I showed up drunk to a work event

A reader writes:

I’m a college student who has struggled with alcoholism for about a year now. Around the time I started to abuse alcohol, I had just finished a year-long internship at a small company. Throughout that internship, I made valuable connections with staff members, all who said I left a great impression and offered to write letters of recommendation any time.

This company isn’t very big and they only employ a few interns per year, so I grew close with everyone while I was there. Therefore, I was excited when they invited me to volunteer at one of the company’s summer events. I agreed to volunteer for the event, but that morning, I screwed up and got drunk before getting a ride to the venue. This was just a few weeks ago and looking back, I’m sure at least one of the staff members noticed my drunken state—I’m not very good at pretending to be sober. I looked terrible, arrived late, and probably reeked of booze. I woke up the next morning feeling ashamed and hopeless, and immediately checked myself into an addiction treatment center, where I’ve been making progress ever since.

I’m glad to be on my way to recovery, but I remain concerned about my reputation with the company I used to intern for. I never got drunk during my year working for them, as my addiction only developed after I stopped working there. However, I know that I made a poor impression when I arrived drunk to the event a few weeks ago, and I understand that sometimes a single instance can shatter a reputation. I feel awful knowing that this one screw-up may have ruined my relationship with the company forever. I graduate college in May, and currently feel like I can no longer add this internship to my resume or list the staff members as references.

My question is: how should I handle this situation? I have the phone numbers and emails of each staff member, but I’m not even sure what to say if I reach out (I’m not even sure if I should reach out). Part of me feels like giving up and just counting the entire experience as a loss. Do you have any suggestions on how I should handle this?

Oh no! The good news here — and it’s very good news — is that you immediately understood what had happened, recognized you didn’t want to make those choices in your life, and took action right away to address it. That’s amazing. It takes a lot of people a lot longer to do that, and some of them never do. So, yay you, seriously.

But yeah, now you have a reputation situation on your hands with this job. There’s some good news here too, though: They worked with you for a year and never saw you do anything like this. That means that there is probably room to recover from this.

I would contact the people there you worked the most closely with — which might just be your manager and the person who invited you to the event, but could also be others who you think were impacted by your drunken state that day — and be candid and sincerely apologetic. You’ll want to put this in your own words, of course, but I would be very sympathetic if I received an email from someone in this situation that said something like: “I want to apologize to you for my behavior at the X event. I have been struggling with alcohol recently, and I’m deeply embarrassed that I let it affect me at your event. I woke up absolutely mortified the next day, and it was the impetus I needed to check into an addiction treatment center, where I’ve been making progress ever since. I valued my time at Organization so much, and I hate that this may overshadow it — but I also understand that it will. I’m so sorry that I put you and others there in that situation, and I wanted to pay you the respect of apologizing and letting you know that I’m taking steps to address the situation.”

The key elements there, aside from the apology itself, are that you’re owning what happened, you’re acknowledging that it may indeed affect things between you, and you’re explaining that you’ve taken concrete steps to address it.

I would do this in an email rather than over the phone, so that you’re not putting the other person on the spot and they have time to consider what you’re saying. The exception to this would be if you know the person you’re talking to has a significant preference for phone calls, in which case it makes sense to use the medium you know they prefer (especially in a situation where you want to make a point of showing respect).

This won’t necessarily salvage things to the point that you should use them as references. A lot of people would welcome this explanation and think you’d handled it well, but still feel obligated to temper a future reference. Others might not! But unless they explicitly assure you otherwise, I’d assume that the references they can give you are indeed compromised, unfortunately. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t put the job on your resume at all though (I’d balance that decision against what else you’re able to include).

But references aside, reaching out in this way should go a long way toward repairing the current damage. It can’t erase what happened, but it’s likely to significantly change their impression of you for the better.

Good luck!

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules

    OP, congratulations on being strong enough to see the error in your ways and start fixing it immediately. That is a HUGE thing to do, and you should be very proud of yourself.

    I agree with alison to reach out to whomever you are closest with and be sincere and very honest with them and apologize. I think that can only help you professionally, and not just if they choose to continue to give a good recommendation.

    I’m also wondering if anyone knew you were drunk, since you didn’t mention anyone mentioning it to you. Arriving late isn’t an indicator of intoxication and it’s possible they just thought to themselves that you were coming down with a cold or something. Not that it changes your course of action, but something to think about.

    Again, very proud of you for getting help right away.

    1. Snark

      Seconded! While I’m not as hopeful as you that nobody noticed OP was drunk, there’s a reason a lot of recovery programs involve the making of amends and owning your mistakes and errors. It’s restorative for both the alcoholic and the people they’ve wronged, and having watched lots of family and friends get sober, I think you’ll be surprised at how positively it gets received.

      Personally, if I were one of the folks who a) offered to be a reference and had a positive impression of your internship and b) knew you had arrived drunk, getting the sort of letter Alison describes would go a VERY long way towards rehabilitating my impression of you.

      Remember, also: you’re sick. This is a health problem. If you’d had a panic attack or a seizure or fainted, you’d forgive yourself, and others would too, even if you’d made a bit of a scene. You’re not some morally reprobate f*ckup, you were sick, and now you’re working on getting well, and you merit forgiveness for the bad choices you made when you were using – if you’re making meaningful amends and doing your best to get sober. Unfortunately, substance abuse gets freighted with a lot of heavy moral judgement, which is unfortunate but real, but don’t inflict that on yourself too.

