’s going to say “oh, well now that a random person said never to drive drunk my mind has been opened.” She knows.

      2. Reba*

        I don’t think MommyMD meant it as “I think you are probably doing this, you irresponsible bozo” — rather a warning that, for many people and companies, a DUI is a bright line that they’ll have no sympathy over whatsoever, whether or not you’ve disclosed your struggles. However abruptly stated, that is relevant advice.

      3. Lara*

        can I just quickly point out that OP does not identify as an alcoholic? She says she has substance use issues. Many people find that word a disempowering label.

        1. neeko*

          That is fair. I’ll also point out that the reason that people may find it disempowering is largely because of the stigma around substance abuse.

          1. Lara*

            Sure, but also because ‘alcoholic’ implies physical alcohol dependence and people tend to live up to their labels; e.g. telling someone who just needs to cut back that they are incurable can be very counterproductive.

            1. neeko*

              I mean, ok. Sure. Generally people who “just need to cut back” don’t say that they are in recovery. And actually, in rereading the letter, the OP states, “anyone who has been around an addict or been addicted themselves can tell you that a moment’s determination is no guarantee of long-term success.” which suggests that they do identify that they have an addiction.

              1. Lara*

                I apologise for my choice of language ‘just need to cut back’ was flippant phrasing. I just meant people who *need* to reduce their use versus people who are physically dependent. However we are debating semantics – important thing is OP’s happiness and health :)

  24. Interviewer*

    I’ve noticed my friends and family who drink heavily tend to significantly under-report their intake and drastically downplay the effect heavy drinking has on their lives. I’m encouraged to read in your letter that you are thinking about these things now, being honest with yourself about the effect this disease has had on you, (even as you shield this from your employer), and how it can still get in the way of reaching your career goals. Taking steps now to prevent that will pay off down the road.

    Good luck to you, seriously – and we would love an update.

    1. Emmie*

      In my experience, as people get further down the road of recovery, they start to realize more of the impacts substance abuse has on others. I don’t say this to be harsh to Op. I am proud of him or her for getting treatment and bouncing back into their program after setbacks. I wish OP much success … and your family members also.

  25. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    3-4 days in a year? OP, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being a manager, and being a leader to your reports, means also demonstrating what a reasonable balance of work commitment and self-care looks like. If you’re in no fit state to work, whether it’s because of a hangover, because you’ve got food poisoning and you’re puking your guts out, or because you’re running a fever and belong in bed — then stay home!

    If it helps you feel any better, consider this as something you’re doing for your employees — if you model a willingness to take sick time when needed, they’re more likely to do the same, and that’s good for everybody involved.

    Good luck to you — I think I can confidently say we’re all rooting for you here!

    1. AnonForThisTopic*

      Seconding that this amount of time is nothing to be ashamed of. I missed SIGNIFICANTLY more work than that when I was active. You’re in so much less denial than some of us – it’s a great sign!

  26. Imposter Syndrome Graphic Designer*

    My situation is not the same but perhaps similar–I have a chronic mental illness for which I find myself needing to take a sick day every couple of months. I also feel a huge amount of shame around that. Every time I call in sick I have the same internal dialogue: “I’m not contagious, I’m not physically sick, and I’ll bet if I pushed myself hard I could make it through the day…” My whole team knows about my illness and don’t find it even a little awkward, and I STILL act like it’s a shameful secret.

    For me it’s helpful to remind myself that shame is a symptom pushing me toward more unhealthy choices. Truly, the only way out is to be gentle with yourself. It may feel right in the moment to beat yourself up, but IT’S A TRAP. (And yes, I do recommend picturing Admiral Ackbar saying this.)

    (Also, speaking from the perspective of your direct reports, having a supervisor who’s running herself into the ground is way worse than having one who takes the time off that she needs!)

    1. KR*

      This! Also if you’re not going to be productive anyway and have the sick time, it’s better to take sick days. At least people know you’re sick and won’t expect a response/will plan around your absence rather than depending on you for work when you can’t work. It’s okay, OP. I also have off and on mental health issues and am prone to feeling run down and randomly sick with seemingly no cause. I used to beat myself up about it, but I had a boss who told me that he would rather I take care of myself than push myself to be in work when I couldn’t be. Now that I have paid sick and vacation, I definitely don’t feel guilty. This is time I’ve worked for and I have earned.

