my coworker/friend keeps coming to work drunk

A reader writes:

I have a friend (let’s call her Becky) I have known since we were in middle school, who is now my coworker. In college, it became pretty apparent that she was developing a drinking problem, which has only got worse as she’s gotten older. Because I’ve been around her so many times when she’s very, very intoxicated, I know what she looks and sounds like — the change in her behavior and appearance is quite obvious to me and anyone who knows her well.

We recently returned to the office part time and on a handful of occasions, I was very suspicious she was drunk at the office. I mentioned it to my husband one night and the same evening, completely unprompted, another friend/coworker said she thought Becky was drunk at work that same day, which further confirmed my suspicions.

Here’s the real kicker – she is married to our bosses brother, which makes everything significantly more awkward. So what do I do? Do I tell my boss about it? Do I confront her myself? Do I say nothing and hope she doesn’t make a drunken mistake that tanks the company? I am truly at a loss here.

I wrote back and asked, “Do you have the kind of relationship where you could talk to her about it yourself? And in the office hierarchy, do you have any authority over her or are you more peers?”

I could probably talk to her about it myself, but it would certainly make for an awkward conversation. We’ve been friends for so long that there probably isn’t much we couldn’t discuss, though it does make me a little anxious. As for hierarchy, she does not directly report to me, but I am a department head while she is not in a managerial position of any kind.

Please talk to her! You’ve been friends since middle school and it sounds like you’re close.

Leaving the work stuff totally aside, there’s a need for a conversation as a friend. Your good friend has started coming to work drunk! Even if you didn’t work together, that would be worth raising with her simply from a place of concern about what’s going on.

I get that it’s an awkward thing to bring up but … she’s coming to work drunk! Repeatedly! And other people are noticing.

If she keeps doing this, it’s almost certainly going to destroy her reputation, and it could get her fired. And while you didn’t say whether she’s driving or not when she’s drinking, if she’s being reckless enough to come to work drunk, you’ve got to wonder about her judgment around driving too.

So please do talk to her! And if you don’t get through to her that way, it’s worth talking to her husband about what you’re seeing.

It’s your obligation as a friend.

Read an update to this letter

{ 181 comments… read them below }

  1. INeedANap*

    The first step to overcoming addiction is admitting there’s a problem, and your friend may still be in denial. Expect her to react vehemently negatively and to deny, deny, deny. Hopefully it’s a productive conversation, but prepare yourself for the worst. I hope your friend gets the help she needs.

    1. Begrudging Acquaintance of Bill W.*

      Yes, as someone who was on the other end of this talk from coworkers and bosses, she may not be ready to accept she has a problem yet.

      OP, know that if she is still in that stage and rejects your concern/help, you have not failed. For many of us addicts, chipping away at denial is a cumulative process. Every time someone told me they were concerned, every time I got let go from jobs, all of that added up until I eventually had the epiphany that I had to stop. Your concern might add to her own pile of evidence that she needs help, even if she doesn’t accept it right away.

        1. Begrudging Acquaintance of Bill W.*

          Thank you! In a much better place now over six years into sobriety. But I remember exactly how hard it was. I hope Becky gets the help she needs and finds a space in her heart/mind to accept it.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            Such a great insight. I think we tend to think that if our conversation DOESN’T immediately lead to the other person getting help, then we’ve somehow failed or not done enough, when actually sometimes it’s the accumulation of lower-key interventions and chats that can ultimately lead a person to decide to seek help.

            Worth remembering that. We can’t fix anyone, but we can kindly and in plain terms name the issue and maybe over time that will help the person fix themselves or reach out for support.

      1. Anomalez*

        Totally agree. I am 25 years sober and I can still remember every word of concern from my managers, friends, girlfriends, therapists, etc. They all added up and eventually tipped the scale. And luckily a few were Friends of Bill and I went straight to AA and it worked.

  2. EPLawyer*

    Be a friend. You really need to talk to her. before she hurts herself or someone else. Sure the conversation will be awkward. but a whole let less ackward than supporting her through a trial for drunk driving. And hopefully only DUI and not DUI that resulted in the death of someone.

    If she doesn’t listen, well you can’t make her. But you owe her to the person you have known since middle school to try.

  3. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Nitpick: The boss is her brother-in-law, not her husband.

    Otherwise, yes – one hundred percent agree with Alison here. Becky might clam up and deny everything; but it might also be the wake-up call she needs that her drinking isn’t as under control as she thought.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, I’m not suggesting talking to her boss. I’m suggesting talking, as a concerned long-time friend, to her husband, who will have more standing to intervene.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And OP as a longtime friend should have standing to let the husband know about her concerns.