      1. JokeyJules

        Yes to your third part!
        alcoholism is not treated as a mental illness but rather more like a terrible character trait. Please remember that you are ill, and this is something that you are learning to manage.

        1. Zillah

          This. It’s good to be aware that some people will indeed (unfairly) treat addiction differently than other diseases, but 1) it’s important to not let that influence your feelings about yourself too much and 2) remember that many, many people are sympathetic to someone struggling with addiction.

          1. The OP

            Letter writer here–Zillah, thanks for your words of encouragement. I especially struggle with that first point you made (not letting others influence your feelings about yourself too much), and I appreciate the reminder. I have a feeling my former coworkers will be sympathetic to learning about my addiction, and that makes me feel slightly more comfortable with the idea of sending an apology email.

        2. Snickerdoodle

          So much THIS. There was a recent comment thread here about a woman who was hiding a DUI from her employer, and some of the comments were extremely unkind to her. No, she absolutely shouldn’t have hidden it from her employer, but my point was that people struggling with substance abuse aren’t inherently “selfish,” a “character flaw,” etc. as one commenter labeled her. Perhaps that particular woman was, but the extremely harsh, judgemental tone of those comments is exactly why people are terrified to talk about it when they should be getting help. No one’s a monster because they made a mistake, especially a mistake they learned from and didn’t repeat, and no one wants to work for someone who doesn’t understand that.

          I struggled with alcohol myself on and off for four or five years before quitting for good early this year. It’s impossible to see from the inside how it looks to the outside, and vice versa. Sometimes it takes more than one wakeup call–I had several “I should cut back/quit” moments before finally hitting rock bottom and deciding enough was enough. I was really hard on myself and am still gradually coming to terms with it, but I’m much happier now and feel like a new person. :D

          Hang in there, OP. It’s a tough time, but you’ll get there.

            1. Snickerdoodle

              Thanks! Same to the OP. This is possibly the hardest thing they’ll ever do, and it’s best to get it over with early in life.

            1. Snickerdoodle

              Thanks!

              It’s slightly ridiculous, but nowadays, every time I look at my phone and see T-Mobile’s “Life’s Good” thing, I smile and think “Yeah it is!”

              Great. Now I’ve nauseated myself. Time to get back to work.

          1. The OP

            Letter writer here! Snickerdoodle, thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. It’s encouraging to read about people who have turned things around after dealing with addiction. The inside/outside analogy is very true, but reading stories like yours motivates me to work hard until I can see things from the other side. I hope that one day I’ll feel like a new person, too. :) Thanks again!

            1. Snickerdoodle

              You’re very welcome! I went to therapy (helped a LOT!), AA meetings (didn’t help), other anonymous support meetings and SMART meetings (helped some), read self-help books (helped more), and started exercising more and working on projects around the house and craft projects (helped a LOT). Of course it’s different for everyone, but there are many, many options available, and I recommend exploring as many as you can find.

              One thing that was tricky for me was dropping what didn’t work and not feeling like a failure because of it, which included friendships. I had a “friend” who, under the guise of helping me, was very, very into telling me all the things that were wrong with me, etc. She’s now blocked. I have another friend who is an alcoholic and keeps telling me I didn’t need to quit drinking. I avoid discussing alcohol with him and may well end up ending that friendship as well if it doesn’t work for what I need to be healthy.

              It’s also very difficult to be candid about why I don’t drink now. I am still not comfortable talking about it with anyone but very close friends and may never be. It gets easier with time, though, and talking about it is never as hard I’m afraid it will be.

              The first two days after my rock bottom moment were the hardest, full of self-loathing, denial, despair, etc. I had to force myself out of a downward spiral of depression before it ate me alive. I rallied. So will you. You got this.

        3. Anon Druggie

          OP, you are not a bad person trying to be good; you are a sick person trying to get well. Also, are you absolutely certain that everyone knew? You may have hid it better than you are thinking. I think that doing a little investigation might help. Perhaps an honest coworker in the loop or maybe your boss could help you to determine how much your reputation was really impacted.

          Regardless, best of luck to you on your recovery journey.

          1. The OP

            Hi, I’m the letter writer! First of all, thanks for your kind words, Anon Druggie. To answer your question, I am not absolutely certain that everyone knew, but I am fairly sure that at least one or two people suspected it–and this office is very tight-knit, so if one of them had any suspicion, I am confident he or she would’ve shared their observations with everyone else. I am not close enough with anyone at that company to discreetly find out whether or not people could tell, as they are all much closer with one another than they are with me. However, I do feel close enough with my former boss to send him an apology email, as Alison suggested. I’m nervous to send that email, but I feel like it’s the best option I have.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Agreed. I’ve had an intern who had a substance abuse problem, which I didn’t know at the time, and which only presented at a major fundraising event to which he arrived drunk and possibly under the influence of other drugs. In the moment, he was in hardcore denial—I had to send him home early from the event because he was doing so much damage with our organization’s reputation. But the very worst part was his complete denial that he’d been noticeably drunk and unprofessional.

        Two years later he was going through his recovery program, and he reached out to make amends. It went a huge way toward shifting my perception of him. Aside from the fundraising event, he was generally a solid performer, and I think I’d be willing to hire him back, and at the very least, to give him a better reference now that he understands why what he did was egregious and is getting help.