    2. Health Insurance Nerd*

      No, no, no, and no to your shame. And I say no with love. Taking a day to recover from a mental health issue is absolutely no different from taking a day because you have a cold. I am a manager, and from time to time members of my team will just need to take a day to decompress, and I so support that. Mental health diag or not, mental health days are important, and they should be treated as such (and I know it’s easy for me to say you shouldn’t feel ashamed, but I feel so strongly that employers have GOT to get on board with understanding and accepting that their people need to take a day sometimes, whether they don’t feel good in their head, their heart, or their body).

    3. Incantanto*

      Most teams would rather you take that day out and be healthier on the other days rather than not take it and be off your best for days.

      A senior manager at work recently did inpatient treatment for alcoholism (actually paid for by the company) and nobody cared apart from being a bit worried about him.

  27. mAd Woman*

    This has nothing to do with addiction, but 4 days is a low end on sick days?? Man, I need to get out of the ad agency world because I’ve never had sick days as an option, just a single bucket of 10 PTO days where taking any of them without 2 weeks notice is severely frowned on. I’ve only taken one sick day in the last five years because of that.

    1. Incantanto*

      Thats actually appalling. How is that legal? I get ten days sick leave a year independent of annual leave at full pay.

      Like, what happens if you dislocate a kneecap and can’t move for three days? Because that happened to me recently and its not something I can plan.

      1. Reba*

        It’s legal because in most places in the US it’s not legislated at all, one way or another, with the exception of FMLA (which does not cover all employers or employees).

  28. gnarlington*

    This is great advice!

    My sister recently found out that one of her coworkers deals with anxiety and depression. She found out after the coworker in question had an off day, and asked her “office BFF” what was up. The BFF revealed she takes medication for these things. And my sister asked me if she should tell her bosses this information. My response was no! How would you react if she had any other type of illness? If you found out she had cancer or a disease? You probably wouldn’t reveal that information or at least do whatever that person in question wanted you to do. It’s the same. I’m not sure why people feel differently when it comes to mental health or substance use issues.

  29. My Cat Posted This For Me*

    Letter writer, although I am fortunate not to have addiction issues, I do have mental health issues, and I think I may have had a similar experience to what you’re describing. This winter my seasonal depression broke through my medication regimen, causing a lot of depression, anxiety, and worsening ADHD symptoms. I already am supposed to be doing the work of three people, so no surprise, I got even farther behind. And I was really, really beating myself up about it. I had so much shame and guilt, and increasing anxiety because of it, which only made the situation worse. I had one big project in particular I couldn’t finish, and I wanted SO BAD to confess to my boss that I have seasonal depression and it had made things worse. I felt as though the shame and avoidance and worry about being “caught” would then be relieved.

    A cooler-headed friend encouraged me not to frame it this way. So I ended up laying out the multiple reasons why the project wasn’t going to be happening on time (or anywhere near on time) and the last one was that the stress of my job was beginning to result in burnout, and that was making it harder for me to handle extremely complex, 100+ hour projects like this one.

    Now that my winter depression has mostly ended, I look back at that time period just a few weeks ago and wonder why I had such a burning desire to share. I don’t anymore. I could have skipped it and still made a perfectly good case as to why this one project was late. But some component of my mental illness really, really wanted to “confess.”

    So in case we’re having the same kind of experience, I’m here from the future to tell you: don’t tell them. It’s okay. You’re doing fine. Maybe you need to find another way to relieve that desire to confess—like asking your supervisor about their expectations, so they can hear you say “It makes me feel bad to miss even a few days of work” and you can hear them say “Really, it’s no big deal.”

    Good luck and best wishes to you in your sobriety.

  30. spek*

    You don’t need to tell them anything about your past, unless it impacts your ability to do the job. You work for them. They don’t get to be privy to the intimate details of your life, including your past drug use, your voting record, your sexual orientation/fetish, your DUI in 1996, or your fear of heights. If you are certain you can do the job well and earn your pay, they don’t need or have any right to know.