        I feel bad for Becky, there is often a lot of things going on when someone’s life is spiraling so obviously out of control.

        1. OP*


          Thanks for your comment. Her husband is definitely aware but I think he’s just so cynical about the situation at this point that I’m not sure he cares to address it, which is only more heartbreaking.

          1. Amaranth*

            Becky may not be in a state of mind to realize that its obvious to others. A lot of folks think they are great at ‘acting normal’ when they really aren’t. If you mention that you’ve heard others talking about it, that might be more of a wake up call than the fact that you, who know her very well, clued in quickly.

            Additionally, if her husband has checked out of dealing with the situation her status at the company might not be especially protected if that situation worsens.

            1. MBK*

              Exactly this. If she’s still in the “oh good no one noticed” phase, that’s only going to embolden her to come to work more and more drunk. The *only* brake pedals on this type of addiction at this stage are physical limits (e.g., you can’t drink more when you’re already passed out drunk) and (for now) the fear of discovery/perceived need to pass as functioning. She needs to know – now and often – that she’s not “getting away with it” as much as she thinks she is.

              (I know full well that it’s her addiction, not her decisions, driving this bus, so please read the above as an analysis of the pathology and not a judgment of her choices.)

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            OP, Internet hugs if you want them. I’m sorry for the situation.

            Some people have mentioned the idea of approaching the conversation with your friend from an “I’m hearing this from other people, I wanted to make sure you knew about it” route. May help her realize that she’s far more visibly struggling than she thinks she is.

          3. Green Goose*

            Hi OP, thanks for writing this question in and I hope it all works out. My sister is a “Becky” and I encourage you to say something to her if you are able. It took my mom and I a really long time to even address things with my sister and she’s still in denial, but I think in these situations, the more people that acknowledge it with the person, the harder it is for them to keep pretending that it’s not a problem. My sister tends to surround herself with people that do not call her out or others that drink heavily, so even if her friends notice these type of things they are unlikely to call her out directly. I’m really hoping other people say things to her so she can’t chalk it up to “my family is dramatic and they are only saying I drink too much because they are too [insert excuse]”.
            Good luck, and try to focus the conversation on your care and concern for her.

          4. Wintermute*

            I wouldn’t be too hard on him. It’s tough to be married to an addict, and chances are he has brought it up to her, repeatedly, and has been told this is a take-it-or-leave it deal, the booze is staying he can stay or go. He may not be ready to push it to a crisis point yet, and I can’t blame him. Some people never find themselves able or willing knowing that the conversation could well result in her leaving.

            That’s the position my dad was in, he chided and tried not to enable for a long time but eventually he had to decide if the living situation was tolerable as it was or not because she would not change for anything, literally not love or money.

            I’m disappointed he stayed but I don’t blame him.

            1. Mebbe Oughta Change Names This Time*

              Yes. It’s hard to feel a commitment to someone who is addicted, and who resists help. There are times when it’s easier to withdraw into one’s shell, and wait for the next crisis, rather than continually agonizing over what might happen next.

              Maybe I handled it wrong, but God knows I wanted to help.

      2. ZSD*

        Then I think the “start as a friend” ending doesn’t make sense, as talking to her husband would be a continuation of acting as a friend, not a colleague.

  4. Stitch*

    My good friend was recently killed by a drunk driver while he was biking to work. He had two young kids. It’s not clear if she’s driving herself to and from work (if she takes public transportation or gets a ride) but if she’s potentially driving to work drunk, you need to address this ASAP. She is putting herself and others at serious risk every single time.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Stitch, I lost someone dear to me to a drunk driver as well. Sorry to hear your news.

      OP, absolutely say something to your friend right away. You of course can’t control her response, but speaking up is the right thing to do. Hopefully it will help set her on a path to sobriety.

  5. Privacy first*

    By all means talk to her as a friend, but don’t out her to the employer unless there’s an actual safety issue resulting from her transportation or job duties.

    If she’s just taking the subway and pushing papers drunk that’s nobody’s business but her own unless it causes a problem with her quality of quantity of work – in which case management should notice and address that rather than whether she is or is not drunk at any given time.

    1. TechWorker*

      Well… yes and no. Employers are not unreasonable to draw a line in the sand that says you can’t be drunk at work. Obviously she has a problem and needs help. But it’s not the case that her drinking is none of the employers business.