        As you note, this is a health problem. Although substance abuse is stigmatized, for better or worse, the opioid crisis seems to have made more people aware of the fact that addiction is a health problem, not a character problem. The fact that OP recognized this so immediately, owned their mistake, and is seeking treatment is extremely difficult and a HUGE testament to their resilience and self-awareness.

        Good luck on your recovery, OP—I’m rooting for you.

        1. Washi

          I agree. If I had a great intern for a whole year who did what is described when volunteering and then reached out with a sincere apology, I personally would probably still give a decent reference. I think age would also be a factor for me here. If the OP is a traditional age student they are probably not older than 22, and I think I’d be especially inclined to forgive a college kid whose brain is literally still developing. (Which may not be fair but I do think I’d react differently to a 40 year old showing up drunk to something.) Good luck OP!

      3. The OP

        Letter writer here! Snark, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m still learning to view my addiction as a disease rather than a character flaw, and your third paragraph was something I needed to read today.

        Like you, I’m not exactly hopeful that no one noticed I was drunk. After reading Alison’s advice, I think it’s best if I assume they did notice, and apologize for my behavior. I must admit, a part of me worries that none of the employees noticed my drunkenness at all, and that apologizing for my behavior will create an issue where there wasn’t one before. But then again, what’s the worst that could happen if one of them receives an unexpected apology email?

        1. Anon Druggie

          I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that you do this as part of the 12 steps and wait until 8 and 9 before planning this out. Many people are eager to make amends and put it behind them but there’s a reason you do other ground work first.

          1. Anonyish

            Honestly, I think that is missing the point. OP wants to apologise, and moreover if her condition was noticeable, then she owes an apology. Why wait potentially a long time until the apology is irrelevant to the company and to her career, when she can take action now. This isn’t a deep family relationship, this is taking a relatively minor but nonetheless valuable action to demonstrate respect for her former employer.

      1. Snark

        I’m not sure that speculating about that will do anything but make her feel bad and paranoid, so let’s maybe not.

        1. JokeyJules

          yeah, the direction i was going with the “maybe nobody could tell” was to be hopeful and feel like theres a chance that it will be an easier repair.

        2. Let's Talk About Splett

          I was replying to JokeyJules, not you, and I was pointing out why that info might be missing from the letter.

          I really used to like commenting here but I am not sure why you and few other commenters want to tone-ploce everyone.

          1. Jadelyn

            1. That’s not what tone-policing means. Like, at all.
            2. You may have intended your reply for a specific person, but this is a public discussion forum, and other people are allowed to respond to you. That’s how this stuff works.
            3. Not all speculation is helpful speculation. With as big and potentially unwieldy as discussions can often get around here, Alison has asked commenters to try to keep comments both on-topic and helpful. Saying “maybe the reason OP doesn’t mention anyone saying something to her, is because OP doesn’t remember if anyone said something” is potentially true, but it’s not helpful to the OP, which is what Snark was saying. Giving an OP another possible avenue to worry about, especially one which they can’t actually do anything about, isn’t helpful. It’s not offering a way to work through it, it’s not helping the OP feel capable of taking better or more concrete action. And it’s eminently reasonable for another commenter to gently push back on your comment because of that.

            1. Let's Talk About Splett

              Snark commented before I did that he wasn’t hopeful that no one noticed the LW was drunk at the event. So he was speculating as well. I guess it’s not unhelpful when one of he Popular Kids does it.

              1. Jadelyn

                If that’s what you think is happening here, then there’s no argument can be made to change your mind, so while I’d like to discuss the qualitative difference between a general “people may have noticed” said as part of a longer response to someone’s more-optimistic comment, versus “you probably don’t remember what people said to you” as a standalone remark, I’m just going to leave this here because it doesn’t seem likely to help.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                No, he replied to someone who was saying “maybe no one noticed that” saying he wasn’t as optimistic as they were that that’s the case (which makes sense if we are taking the OP at her word, which we should be). This is not the place for this sort of sniping at one another; please move on. (And for the record, I made the same request of Snark on a different post yesterday.)

                I’m not happy that these are among the first comments on this post that the OP will have to read and further comments in this thread will be removed.

              3. Snark

                Alison, please feel free to delete this entire subthread – didn’t see your post above when I was composing this one.

          2. Snark

            I sincerely think it’s a bad idea to speculate about whether OP was so drunk she doesn’t remember stuff, because it’s an imponderable and the possibility could freak her out – oh GOD what if someone DID say something to me! You may disagree, but that is not tone-policing you.

            In general, I have been vocal lately about the ongoing issue of people inventing new facts and situations not evident in the letter. That is also not tone policing. You may disagree with me on that count, of course.

          3. Ask a Manager Post author

            I also read it as speculation that wasn’t helpful to the OP, but certainly reasonable people can differ on that. Regardless, this is derailing the conversation so please move on.

    2. beth

      Since OP tells us that they’re not very good at hiding drunkenness, I’d assume people noticed even if they didn’t say anything. It’s generally not that hard to tell if someone’s impaired, and “reeking of booze” is enough for most people to assume it’s due to intoxication.

      I think OP should skip wondering over whether people noticed and stick to Alison’s advice–own the behavior, acknowledge the problems it caused, and explain the steps they’re taking to address it. That really will go a long way in rebuilding their reputation.

        1. Green

          I think that the “right” thing to do here is whatever helps OP (both recovery-wise *and* career-wise). If nobody knew or suspected, and there was no major impact, there’s a strong argument that OP is better off not apologizing and not bringing it up. Anyway, that’s what I would do if I didn’t think anyone knew.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        Own the behavior, acknowledge the problems it caused, and explain the steps they’re taking to address it.