  31. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    Yes, when you call in sick, your employees/coworkers have to take up the slack. But objectively, that happens to just about everybody. We all have coworkers who are going to, at some point, get sick and result in more work for us, just as we are all going to get sick and land work on them. You’ve said you’re not even using all of your sick time, so you’re still in the plus column on the Great Balance Sheet of Work.

    You do have a problem, and it’s so great that you’re working on it and I hope you beat it. A few sick days a year is no big deal, though. You pick up slack for your people when they don’t feel well, they pick up slack for you when you don’t feel well. They don’t need details of your illness any more than you need to know that Bob spent Tuesday puking up gas station sushi.

  32. sunshyne84*

    I wish you the best in your recovery and maybe the promotion will serve as motivation to stay sober! Most importantly, as others have stated, be kind to yourself and learn to forgive yourself when you make mistakes, be cause we all do. And many people take days off when absolutely nothing is wrong with them!

  33. Cordoba*

    Unless it causes a safety or legal problem at work (which does not appear to be the case) I see absolutely no reason for the LW to tell their employer about this issue.

    LW’s employer is clearly satisfied with their performance and the net work impact appears to be a thoroughly reasonable one sick day per quarter. Right now what LW does with their personal time is not a problem for the boss, why do something that might make it a problem for the boss?

    There may come a point where it is either ethically required or practically advantageous to bring this up in a work context, but it sure sounds like that point is a very long way away.

  34. everyone struggles sometimes*

    You have all my sympathy, OP. When you’re struggling outside of work, it can feel like it’s obvious to the rest of the world, but the reality is your coworkers probably have no clue.

    I’ve been going through some really difficult stuff outside of work, but I haven’t let anyone know since I don’t want people to start looking at me through that lens – I just want to focus on work and let productivity distract me from my struggles. But I have days that I don’t want to get out of bed and days where I can definitely tell my work is affected. But I don’t think anyone else can tell. Or they write it off as not feeling well or just tired.

    I’ve considered just letting my supervisor know that I’m going through difficulties – not to make excuses but just to let them know that I might need to take an occasional day off or need a little more flexibility than normal. Maybe you can keep that as an option? They don’t need to know the specifics, just that you’re going through a difficult time but that you’re working through it.

    I hope you can let go of some of the guilt and shame eventually – it doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior or not trying to improve – it just means accepting where you’re at, not beating yourself up about it, and moving forward. I wish you the best!

  35. Gelliebean*

    You’re doing a lot of hard work here, and although I’ve tried a couple of times to get a handle on exactly what I’d like to say, it isn’t working out. Let me just offer Jedi hugs / or your preferred demonstration of support, and say that you’re obviously taking a lot of responsibility at work and at home, and it’s really easy (from experience) to let dedication to the job overwhelm one’s own personal needs for both physical and mental wellness. Remember that although you owe the employer your best work, you don’t have to put its needs above your own, and you don’t have to feel guilty about letting your medical issues of any sort remain private.

    The only reason I would encourage telling your boss about this is if there were something related that was likely to come up on a background check, but you don’t mention anything like that being the case.

  36. Harper the Other One*

    OP, congratulations on your hard work.

    Alison, I think your advice was spot on and it’s thoughtful, compassionate answers like this that make me so glad I found this site :-)

  37. she was a fast machine*

    Once again Alison, I’m in awe of your compassion and level-headed advice towards potentially controversial topics. I totally agree with what you said and I’m glad OP is in treatment and seems to be looking at all of this from a responsible point of view, all things considered.

  38. Come On Eileen*

    Hi OP – fellow alcoholic in recovery here, to chime in and let you know I’ve been where you are. My drinking was absolutely out of control when I first started my job about 4.5 years ago. I didn’t share what was going on with my boss or co-workers, because — as a lot of people here have mentioned — rightly or wrongly, there’s still quite a stigma around addiction and the impact it can have. So instead, I quietly left work every day and headed to outpatient treatment every night after work, for a year. It helped, tremendously. I now have 4 years sober and my potential at work is through the roof. I am SUCH a better employee and co-worker now that I’m not hazy and hungover. Now that I’m this far along in my recovery, I’ve shared my story with a few co-workers, but my bosses still don’t know. (I’m very open about it in my personal life, because to me it’s a big accomplishment to be proud of.) So I’m here to say — keep doing what you are doing. You’ll get there, and since you’re already high-performing, you’ll be the most badass, highest performer to ever perform :-) Best of luck to you.