      1. generic_username*

        Yeah, agree. It’s an odd take to say that OP shouldn’t ever bring it up to management. OP is technically management in this scenario, just not the direct manager (which is good because that does allow her to treat this as a “we’re friends first” situation, instead of having to approach this as a manager). Quality of work is almost certainly impacted here; management just hasn’t noticed yet.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I wonder if in this specific case it’s complicated by the fact that Becky is the big bosses’ sister in law? So her manager has noticed the p slippage but hasn’t said anything because they’re worried that big boss will step in to protect his family member. Think of all the nepotism stories we see on this site.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          That’s not what Alison said? Here OP is a long-time friend of Becky’s, and it’s best to act as a friend to an alcoholic rather than a colleague. If there wasn’t that friendship, Alison probably would have recommended talking to a manager, especially if the drunkenness could entail danger, with her driving to work.

      2. BA*


        Especially if other coworkers are noticing. It would be very difficult, especially if this is touched on in an employee handbook, to discipline another employee for really anything.

        “You came in 30 minutes late…”
        “Yeah but Becky is drunk…”

    2. CBB*

      I agree with not going straight to the employer before giving her a chance to self-correct.

      But it is not nobody’s business but her own if she’s pushing paper drunk. It is literally her employer’s business. And while she may not be at risk of physically injuring anyone, LW said she might mistakes that could “tank the company,” so she apparently entrusted with important decisions or tasks.

    3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Getting drunk puts her at high risk for being robbed and /or attacked once she leaves the office as well; that’s true of everyone, but especially so for women! Yes, this is an emotionally difficult, risky conversation to have with her, but it might save her life.

      1. LouLou*

        Hmm, this seems like a pretty remote possibility, so I don’t think I’d use this as one of the main reasons to talk to her.

        1. BlueKazoo*

          Right? That’s a significant overstatement. And even if it weren’t, victim blaming is not the best strategy. If your friend was dressing wildly inappropriate for work, would you tell her she was risking being sexually assaulted? Probably not. You’d likely focus on how it was affecting people’s perception of her professionalism.

    4. Purple Cat*

      I don’t understand this take at all.
      Yes, if Becky was only partying hard on the weekends, then it’s absolutely none of her employers concerns, but coming to work drunk is absolutely their business.

      OP should approach Becky has a friend first, then approach Becky’s husband as a friend second, but it’s absolutely within proper scope to go to a different level of work management.

    5. SuperDiva*

      Employers set standards of behavior at work for a reason. It’s absolutely their business if an employee is showing up drunk (!!) to the workplace, and they have an ethical obligation to intervene once they know about it. Coworkers shouldn’t have to be around an impaired person and pretend not to notice. What you do in the workplace is not private or privileged, and your behavior doesn’t need to be a work or safety issue in order to be addressed.

    6. PT*

      TBH I had a job where I supervised people who could not be drunk at work. They had supervisory duties where they needed to be alert. I supervised high school and college students and…teens do not always make good judgements. They sometimes come to work in the morning still drunk from last night, or decide work is boring and start coming to work high.

      This was a job where it was a significant liability and safety problem to have someone drunk or high on the job and when I went to speak to my supervisor that I had gotten multiple complaints about one particular 18 year old coming to work high, I got told, “Well, we can’t prove he’s high. And we can’t make an allegation of him being high because that’s slander and against HR rules and state law. So there’s not much you can do unless he’s so high his job performance is suffering and he’s causing accidents.”

      We ended up fading him off the schedule, which was our only legal recourse.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        We ended up fading him off the schedule, which was our only legal recourse.

        Which is a shame that there were no other options, for you and his co-workers, that it couldn’t be addressed directly, and for him, that there were no progressive dicipline steps to give him an opportunity to course correct.

        And it’s scary to me, as someone who is under the influence of whatever (drunk, high, etc) can be more at risk of falling or otherwise injuring themelves in the workplace, even if their specific workplace or job had increased safety risks. Staircases, elevators, open file drawers, potted plants can all be a trip/fall hazard to someone who is not firing on all cylinders. Sure, that’s true all the time, not just for people WUI (1 or 2 of those items may have tripped me up when I’ve been stone cold sober) but you don’t need the increased risk.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        This confuses and confounds me so much. If he is not working up to par, because he is high, you can’t fire him, because he’s high. So if he came to work not high, but did a lousy job, he could be fired. But he was doing a bad job and you told your boss, “he’s doing a bad job. I believe he is high,” and boss throws up his hands, “whelp, nothing we can do now!” (which I believe after years of working and reading this blog!)
        I think what I’m asking is if there was no metric in place that he couldn’t me while being high. He was high, but doing a good job? Or in this case, he was high, so someone else did the job, or he just didn’t do the job and oh my god, I feel your pain, PT.