        A nice, succinct summary of how to make an apology that actually matters to the recipient.

        1. Snark

          Yep. There’s the “I want a foregiveness, so I will feed apologies into the absolution machine until one drops out” apology, and there’s the “I want to make amends and own my mistake even if you’re not in a place where you can forgive me” apology. That’s a good blueprint for the second variety.

          1. Jadelyn

            “The absolution machine”, what an absolutely perfect way of putting it. If your apology is about you and your own feelings about it, that’s not an apology – that’s a demand for the wronged party to take responsibility for your emotions and soothe you, so you don’t have to feel bad for what you did. If you know that you can’t handle the wronged party not accepting your apology, then you’re not ready to apologize yet, and it’s best to just minimize contact between you and the person you wronged.

            But if you can handle that, if you are in a place where your apology can stand on its own regardless of the response you receive, then this is a great way to frame it.

            1. Snark

              I kind of imagine a vending machine. B3 is Junior Mints, B4 is Mike and Ikes, B5 is foregiveness for forgetting your anniversary…..

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I kind of want to screenshot this subthread and distribute it widely to everyone, as so many folks seem to find it difficult to provide a sincere and thoughtful apology.

          2. Snickerdoodle

            Yeah. Probably no one will accept the first variety, and not everyone will accept the second variety, either, depending on the circumstances. I think the OP will be fine, though, given that they didn’t describe any exceptionally outrageous behavior.

    3. The OP

      Letter writer here! JokeyJules, thanks for the kind words and helpful feedback. On the topic of whether or not people could tell if I was drunk–I agree with what you said; it’s something to think about. I’ve spent the past few weeks agonizing over whether or not they could tell, though, and I’m still uncertain if my drunkenness was obvious to anyone. Given that I still don’t know if anyone could tell I was drunk, I think my best option is to assume they could tell, and then apologize for my behavior. I’m nervous to send that apology email, but hopeful that it’ll all turn out okay.

      1. JokeyJules

        agreed, apologizing is best professionally and more importantly for your personal growth.

        Looking forward to a very positive update :)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        OP, I think you’re acting with remarkable self-awareness and courage (first in identifying you had a health issue, next in seeking treatment, and also in trying to make amends). Although there are still stigmas regarding mental health diagnoses, I think you’ll be in a stronger position if you send the apology.

        The worst case scenario is that no one realized you were drunk, and the apology will make them aware. But I think the harm from that is much less severe than the harm of them noticing you were drunk and you not apologizing.

  2. Amber Rose

    When you checked yourself in for treatment, you accomplished something very hard and scary. Apologizing is also very hard and scary, but you’ve already proven that you have the strength to handle it.

    If for no other reason, I think you’ll feel better if you do follow Alison’s advice and apologize.

    1. NotAnotherManager!

      Totally agree with this – apologizing is tough but not nearly as tough as what you’ve already accomplished getting yourself the treatment you need. Alison’s wording is great, and, if you choose to use it, I hope it does bring you a measure of peace, LW. Best wishes for your recovery!

  3. Katniss

    OP, if you have a sponsor, I definitely suggest talking this through with them as well and getting their advice on how best to contact people to make an apology/amends.

    I wish you all the best in your recovery. If it helps you feel any better, I finally admitted I had a problem when I got fired for being drunk on the job. A year later, I wrote a very sincere amends and sent it to that company, and the responses I got were so kind and understanding that I keep them in a special email folder of stuff to read when I need cheering up. You can and will recover from this.

    1. Zillah

      A year later, I wrote a very sincere amends and sent it to that company, and the responses I got were so kind and understanding that I keep them in a special email folder of stuff to read when I need cheering up. You can and will recover from this.

      Oooh, yes – I don’t struggle with substance abuse, but I think a lot of us with mental health issues in general can tend to beat ourselves up and dwell on the past in unproductive and fairly similar ways. Keeping nice things that people say in a folder is really helpful for me, too, because when my jerkbrain starts to be a jerk, it really helps to interrupt that and remind me that I’m worthwhile even if I’m not perfect, and that people don’t hate me for my mistakes.

    2. Turquoisecow

      I don’t have any substance abuse issues, but I found your comment so heartwarming – that your former coworkers would be so kind and understanding that they cheer you up on a continuous basis – that I just wanted to let you know. Congratulations and best of luck in your recovery!

  4. Bow Ties Are Cool

    Good for you, for facing up to your problem and working on it. If I were in the position of the people who would have been privy to your behaviour at that event, a message like that would mean a lot to me, and I would be so happy to know that someone I had enjoyed working with was getting help for the problem that harmed our professional relationship.

    I hope you take Allison’s advice, and I also hope that those who receive your apology will do so with grace and courtesy. Best of luck to you, and kudos once more on facing your problems head-on.

  5. East Coast Girl

    As someone in recovery for almost 7 years now, who also started to drink problematically in college, I want to say good on you for recognizing the problem and taking action to get well immediately. I think many of us with addictions have a “wake up call” moment where we realize the impact it’s having on our lives and those around us, including our employers. It sounds like this may well be your’s, so if nothing else comes of this experience that is a huge positive deal.