  39. Yvette*

    Exactly this: “But you’re in treatment, and you’re working on it, and you don’t have to jeopardize your job or reputation just for the principle of it.”
    The fact that you are wondering if you have an obligation to disclose indicates to me that you have a handle on this, and that your hard work is paying off.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, this. This is what progress looks like.
      OP, once you say it, you can’t UNsay it. We put something out there about ourselves and we can’t rope it back in.
      Since it seems to be having little to no impact on your workplace, I agree that telling serves no benefit to you or to them.

  40. Anonymous for this comment*

    I am in a similar situation to OP, although sadly only two days sober as a result of a relapse over the weekend.

    I’ve been struggling with addiction for about a year. I started a new job in January as part of my recovery was getting away from my previous workplace. From April of 2017 through Dec 2017 I took approximately 20 sick days as a result of being hungover, along with a 3 week leave of absence. I did have to end up applying for FMLA and explaining the situation to my manager. Obviously the goal is 0 sick days but just to put it in perspective, when you’re in the throes of addiction things can get much much worse than 3-4 days a year, trust me.

    Although I’m only 2 days sober, I’m happy to report that I haven’t drank on a work night since I started my new job and as a result have not taken any sick days. Baby steps! I’m in treatment myself and I know how difficult it is. Good luck to you.

    1. nep*

      You can go all the way on baby steps. One moment at a time.
      Bravo, you, for no drinking on work nights since new job. Keep up the great work.

  41. Argh!*

    You never know who has unresolved issues about substance abuse (or mental illness, or sex abuse recovery etc.). People can’t un-hear something you tell them, so I err on the side of caution for anything that could be triggering in another person. If I know the person well enough to trust that they can handle “news” about my past, I’ll confide in them, but I don’t feel an obligation.

    It also kind of depends on how far in the past it’s been. In LW’s situation, TMI could lead to assumptions every time LW calls in sick for normal reasons. And you don’t want to trip over something and have everyone start sniffing your breath. I can just see all sorts of ways this could go wrong and not many ways it could go right.

    I work with some crappy coworkers, though.

  42. Silly in Retrospect*

    Just wanted to throw in some general encouragement! You’re managing this and working through and are obviously caring and concerned about your team and position. I hope you can take some pride in how well you’re handling a hard road.

  43. Sled dog mama*

    Not recovering myself (from alcohol) but I have an uncle and two cousins who are and I have a different chronic illness. 3-4 days in a year is very reasonable, I know the guilt associated with feeling that you should be working and you should be able to control your drinking/illness but eventually you must accept that you are human and humans aren’t perfect, that’s what sick time is for.

  44. Anlina*

    OP, it sounds like you’re doing great. You deserve so much more kindness than you’re giving yourself. Take those 3-4 sick days a year without guilt or shame – there is nothing ethically wrong about doing so.

    I work in harm reduction and I want to tell you that you do not need to be perfect in order to be successful. Perfect abstinence or perfect attendance are lofty goals that are often not achievable. If you are managing your substance use effectively 361 days a year you are doing an amazing job, and you should stop being hard on yourself and stop calling yourself names. Give yourself credit for the work you have done and what you have achieved, instead of focusing on the less that 1% of days where you don’t live up to your expectations of yourself.

    Stigma and misinformation about problematic substance use is still very prevalent so I wouldn’t bring this up unless it starts impacting your work (and right now it’s not) and you start to need accommodations.

  45. Jill*

    “But three or four sick days a year is on the low end of what most people take,”

    Really? Four sick days a year is a lot IMO, and Alison says that’s on the low end? Maybe my co-workers and I are just exceptionally healthy. I don’t know anyone who takes that many sick days regularly. And it really isn’t a case of coming to work when I should stay home, I just don’t get sick beyond an occasional cold.

    1. caryatis*

      I wonder if you and your coworkers are on the young side? Typically older people take more sick days, especially when you consider needing to stay home for a sick child.

      1. Argh!*

        Or don’t take public transportation, deal with the public, or have people in the office with children who bring their kids’ germs to work with them.