      3. WellRed*

        I’m really curious what state laws your employer thought would apply here. Perfect example of “but lawsuit!” Standing in the way.

      4. Now In the Job*

        The comment about slander is bizarre to me. There are a lot of defenses to slander, and the truth is one of them. Like this sort of situation doesn’t fit into defamation law at all, especially when there’s a reasonable belief of the statement to be true and protecting the interests of the company or the safety of others.

        Also, IDK where you are, but most places you can fire someone for no reason whatsoever, so there were plllenty of other legal recourses.

        1. Koalafied*

          Right, and wouldn’t slander necessarily have to involve the statement being made to a third party or in a public forum or something? Not the reason the company tells itself internally for a firing!

      5. BlueKazoo*

        That’s not how slander laws work…

        That aside, it is annoying to be supervising people high enough that it’s obvious. I was a shift manager in college at a fast food place. Lots of people have restaurant jobs because they don’t drug test. But, I flat out refused to have this one guy work during my shifts because he would come in so high he kept messing up how to use the fryer. Making fries is practically foolproof – you put them in, press the timer, take them out. So you have to be pretty dang high to mess it up. This was also the guy who I had to remind that there were cameras all over the place (theft mitigation) and so perhaps it wasn’t the best place to be cleaning out his pipe. On the clock.

        1. anonForReasons*

          I messed up with heating the fries once. The fries were fine, but I accidentally spilled hot, wet fry grease on my left hand. I wasn’t high, just in a hurry. I never did that again!

          Tip: when you pick up the fry basket with your dominant hand, do NOT put your other hand anywhere below that basket or where the basket might be.

    7. Stitch*

      I mean, one time when I was a clerk we had a case where a defense attorney was drunk during trials. The prosecution didn’t even resist going back and vacating every single one of the convictions when he was defense counsel from the previous year for ineffective assistance of counsel. It was actually the prosecutor who identified and got consent motions to vacate.. They did not make the defendants prove him being drunk affected his representation.

      It’s not okay to be at work drunk.

      1. Koalafied*

        The phrase “unforced errors” comes to mind. You don’t have to wait for someone to make an unforced error to tell them, “You could have easily prevented that error if you’d followed basic guidelines.” You can proactively tell them, “You need to follow basic guidelines to prevent a range of unforced errors,” and hold them to that code.

      2. curiousLemur*

        “It was actually the prosecutor who identified and got consent motions to vacate..” The prosecutor sounds like a person with integrity. Good for them!

    8. Wintermute*

      oh no.

      If I was a manager over both of them and I found out a **manager** knew an employee was working drunk and didn’t tell me, they’d be gone so fast their head would spin. As someone in a senior role you have a duty to the company, and not telling people tells me you’ll put “duty” to friends over your duty to the company, a position that is not acceptable in a manager.

      If they were both co-workers of the same, or relatively similar, levels I might tolerate it, but not from a manager, and I’d wager that most people would feel the same.

      1. Anonymous Today*

        Is it likely that the big boss who is “Becky’s” BIL doesn’t already know about her drinking?

    9. MBK*

      Even paper pushers might need to be fully alert and capable in ways that affect others. I used to live and work in a pre-earthquake-certification-code building in the Bay Area, and we had bimonthly earthquake drills. One of my (sedentary, desk-based job) coworkers being drunk during an actual emergency evacuation could have gotten others hurt or killed.

  6. generic_username*

    This will certainly be a tough conversation, but it’s one that needs to be had (as a friend). You don’t routinely come to work as adult drunk unless you’ve got a problem. If you aren’t comfortable having it, I’d approach her husband if you are also close with him. He may be avoiding dealing with it thinking she has it under control (or could be doing what my old coworker did – drinking in her car before coming into the office). This will not end well and it would be the compassionate thing to do to help her deal with it now before it becomes something she can’t come back from.

  7. Roscoe*

    Totally agree here. This is a friendship conversation, not a work conversation. As a friend, I don’t think the idea of talking to her boss should really even be on the table, if you’ve never spoken to her about this.

    Had you just been random peers, my answer may be different. But as this sounds like a real friendship not a “work friends” type of situation, you should talk to her. I’m not sure how you can find that more uncomfortable than going to her boss over it.