    I like Alison’s suggested course of action. Although you can’t know for sure they noticed your condition, as someone who also turned up under the influence when I was on work’s time, it probably makes sense to nip this in the bud. I think the odds are greater, since they like and respect you, that they will see the sincerity in your gesture rather than judge you. There will always be folks out there who are judgmental and/or don’t understand addiction but, from my personal experience, honesty has never steered me wrong since coming into recovery.

    Best of luck with your treatment and continued wellness, you deserve all the best.

  6. Mananana

    OP, please don’t beat yourself up over this. You made a mistake, realized that you were going down a destructive path, and changed course. Be proud of taking that really hard step and admitting you have a problem. Alison’s advice (and suggested verbiage for the apology) is spot-on. You CAN recover from this; I think you’ll find people are more forgiving than you imagine.

    And side note to Alison: You regularly leave me in awe with your ability to create just the right script. It’s more than skill — it’s an art.

  7. CCB

    Congrats for dealing with this now and not 10 years down the road. Also, please know that alcohol issues at work are so much more common than you think. Many people struggle throughout their careers with addiction and are still respected, valued professionals. These days many (most?) managers recognize alcoholism for what it is – a disease – and will not judge your work for it as long as you are getting help and acknowledging your struggle.

  8. Pollu

    Nothing to add except how wonderful it must feel to know yourself, to own your mistakes and to make amends. I know I struggle with this as to many others. Kudos to you and good luck in your recovery!

  9. Matilda Jefferies

    Nothing to add except support. You made a mistake, and now you’re taking steps to fix it – both the immediate aftermath (with your employer) and the big picture (with rehab.) That’s a really big thing you’re doing, and I wish you continued strength and success.

  10. Diluted_TortoiseShell

    Good on you OP! Seriously!

    My father is an alcoholic and despite violence towards others, totaling vehicles, and a myriad of other wake-up moments he never took this step. It take a strong and self-aware person to address this!

    It’s also surprisingly easy to become an Alcoholic in college, especially in American colleges. Since alcohol is illegal until age 21, but considered a party right for students age 18-20 it’s super easy to over do it! I remember watching a lot of party-going fellow freshman fall into bad patterns early on. College night in my town was Thursdays at the clubs, so a lot of students starting drinking Thursday, then partied Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s 4 out of 7 days a week they were getting plastered. Due to the legality of the drinking, it’s not like they could easily find resources to help either. Reaching out for support could come with suspension and legal action at that age. It’s a recipe for disaster really.

    1. Smarty Boots

      Some colleges and universities now have a policy of allowing people to report alcohol consumption by themselves or others without disciplinary, in order to encourage safety (so that people don’t get left in bed to die because everyone’s afraid to report). Exceptions when the alcohol violation occurs with other illegal behaviors, such as drunk driving, vandalism, assault.

      1. Snickerdoodle

        When I was in high school, we had something similar for kids who wanted to stop smoking. I was an office aide and was surprised to see a friend’s name on the list. I never mentioned it of course, but I always remembered the surprise of his attitude toward drug usage around his friends and then seeing that he was actually looking for help.

    2. Baby Fishmouth

      Yes, this sounds similar to my university experience, but in Canada where drinking age is 19+. However, I found drinking much less enticing after I came of age, so I partied harder in high school and the first year of uni than I did in the subsequent 3 years.

      I think that making it a ‘forbidden’ thing until age 21 just increases the appeal. The other problem is that partying in college is seen as so normal and expected, that it’s hard for anyone to really tell when the student moves from just a fun-loving partier to actually displaying alcoholic tendencies.

      1. MK

        I agree. Legal drinking age in my country is 17+ and the culture is such that most parents will allow their kids limited consumption of alchool (one barely alchooholic drink on their birthday, half a glass of wine at Christmas, a few sips of beer while on holiday) for a couple of years before that. So 18-year-olds don’t associate the freedom of university with alchohol.

    3. Snickerdoodle

      Wow. I’ve been reading about all the college-themed alcoholism in these comments, and I’m super relieved I was too busy working and living too far from campus to develop that problem and derail my studies. Sadly, I developed a problem later in life, but now I’m back to where I want to be. I’m vicariously reveling in the congratulations to the OP on getting help. :)

      Anyway, it seems like colleges need to have much better resources in place. My workplace had signage in the restrooms for a while with the EAP number on it for substance abuse, but they’re gone now. I was thinking of asking them to replace them and also add signage for domestic violence counseling since I see a lot of mentions of that in the comments here. Colleges would benefit from more of that kind of thing.

  11. Flash Bristow

    I absolutely have to add, congratulations for recognising and tackling this, OP. I have my own complicated relationship with alcohol and I know that even if you admit it and WANT to change, actually doing that takes guts. A huge amount of bravery. True I’m in awe, OP.

    I agree with Alison’s amazing script. Definitely send it, but maybe just to a small audience – a few key people who you’d be contacting about jobs and references in future – no need to flag this to anyone who hasn’t noticed – and perhaps ask those people to pass on your apologies to anyone who was specifically affected by your actions. Obviously that’s for you to judge depending on how well you know them or expect them to respond, but I would definitely use that script.

    I wish you all the best with your ongoing recovery.

    1. Snark

      I think if we’re being honest with ourselves, a lot of us have a more complicated relationship with alcohol than we dare admit. I love that first sip of a cold beer after a brutal day, but it’s easy to love just a bit too much; I can see how one could really chase that feeling down the rabbit hole.