    2. LBK*

      It sounds like your office is probably the exception – one sick day every 3-4 months doesn’t sound often enough for me to even realize that’s how frequently someone is taking them.

    3. Incantanto*

      Thats, really not a lot. I get ten at full pay! Its lovely for you you don’t get aick but plenty of people do or have accidents: I also rarely get sick but had a few days of leave over a dislocated kneecap.

      1. Jill*

        I had shoulder surgery a couple of years ago and was out for 4 or 5 days, but that’s not something that happens on a regular basis.

    4. beanie beans*

      Keep in mind that “sick days” aren’t just for when you’re home with the cold and flu (not to discount how debilitating they can be – a ton of people were hospitalized due to the flu this year). Sick days include caring for sick kids, doctor appointments, having/recovering from surgeries, and then the less common but more serious illnesses.

      I wish I had only used four sick days last year…

      1. Oxford Coma*

        I’ve worked in places that explicitly stated that sick days were for use when the employee herself was too unwell to come to work. It was not meant for caring for a sick child, having lab work/procedures done, and so on. Anything other than “I feel awful” had to be a vacation day.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      It depends on your job. Retail is absolutely unforgiving. One day off is a major problem.

      I had a non-retail job and two days off a year was a write up. I had 400 hours of sick time, but it was worthless.

      I think that SANE workplaces do not see a big deal with 3-4 days a year. It sounds like OP’s workplace is pretty level headed.

    6. zora*

      Yes, I think you and your coworkers are the exception. I took at least 4 sick days in 2017 and I’m pretty healthy. No one in my company would bat an eye at anyone taking up to 10 sick days in a calendar year, it would have to be more than that before anyone would even notice.

        1. J.*

          Literally every year. Sometimes twice.

          You need to listen to what other people are saying, that your experience is not universal.

          1. Fellow Addict / Eating Disorder / Mental Health Struggler*

            Yeah, I come from an exceptionally healthy family, and I have to agree that Jill’s experience is not normal. It’s impressive, and I wish I could say the same as her, but my yearly/every-other-year lung infection/pneumonia knocks me out for a good 5-10 work days. Then you’ve got my siblings with their sports injuries, my parents with their asthma/on-the-job injuries, and my relatives with their own struggles and their kids struggles. Most of us take care of our bodies and don’t get sick often, but when we do, hoo-boy. And my family is generally healthier than average – most of my co-workers get a cold or flu or sick kid at least a couple times year.

    7. Lara*

      Not getting sick easily is luck, not a virtue, and 3-4 sick days a year is very low. Bear in mind that many people have chronic illnesses that can easily suck up 4 days leave.

    8. Grumpy Disabled Person*

      It sounds like you don’t have a chronic condition or disability. Congrats! Good for you! However, lots of us have to take sick time to make it to doctor’s appointments or because of a flare-up of a usually well-managed condition. I encourage you to think outside your own experience. Calling 4 sick days a year “a lot” really reinforces the stigma around taking sick days and an unhealthy culture of productivity.

    9. Healthy as a horse?*

      I could easily take 4+ sick days a year just because of headaches that cause nausea or light sensitivity. My headaches are not nearly frequent enough to be considered a chronic medical problem, though. And I’ve been considered one of the more healthy people in every office I’ve ever worked in.

  46. Lumen*

    To Alison’s advice: HEAR, HEAR.

    And OP, I hope the best for you in recovery. It’s hard. Don’t use this as another way to seek to punish or sabotage yourself. As you can see just from a lot of the comments in this thread, you’re not alone.

  47. AKchic*

    Hey – by law; you don’t *have* to disclose your treatment and substance use. 42 CFR Part 2 covers you.

    However, if your attendance *does* become an issue, then I would consider bringing it up, because once it is known that you are being treated, you have a valid medical issue that is being treated and then the company does have a little more wiggle room to be flexible and work with you on it.

    It all depends on your company’s P&P’s and your corporate culture when it comes to supporting people with addictions and seeking treatment. Some P&P’s may say they are supportive, whereas their actions show otherwise.

    Discuss it with your treatment team. This is something that they understand and will be sympathetic about
    Remember, sobriety/staying clean is a one day at a time process. You can do this.