    But it sounds like you are probably friends with her husband too, right. So maybe even if you are hesitant to talk to her, bring it up to her husband as a matter of concern as a friend, not as a coworker.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I agree that OP should in the first instance talk to her as a friend, but I also think that as OP is manager, even though she isn’t Becky’s direct line manager, it is also relevant to her n a work context and that that may mean that she needs to speak to Becky’s manager -maybe not explicitly saying she thinks Becky is drunk, but noting the changes in her behaviour and flagging it up as a concern.

      And if Becky drives to or from work then the safety issue trumps anything else and I do think that, friend or not, it’s appropriate to contact the police. It may not only be herself that she hurts or kills.

      Also – she may not be willing to accept she has a problem, and you may find that the friendship cools or even ends if you speak to her. That doesn’t make it your fault, it’s due to her illness, and talking to her is still the right thing to do. Equally, in your capacity as a senior colleague, you may find that you have to take official notice – report what you see, and recognise that she may end up getting fired. And again, if that happens, that is not your fault, and it may be something that helps move her closer to the point where she is able to acknowledge that she has a problem and to start to get help.

    2. Wintermute*

      OP is a manager for the same organization, with both a legal and moral duty to her employer. If someone up above finds out she knew or had good reason to suspect an employee was drunk on the clock, it could seriously jeopardize her reputation. Even if they don’t formally punish her for it (and they could, lets be clear) they will at minimum have serious reservations about her ability to be impartial and how seriously she takes her responsibility as a manager, and in what other ways her judgement may be compromised or she might be failing to act in her employer’s best interests.

  8. Strict Extension*

    Even if you feel like the conversation accomplished nothing, my experience with functional alcoholics is that they really think no one can tell they’ve been drinking until someone tells them otherwise. So if nothing else, you’ve made that little step in the journey to her (hopefully) getting the help she needs.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yep. I wanted to say – even if you have the conversation and it looks like you’ve accomplished nothing, you have still been one additional voice, making it a little bit harder to ignore the next person who says something similar.

      1. Begrudging Acquaintance of Bill W.*

        Yeah, it’s weird what can finally push us over the edge to acceptance. Three lost jobs, angry and concerned friends and parents, all of that caused me incredible guilt but not enough to make me stop. What finally did it was…missing a movie with my best friend, and seeing the look of utter resignation on his face. That was the last day I drank.

        Still can’t get myself to watch the movie in question, which is too bad because I hear Mistress America is very good.

        1. the Viking Diva*

          thanks for sharing that, Begrudging. It’s good to be reminded that we don’t always know what will tip the balance and we need to try.

        2. Anon4This*

          For me it was getting wasted on a trip with my best friend at the time and both our families, and losing that friend over my actions. I knew I had a problem long before that but wasn’t willing to do anything about it until it got public. 12 years sober now, I still regret running that friendship but I’m glad it got me to finally deal with my shit.

    2. CBB*

      Yes, just letting her know that other people think she’s drunk, even if she herself doesn’t think she’s drunk, it a step in the right direction.

      I’ve known heavy drinkers who have miscalibrated ideas of what “drunk” is, so she may not even realize it’s not ok to come to work at 8 am after drinking until 3 am, or that having a few at lunch is not something that “everyone does.”

    3. All The Things*

      FWIW, I failed to mention to my brother-in-law that they’d noticed, at an interview I’d provided the reference for and who obviously subsequently declined to hire him, that he’d been drinking, because I felt it was awkward and didn’t have a comfort level approaching it (I’d managed/worked directly with him for a number of years.). I actually felt quite resentful about it. Fast forward several years and he’s passed away due to an alcohol-related illness and not even 40…I will forever wish I’d said something as a friend/loved one.

  9. BA*

    As Alison said, start as a friend… “I care about you, and need to say this…”

    You don’t even have to put your own observations in there if you feel uncomfortable with that. The fact that others are pointing out that she’s coming in drunk will be problematic for her down the road.

    And you can certainly observe that you’re worried about her getting into (causing) a really terrible situation if she’s driving drunk.

    Ultimately if this doesn’t hit home quickly, you need to run right to the boss. This will be a liability for the company at some point soon, and probably create a bunch of animosity if she’s getting preferential treatment by being allowed to work hammered.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I wonder if you could phrase it, “people have been asking me if you’re coming to work drunk, and honestly, I’m not sure. This is something that’s getting noticed” as coming from a place of care and concern and maybe getting around denial, since you’re not confronting her or asking her to confirm/deny. OTOH I’ve heard that deflecting to “people” can just get you stuck in a cycle of “what people, when did they say this” instead of the issue so maybe there’s a better way to do this.