      1. BookishMiss

        You’re not wrong, Snark. I had to hard stop some meds for a year because I was uninsured, and used liquor to sort of make up the gap. I was able to stop immediately upon going back on my meds, but I know I nipped to the bar next to work on my lunch break more than once. I don’t drink often now, but when I do, I’m careful.

        1. BookishMiss

          Hit submit too soon. All that to say, LW, you are doing wonderful, hard work to control an illness, and so many people are aware of alcoholism as an illness now that I have high hopes for your future.

          1. Zillah

            Yes. I actually often specifically avoid drinking when I feel a certain way, because I can see how easy that hole is to go down and don’t trust myself not to get swept down it – partially because I know how much I’ve struggled with stopping some other problematic non-substance-based coping mechanisms. I have so much sympathy for the OP.

            1. Anonygoose

              Yeah, there’s a line in a Reese Witherspoon movie that I always remember about drinking: “Never drink to feel better; only drink to feel even better”. Honestly, sticking to that rule has helped me so much, especially when I was going through bouts of depression a couple years ago.

              1. Hiring Mgr

                That’s good advice, but for those with substance issues much easier said than done since they often only know one way to feel better

                1. Zillah

                  I don’t think Anonygoose was suggesting that it was particularly helpful advice for people grappling with substance abuse disorders, and I know that I wasn’t – my original point was that I agree with Snark and BookishMiss that it’s really easy to go from alcohol use that can veer toward unhealthy (which is true of many of us) to full-blown addiction, and that the OP is far from alone in falling down that rabbit hole.

            2. Snark

              Yup. There’s a certain mood I can get into that’s a combination of anxiety, exhaustion, and hangry, and if I dump a beer into that churning, empty stomach….let us say that I am not my best self, living my best life.

              1. BookishMiss

                Yeah, when I hit that mood now, I just go to bed. It’s better for everyone if I just turn off and reset for the next day.

      2. SignalLost

        As a person who seeks out high-stress jobs, I had to quit drinking entirely; it was how I was managing my stress, and I was very lucky that my wakeup calls didn’t hurt me or anyone else. The good news is that at this point, five years on, I really dislike the taste of alcohol and generally cannot finish even one drink. I do have a beer occasionally, and I feel you on that first swallow after a long day, but OP, right now is not forever. Good for you for taking the steps you are!

  12. Hey Karma, Over here.

    OP, read through the archives. If your time in treatment hasn’t convinced you, these letters should.
    You are not the only one. People have come back from drug addiction, alcohol, stealing, lying, cheating…all big things, all done while employed. Contact the people at the office. Some people will be supportive, others won’t. Ultimately, you will be taking responsibility for yourself and everyone will acknowledge that.

  13. Bea

    Wishing you all the best in your recovery. You have made a hard decision to get help but I’m grateful you decided to seek professional care.

    I have a former coworker who is an alcoholic. He is wonderful and brilliant, I never thought his disease defined him professionally. However he did stumble and we all knew. The worst part is he tried detoxing himself and landed in the ICU. He’s safe now and healthy aside from the effects he will carry for life.

    On your own time you’ll be able to reach out and hopefully salvage your reputation among your former colleagues. Many of us understand this disease and will just be relieved you’re getting help. Xxx

  14. Been there done that got the hangover

    OP, as someone who has LEFT many jobs in ignominy because of various pyrotechnic displays at office Christmas parties or the like that couldn’t be possibly recovered from, I am so, so proud of you. My alcoholism is finally under control as I have reconciled it with the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of my childhood by my father but oh my god, how frequently and hugely I embarrassed myself in the meantime. You’ve done a wonderful thing for your personhood here.

  15. Dame Judi Brunch

    OP, nothing new to add, I just wanted to say congratulations on taking this step, and I wish you all the best in your recovery.

  16. doingmyjob

    Good for you for seeking help. I concur absolutely with the suggestions here. I have done this too. And even if no one noticed, it is bothering you and making amends will help you put this behind you.

    1. Snickerdoodle

      Yes to the “even if no one noticed” part. Hardly anyone was aware of my own problem, and the only person I could have made any amends with was an ex who was abusive and therefore not an option to contact. The hardest amends to make are those you make with yourself.

  17. McWhadden

    Congratulations on getting help! This may be one burned bridge (or may not be!) but it helped you see you needed help at a relatively young age. Which is invaluable. And at your age there will be many many more bridges to cross. I’m not suggesting it’s good this happened. But you are young and have a bright future and are doing the best thing for your long-term health. Definitely try to reach out as Alison suggest but, no matter what happens, that’s what you should focus on.

  18. anonforone

    OP, dude, it happens. It’s amazing that you have rebounded from this recognized you have a problem. I’ll share my story. I had my first drink at 21 (the same year as my first internship) and man did that cause problems.

    I was definitely drunk/hungover (it was noticeable) after going out for a friends 21st birthday. I went into work anyway (because I was an idiot then). I was eventually fired from the internship, I was a very bad intern, totally deserved it.

    I have gone on to have a successful career, learned that I make bad decision when I have more than 2 drinks, and the person who fired me has nothing but nice things to say to me, in almost a “i’m proud of you for getting your sh*t together” way.

    Sometimes we do dumb stuff when we’re young, it does’t have to define the rest of your career/life.

    1. mark132

      I think sometimes being fired in a situation like this can be a blessing (a painful one), simply as a wakeup call.

    2. Bea

      And it’s not about our screwups, it’s about what we learned from them. Taking responsibility is huge in this world and that’s what can make or break us.