  48. Not So NewReader*

    I hope you keep reading here, OP. I have learned a lot here. Knowledge is power, OP. When we really know something then we become empowered. This means less impostor syndrome, less stress and more confidence.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is so, so true. I’ve seen it play out in my life many times. Just a small amount of information can change your perspective and even your reality.

      Also, Not So NewReader, I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I’d like to thank you for your compassionate and thoughtful comments. You’re always honest, helpful and kind. I love seeing what you have to say. You replied to one of my comments last year with an insight that has helped me so much. I’ve even put your comment in a place where I can easily re-read it every time I need a reminder. Thank you!

  49. Fellow Addict / Eating Disorder / Mental Health Struggler*

    Something very important I’ve had to learn: am I apologizing to make myself feel better, or the other person feel better? It sounds like you want to assuage your guilt by apologizing to your superiors. That’s a totally normal desire! But here’s how it will probably go wrong (sharing from experience on all of these!):

    1) You’ll feel better, while they now have the burden of worrying about your addiction.

    2) You’ll now feel the pressure to prove yourself to them, and your recovery won’t be for yourself anymore.

    3) You won’t have perspective about future slip-ups. Right now you sound really self-aware and understanding of your recovery process. Can you still recover so well from a slip-up when you have to worry about potentially being questioned the next day? And you would be questioned by people who have no input or participation in your recovery, yet they have the power to make your life miserable if your answers don’t satisfy them.

    4) You’ll regret it, and be unable to take the words back. Even if they’re understanding, you’ll worry about what they’re really thinking, whether you’ve lost their respect, and how much more of your recovery process you need to reveal to regain their respect.

    Right now your addiction has barely affected work, so what possible work goals could they ask you to fulfill? “Never take a sick day again, and get over your addiction tomorrow?” Not realistic, even for normal people or the regular commenters on AAM (insert joke here, hahaha). So to echo Cordoba, “why make a problem for them?”

    I agree with Cordoba and Come On Eileen and Argh! Everyone here has said really encouraging things that you deserve to hear. This is a wonderfully insightful and supportive community. Keep doing what you’re doing, and build up a strong and supportive accountability structure *outside* of work. That is the best way to give work your all.

    Your feelings are not just normal (for me, at least), they’re a sign that you’re progressing, and that you have humility and self-awareness. Kudos!!!!! It’s so hard for me to keep my guilt separate from my work and the people I’m affecting, but I’ve never had a positive experience debasing myself/ explaining my issues in the professional world. (I’ve had many positive experiences with safe church & community groups, & a couple bosses who were also my pastors). Hold in the guilt, channel it into your recovery, and it will turn into empathy/wisdom/understanding/discretion for others, especially when you recognize other people struggling. That will be your current and future gift, and it will be an amazing one!!!!

    P.S. I have no idea if people read this far, but I think this is my first ever “serious” comment on this website. Your question really touched me and rang a bell with a lot of my past and current struggles, and I put a lot of thought into how and whether to respond. So I really hope this helps you, OP!!!!! Thank you for opening up with us.

    1. Apari*

      This is not an issue I have personal experience with, but I thought this was a valuable and well set out comment.

      Congrats for all the progress you’ve made on your recovery, it sounds like you’ve worked really hard on it.

  50. Small nonprofit manager*

    I was in a situation where a team member (senior to myself) had an alcohol problem. Every 2-3 weeks he would come in around 2pm at least once becuase he was hung over–he revealed the reason to the entire team and our boss via email most of the time. My manager never addressed the issue and it left me feeling gross and demoralized that this kind of behavior was happening, wasn’t being acknowledged, and was impacting the work of our team with no apology. Of course, there’s a lot more going on here, including the failure of a manager to address persistent absences, but I think team morale would have been better if he had just said he wasn’t feeling well.

    1. AnonForThisTopic*

      That’s definitely tough, but viewing it as an alcohol problem vs. lack of responsibility might help you frame it better in your mind. Even if someone sounds cavalier about it, a debilitating hangover every 2-3 weeks doesn’t happen when you’re a Normal Drinker, and they might just be in denial about that.