      1. BA*

        I think you’re probably right on both sides. Much easier if there are more than just OP noticing things, but Becky may indeed want to know.

        But deflection may be as telling as anything too about her mindset and need for help.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Or – I’ve noticed this, and I know you well so may be better than most at spotting when you have been drinking – but I am ware that others here who don’t have our history have also made comments making clear that they have noticed , too.

        If she asks who, then be clear “I’m not going to tell you that – you don’t need to know who, you just need to know that it’s becoming unceasingly obvious, even to people who don’t know you very well, that you’ve been drinking and are still under the influence when you are at work. “

  10. Lucious*

    Situations like this are why one doesn’t appoint relatives to supervise employees.

    Ideally LW and Becky could discuss this very personal subject one on one: there’s already enough drama on their plate dealing with the substance abuse.

    Unfortunately, LW now has to consider the professional implications too. That isn’t fair for anyone involved, including the brother in law /Boss who gets to see their team disrupted by events. Everyone’s day would have been easier had said boss not been related to Becky.

  11. blackcat lady*

    This is coming from someone almost 22 years sober. The longest river is denial (old AA joke). Please be prepared for Becky to react with anger at first. When we finally face the beast we go through all the stages – anger, denial, bargaining, depression and finally for the lucky ones acceptance. It sounds like Becky has had a problem for a long time. There is a chance she knows that deep inside her and loathes herself. She probably doesn’t want to admit to you, or herself, how her drinking is affecting her work, family and marriage.

    Is your job big enough for an EAP? You might even go once yourself to educate yourself on alcoholics. If you have a positive experience with EAP please strongly encourage Becky to go. Be prepared for resistance – it’s a long, scary and difficult road. But the reward at the end – sobriety and freedom from alcohol – is awesome.

    Best of luck and please give us an update. Remember, if Becky lashes out at you when you bring the drinking up she is reacting as an active alcoholic and is angry someone is confronting her about it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Seconding that it’s a worthwhile road. I’m only 4 years passed what I call my ‘no longer an alcoholic’ moment but it’s really worth that feeling that I can deal with things without reaching for the bottle.

      (In my life I’ve come off booze, nicotine and a morphine dependence. The booze was probably the hardest)

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Internet hugs to you all, if you want them.

      I am crying over here at the openness and courage of this commentariat.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    As a former alcoholic (several years past, I’d say I was no longer one about 4 years ago) there’s a lot to be said for the ‘I love you, but I can’t be around you when you’re drinking anymore’ approach. Or, to reword it for friends ‘I like you, but I’m not prepared to be your friend unless you sober up’.

    This seems harsh, likely goes against every instinct to try and ‘help’ but it is by far the best. You cannot help someone out of an addiction that they don’t want to stop. I remember quite clearly my husband pointing out that not only was he going to sleep elsewhere when I’d been drinking, but that he’d not support me financially if I lost my job due to my boozing (I was trying to self medicate a bad mental situation. Don’t do this).

    It’s fine to add on a ‘when you actually want to get over this drinking problem I’ll help you find a recovery group and support you’.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Btw in case this is helpful: I didn’t go to AA or anything – my treatment plan was by my doctor. Who, it turned out, had noticed that I’d been turning up reeking of cheap scotch and mentioned it several times but I’d just not listened.

    2. blackcat lady*

      No, it’s not harsh, just reality. But as you well know we are capable of lying to ourselves and others about how big a problem we have. The LW needs to be firm with Becky, not enable. We need a large ice water tub of truth tossed on us. Usually more than once!

      Keymaster of Gozer: Congratulations on your 4 years! I’m raising my glass of San Pell for you in a toast.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        *raises cup of tea in response* thank you! Likewise to yourself – I hope one day I can get to double figures years of clean of the stuff that was messing me up.

        (4 years off the booze, 6 years off the cigs, 2 years off a chemical dependency on morphine. I’ll keep the caffeine addiction though!)

            1. Free now (and forever)*

              Technical correction: Pound Plus bars. From one who knows. Trader Joe’s. And chocolate, that is.

          1. Pikachu*

            As a former wine drinker (3 years in December!), I am now a sommelier of Diet Coke.

            Yes, McDonalds is best.

    3. Holey Hobby*

      Was coming here to say this. I think the AAM advice could benefit from a bit more information on addiction. I would have like to see some acknowledgement that the conversation… may not go well. You can tell someone what you are seeing. You can tell them how their behavior is impacting other people. You can draw boundaries. But you can’t necessarily “make” someone see how bad things are, let alone “make” them change. It hurts. It can really hurt to be powerless and watch someone you love struggle, when it can feel so solvable from the outside. “Just stop drinking!”