  19. Marlowe

    Best of luck, OP. While it wasn’t about alcohol abuse, I’ve done the humiliate myself at work –> realize there’s a deeper personal issue with my health –> take steps to redeem myself pattern, and while it hasn’t always been easy, getting back on the right track was actually less painful than I had dreaded. Having people in your corner at such a time is essential; not just work folks (who you should definitely reach out to, as they are far more likely than not to be sympathetic and helpful), but friends and family, too. I hope you’re getting all the support you need!

  20. Falling Diphthong

    My one tweak to Alison’s script is to mention the timeline. “After I left I started drinking too much on occasion, then way too much more frequently” or along those lines, to indicate that you were not struggling with this problem when the year of work that formed your reference occurred (and they just failed to spot it), but instead started struggling afterward and recently. Indicate that the alcohol abuse underlies the recent volunteer event, but not the bulk of your time working with them.

    Definitely do not think “Maybe no one noticed, and I shouldn’t call their attention to it if that’s so.” Assume that people noticed and apologize appropriately, as both the mature thing to do and the possible reputation salvaging action if they did notice, or suspect, or wonder. Drunken behavior only blends in amidst other drunks. Sober people notice, or perform an awkward “is this a mental illness thing, or a drunk or high thing?” That’s aside from the scent of alcohol in sweat, which I notice way before someone’s behavior is affected.

  21. Greg NY

    I disagree with the prevailing opinion here. There is certainly very high value in the way you have handled this, LW, and you did it in the best possible way given the circumstances. However, your reputation may indeed be compromised. Alcoholism treatment is protected under the ADA and you cannot lose your job for it provided that you can perform the core duties of your job. (That said, I’m not sure the ADA applies to interns, and you said your company was small, if it’s small enough, fewer than 15 employees, the ADA wouldn’t protect you even if you were an employee.) However, you completed your internship and weren’t let go, so this isn’t going to affect you now. It’s still something to keep in mind for the future, because future employers may not be so kind.

    Even when it’s illegal (and it may not be illegal in your situation), there is still a bias many people have. It saddens me to say it, but it’s true. Gender discrimination, most of the time against women, is the most common example. If that didn’t exist despite the illegality of it, there would be no gender wage gap. Even if a future employer is subject to the ADA, that just means you are entitled to an accommodation. It doesn’t mean that the employer won’t make your life more difficult, and I don’t know if the ADA will protect you against discrimination for promotions or other perks. It might also mean that the staff members might tarnish your reference by nitpicking things about you that they otherwise wouldn’t have done.

    All is not necessarily lost. All you need to do is to speak to the staff member candidly and talk to them about providing you a reference, and ask if they can provide a good one. You would’ve had to do this no matter what, simply to make sure that the staff member’s opinion of your work product and their experience working with you is favorable, so this conversation isn’t an additional burden. Only if the staff members can’t provide you a reference will this incident affect you going forward at all.

    And even without a good reference, you can definitely, and should, put this internship on your resume. The incident didn’t affect the actual good work you did during the internship. The worst you stand to lose is the reference, the accomplishment of the internship itself cannot be taken away from you.

    1. Anon From Here

      I tend to agree with GregNY here. LW had an otherwise successful internship in a program that sounds not a little exclusive and hard to get into. Then after it ended, LW developed a medical issue that led to arriving to the event highly impaired.

      I think LW should put the internship on their resume regardless, and see other professors and employers for references.

  22. Zillah

    Congratulations on seeking out help, OP – I have so much sympathy for you, and I hope your recovery goes smoothly. It will be okay – and if anyone does react badly, it says more about them than it does about you. Best of luck, and I hope you’ll be able to give us an update on how you’re doing. (And it’s okay if it’s not all puppies and rainbows! This stuff can be really hard.)

  23. mark132

    While this isn’t great, I’m not sure it’s the end of the world. Afterall you weren’t drunk on the job, and for me at least I view this as a significant distinction. This was a volunteer situation AFTER the conclusion of your internship. I don’t think/hope this wouldn’t cancel a year of good work. I certainly wouldn’t blast the whole company with apologies like Allison suggested, just a low key email to a few trusted people to mend fences and of course apologize.

  24. Kuododi

    There’s really nothing I can add to the excellent feedback already given by Alison and the rest of the group. I simply wanted to extend my very best wishes and hope for a healthy, strong future.

  25. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club

    I have so much respect for you OP for your strength and courage in getting help. Congratulations on taking the first step in your recovery. I wish you all the best.

  26. Hiring Mgr

    OP, I assume you’re doing so but you should really be checking with your counselors/advisors, etc at the treatment center on this–it’s likely they have really good experience in this area!

  27. The OP

    Hi everyone! I’m the OP who wrote this letter. First of all: Alison, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. Your wise, thoughtful response has helped me view my situation more clearly, and I plan on taking your advice.

    Thank you also to those who have commented so far. I didn’t know what to expect when I checked the comment section, but I’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) by the amount of support people have shown. I am eager to read the rest of the responses, and will try to reply to every one of them. I’m open to hearing additional suggestions if anyone has any, and am happy to clarify and answer questions related to my letter, too.