      Also, and I can only speak from my personal experience, sometimes when you’re in denial about an abuse problem, you might over-disclose about the amount you are drinking so you can make it seem normal. I would frequently argue with people about why my body can metabolize 3 bottles of wine a night and how it was just a tolerance/metabolism issue – and they wouldn’t have even asked – i just wanted to preemptively defend myself.

  51. PC*

    (Apologies for the late comment and if someone else already addressed these ideas, I just skimmed the rest of the replies.)

    I’m going to join the crowd and agree with Allison here– I don’t think this you need to tell management or anyone else at your office.

    The issue of disclosure is something that, at least in my experience, can be a real challenge for people who struggle with substance abuse. Many alcoholics have to do a lot of lying to hide the reality of what they’re going through while they’re still in the throes of it, and that constant stream of big and small lies can really mess with your ability to find the line between bad lies of omission and perfectly acceptable withholding of facts from people who don’t need them.

    You’re working hard at recovery, and it’s okay if you need some time to recalibrate your brain to your new normal! Your ability to find those lines is going to come back with time and practice, but until then relying on professional resources (like Allison), health care providers, and trusted friends is really smart, and speaks well of your ability to reach out for help when you need it. Treatment and recovery are hard as hell, and 3 or 4 bad days a year shouldn’t define who you are as a person. Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance.

  52. Lara*

    I wouldn’t disclose. I disclosed a mental health issue at one job and for the rest of my tenure I couldn’t take a sick day, get (appropriately) annoyed over a work issue or so much as frown without it being OMG ARE YOU DEPRESSED AGAIN. I had a boss obliquely policing my food choices, exercise levels and personal life.

    While few workplaces are this ridiculous, you could end up under scrutiny that could affect your recovery / reputation. 4 days a year is fine, keep doing your thing, and good luck.

  53. AnonForThisTopic*

    OP, I commend you on your acknowledgement of the issue and lack of denial – both are great signs! I identified a lot with your letter, so I wanted to share my experience: I’ve been a high-performer my whole career. I’ve also struggled with substance abuse and other mental health issues. During my active years, my absences were similar – 3-4 times a year I stayed home due to hangovers or binges. More times than that, I came to work in various states of uselessness – more often than not, I was showing up at 1030, throwing up in the office bathroom, and being extremely inappropriate at events and with clients. Despite that, however, I was smart, likable, high-performing, and seen as an up-and-comer in the company. I also had 5 bosses in the last 5 years, so I was very lucky. However, last summer, I was promoted to be the BigBoss – the youngest in the company. I knew that the spotlight would be on me, and for the first 2 months of that job, I was still screwing up in a much more visible way. I kept squeezing by on excuses that just fueled my denial, but I knew my luck would run out sooner or later. There were plenty of personal reasons to get clean, but for some reason, this promotion was the catalyst to make a change. So I did something about it, and today actually I’m celebrating 9 months. There is a long road ahead of me, but I’ve never been happier. I did NOT disclose to my company – part of recovery is sometimes making a living amends by changing your behavior going forward, and i’m not perfect, but I’m definitely getting better. OP, I wish you the best of luck!

  54. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I was most struck by the OP’s reference to him/herself as a “sad booze bag” OP, I’m so happy that you have taken all these steps to live your life the way you want to and I sincerely hope that, what appears to be, low self esteem issues and a negative inner monologue are part of what you are working through with your therapist. You are actively monitoring an issue, just as many of us are, and the fact that your issue carries such an unfortunate stigma doesn’t change that. I hope all of these comments help contribute to a more accurate view of yourself as a highly principled, dedicated, and scrupulous individual.

  55. biff welly*

    Just dropping in quickly to say that in the social services world, substance abuse is now more commonly referred to as substance use disorder. I share to help you understand that it is considered more of a disorder (that you are working on treating) vs. a personal failing.

    I wish you the best with the recovery work.

  56. nep*

    Probably too late for anyone to see this — This interview came up in my LinkedIn feed today. Granted, different context because of the nature of this organisation (and the fact that it encourages applicants who have lived through mental health or substance abuse issues) — still, some interesting insights and comments somewhat relevant to this thread.

  57. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    What a beautiful and compassionate answer. Thank you, Alison.

    OP, good luck with your continued recovery. I wish you all the best!

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