      1. Holey Hobby*

        Sorry – I hit send and cut myself off – but basically, it can seem simple to friends and family, but from your friend’s perspective, you are saying something that might be, right now, very scary and provoke a lot of self-loathing and defensiveness.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Agreed. My husband definitely wishes he’d never had to be cruel to me (I admit here: I cried, threatened ending my life unless he stopped saying I was a drunk, basically I put that man through hell) but, it did give me the incentive to finally realise, a bit later, that things were seriously out of control on my end.

        Given that he’s the guy who helps me wash and dress when my disability gets too bad..I owe him so much.

        1. Anonymous Today*

          Does he have a brother ( a cousin will do) who is unattached and is single and up there in years?

          Seriously, he sounds like a pretty amazing guy. I am always impressed with people who know when to say “no” and be firm about it and will turn around and do anything for you when it’s warranted.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            He comes from an absolutely massive family (he’s one of 6 siblings, and all his brothers and sisters have married and produced a similar amount of kids – we’re the odd ones out being childfree) so it’s actually quite possible that he has relatives who are single and in most geographic areas and ages!

            He’s my rock. We are both incredibly strong willed people so the rare disagreements we have round the house end up mostly as ‘let’s not debate it again, we’re never going to agree’ (I like driving, he hates cars etc)

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Sometimes the best help is being that cold splash of water with an “I refuse to enable you and the destructive behavior” speech. Almost everyone I’ve known with issues like those needed to hit rock bottom before they would recognize that they need help.

      Congrats on eating that sobriety. I’ll raise my coffee cup to you gladly.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Erg – mobile posting auto-correct strikes again: “ Congrats on earning* that sobriety.”

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I dunno, I kinda like your ‘eating sobriety’ accident! I chewed on a lot of dry spaghetti sticks while I was getting sober…(chrunchy and after eating a few there’s no room left in the stomach for booze)

      3. Boof*

        I’m just going to put a word in that I think “rock bottom” is simply the lowest point any given person is willing to go for their addiction, not like, that it HAS to get a certain level of bad for someone to stop. Some people are fine being homeless/friendless/dying young, some people rock bottom is just realizing they want the [whatever] a little too much.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Absolutely – that’s a part of why I like the phrase “Rock Bottom” because it isn’t a set point but subjective. Rock Bottom is different for each and every person, especially in an addiction setting.

    5. Mystik Spiral*

      Yup, my sister, who had been my best friend for years, told me that she could not be around me until I quit drinking. It hurt but was ultimately the most helpful out of all my family. Everyone else ignored that I had a problem or were completely enabling.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        (Sacred geometry is an interest of mine so love your username!)

        Very glad your sister helped you. Most of my friends were also of the ‘ignore it’ or ‘if you are in such a bad situation that you need to drink then go ahead, I’ve got no right to judge’ and while I get that those are made out of kindness, in general, they’re not helping at all. As you say; it’s more enabling than anything.

        Love, support and virtual cups of tea to all of you who’ve fought this battle. We’ve faced the worst of ourselves and survived it.

  13. Narise*

    Is she driving to work? This is very scary and puts everyone at risk that she could cause an accident. Even if she’s using public transit the fact that she needs/wants to drink daily and is coming to work in the AM drunk is not good. Speak to her about it outside of work and ask her if there is anything you can do to help. Go with her to a an AA meeting, have her reach out to EAP resource, anything. Tell her you want her to be around a long time and you are worried about her. If she blows you off and won’t do anything than you need to discuss with HR or the boss whomever makes sense especially if she’s driving.

  14. Quit Like a Woman*

    Please please say something to her as a friend!! I am a woman and was a long time ‘functional alcoholic.’ We think that no one can tell if we’ve been drinking (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves). It might be a wake up call for her to realize that other people are aware of her drinking and how inappropriate her behavior has become. It will be embarrassing and she will get defensive but it’s a conversation you need to have if you care for her.

    The books “Quit Like a Woman” by Holly Whitaker and “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace were an incredible help when I started questioning my drinking habits. I highly recommend these books to anyone who might be struggling.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      The ‘it’s okay because I’m a functional addict’ thought crossed my mind a lot when I began to admit I had a problem. Yes, I did my job just fine and I made sure I never drove under the influence.

      But my family saw otherwise. The mood swings (I’m a depressed drunk), the constant smell, the bouts of being sick in the morning, the hiding of bottles round the house (years on I’m still finding empties in weird spots), the speech slurring…etc. My husband showed a photo of me taken after I got home from work one day and my word I looked utterly sh*tfaced.