    1. JPlummer

      I think you should hold off on sending an email until you have a more solid footing in sobriety and a less urgent need to “fix” this. It’s only been a few weeks since the incident, and an apology will most likely seem self-serving and an obvious attempt to rehabilitate your reputation. Most new-in-recovery addicts have a tendency to be profoundly controlling and self-flagellating. So do the really hard thing — be patient, give yourself some time to be sober, to mature, to stop beating up on yourself. You might have to write off the internship. You might also find that the email you send today would embarrass the living daylights out of the one-year sober you.

      I also urge you to talk about your situation to your fellow rehab patients, your counselor, support group members, your sponsor, a therapist. There are some hard truths in recovery, best heard from people who have passed some milestones in their own recoveries and who will level with you, in person. I’d also like to point out the blessings of new sobriety — food tastes good again, sleep is restful, wrinkles disappear (really, they do) and best of all — no more hangovers! Reason enough to be grateful. All the best to you.

  28. Nicole

    I really hope we see a positive update to this story. Good luck OP, and no matter what happens with your previous employer please take care of yourself.

  29. neeko

    As a fellow person in recovery, I have a lot of shame about my past behavior in work settings. I’m working on it! It’s not an easy road but a worthwhile one. Good luck with your recovery. You are stronger and braver than you realize.

  30. Student

    I have had a couple of colleagues whom we suspected of drinking problems. Maybe I can offer a useful perspective from that side of the fence.

    Apologies go a long way. They can be awkward in the moment, for sure, but even so they’re much better than saying nothing and pretending it didn’t happen at all.

    A good apology for this kind of thing should NOT draw the person into your problem. They don’t want the extended history of your alcoholism, the root cause, that kind of thing. They don’t want to be your spontaneous therapist. They may really not want to know you have an ongoing alcohol problem at all (especially if they are now casual contacts).

    They do want to know three things: (1) You know you screwed up (2) You know it negatively affected the person you are apologizing to (3) You won’t do this again. After you issue the apology, you may need to dutifully and uncomfortably listen to a bit of lecturing about drinking, or them telling you how it impacted them – your job in that part is to hear them out, not to argue with them. You can disagree with their suggestions/conclusions etc., but do so silently in your head, for the most part.

    If you pretend it never happened, then they will worry you will do it again. If you try to draw them into your problem instead of owning it and taking personal responsibility for fixing it, they will worry it will happen again and they’ll think you’re a drama factory. If you apologize, they may or may not give you a second chance, but they’ll think better of you than the alternatives.

  31. JessicaC

    Best of luck to you, OP, I’m very glad to hear you are being proactive in addressing this situation!

    I disagree with one part of Alison’s script. Personally, I think the line: “I valued my time at Organization so much, and I hate that this may overshadow it — but I also understand that it will” puts the focus too much on your reputation. At least from my perspective (woman in living in the Midwest) that kind of statement would sound like a subtle way of asking people to make you feel better about the situation — like you’re asking for a reply saying “no, it won’t overshadow it!”

    I’d take that line out so that the entire e-mail is an apology for your actions. I think later, once you are in need of letters of recommendation, you can reach out again and see how they feel about it.

  32. $!$!

    When I was in graduate school I did the same thing at two internships, one paid and one unpaid. And 5 years later I’m doing much better. Thank you OP for sharing your story, we don’t have enough honesty in this area bc of stigmatization

  33. cactus lady

    I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already said, just that I am rooting for you! Please share an update when you have one :)

  34. Doloris Van Cartier

    Congrats on making such a big step in your life OP! By getting help for your addiction, you’ve given yourself a real gift to yourself which you fully deserve. I know making amends is a very hard step and if you have a sponsor, I’d recommend talking about the process with them as they can support you through that journey. Sometimes you’ll get really wonderful responses and sometimes you may not but allow yourself a sense of peace for your journey moving forward. Best of luck and you have lots of people rooting for you!

  35. Lana Kane

    I just want to add my voice to the chorus, OP, and say that the steps you immediately took are a sign of your strength and courage. And I’m glad to see your reply saying that you plan to follow Allison’s advice, because I think she is right on. You own up to it, apologize, and let them know that it was the impetus for the actions you are now taking. We’re all rooting for you.

  36. SadieMae

    Recovering alcoholic here. Alison’s advice is spot on, right down to the wording in the apology.

    OP, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in recovery who have similar stories. These are smart, capable people who have gone on to be happy and successful. I hope you know you’re not alone in having such a mortifying experience – far from it! You got yourself into treatment right away (which speaks very well of your dedication to improving your life!) and you will move on from this. Rock on with your sober self! <3

  37. Collingswood

    I’m very impressed with you realizing that you needed help and getting it at such an early age. I just quit a month ago (with help) and I wish I had done so decades ago. If there was no drinking at hr event, and you just showed up intoxicated, I agree with Allison’s suggestion. If you know you are not good at hiding your intoxication and you smelled like booze, I would assume someone noticed. Best of luck in your recovery!!

  38. ummmm

    The proposed email is brilliant—it strikes just the right tone and doesn’t go into unnecessary detail. I’d be very sympathetic. I might even think more rather than less of someone who wrote this candidly and was sincerely taking action to help recover. I admire the letter writer for grappling with alcoholism and getting the upper hand. It’s a terrible thing. Everything about this letter is a step in the right direction, which takes bravery, smarts, and resilience.

    Don’t leave the internship off your resume! You had the gig and you did the work, and it doesn’t sound like anything truly horrific happened at the event. You didn’t, like, take off all your clothes and jump in a fountain, start a brawl, or dance sexy with the boss. Being drunk was bad but not malicious or corrupt, and the suggested response is on-point.

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