  15. animaniactoo*

    I think Alison said everything there is to say, and I have nothing but sympathy. This is definitely bound to be hard and awkward, and it will be useful for yourself if you approach it with the idea that you are trying but are not thinking in terms of guaranteed success when you do talk to her.

  16. Sunflower*

    What a tough situation because you both work for the same company. Will she react in denial and anger? Will she report you to HR for spreading gossip? Will her BIL take her side because she’s family?

    I think you need to talk to someone about all that before talking to her. I don’t know who you can talk to though.

    1. Observer*

      No, the OP needs to talk to her. Period.

      Is it possible that things could blow up, but even though it’s likely that Becky won’t handle it well, I don’t think it’s likely to tank the OP’s working situation.

      1. Sunflower*

        You never know. A poster below had a similar situation and said “it did not bode well for my long-term employment”

      2. NeedRain47*

        You’d like to think that it wouldn’t effect the OP, but sometimes when you set boundaries with someone who’s caught up in an addiction, they respond by trying to sabotage you or get “revenge” or just generally try to make it your fault instead of theirs. It doesn’t matter how close you are. I still think the OP should talk to Becky b/c that’s what friends do, but also be prepared it can turn really ugly. (Next thing you know you’re hearing rumors about whose husband you supposedly slept with that your former friend is deliberately spreading…. is what happened to me.)

  17. Atalanta0jess*

    Oh yes, please talk to her! It might be helpful to think of it just like any other time when you might notice a friend wasn’t feeling themselves. “I wanted to check in with you – I noticed this, and am concerned. How are you?” Not as a lecture, or as an effort to change her even….just, I noticed something off, and I care.

  18. quill*

    This will be a difficult and awkward conversation, but it could end up saving your friend’s life. If she’s showing up at work drunk, and she drives there, she’s driving drunk regularly.

    1. El l*

      Absolutely agree.

      LW has to understand that – if she doesn’t do something – either someone else will, or something bad like a DUI will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

      When that happens, the scale of the trouble will only start with “loss of job.”

      LW is the only hope this friend has to get out of this situation with just embarrassment.

  19. Stackson*

    Coming from someone six years sober, I will say that I knew I had a drinking problem before anyone else bothered to say anything to me about it. And the only person who did confront me was my wife (then girlfriend), who told me that she loved me and wanted to marry me but I needed to get my shit together before that could happen. It was the kick in the pants I needed to quit drinking and figure my life out.
    Sometimes I think it just takes someone saying “hey, this isn’t normal behavior and I’m concerned about you” to really get someone to re-evaluate their decisions. But definitely have the conversation with her, as awkward as it may be.

    1. Anon today*

      These are all helpful comments and advice. I recently started dating a long time friend who is a heavy drinker and pretty reliant on alcohol, and as the child/sibling of alcoholics, I know I’m not going to deal with this if it’s not reversible. I’ve been trying to bring this up lightly here and there, but this is good language to use going forward.

  20. Real Life Challenges*

    In every situation like this, please remember: you can only control your own behavior. However the conversation goes, I would do some legwork ahead of time and have links/books/phone numbers to provide to her so that she has a place to start if she decides to address the problem. I would also STRONGLY suggest that you go to an al-anon meeting and tell her that your are doing so/have done so. Because you should do what you can to help yourself as well.
    I would also be very clear in your own head in advance about NOT enabling her behavior. If she screws up at work, that’s on her and you should call her on it. If she’s drunk at work and you know she’s intending to drive home, try to get her keys and make her take an Uber. Much, much better to have consequences come early and in smaller packages than to let things build until total destruction is the result.

  21. Bex*

    Please talk to your friend. If she is coming in drunk, regardless of potential work issues, this is an indicator something might be very off in her personal life.

    also. Not to discount your knowledge, but a different perspective… one of my friends who I’d not seen in a while showed up to a video call. I’d have sworn he was drunk. No – turns out he’s on a new combination of meds for some health issues that have side effects of slurred speech and delayed reaction times. But until I asked, he thought it was barely noticeable and not worth a mention.

  22. QAF*

    Full-fledged intervention doesn’t always work — but it does work sometimes. My father did one for my mother, and she spent the last decade and a half of her life sober.

  23. Former HR Staffer*

    the problem with talking to becky about it though, is if another employee eventually goes to management (and if everyone knows the boss is the BIL, may go above his head instead of going to him), is that becky may think you’re the one who ratted her out bc you’re the only one who approached her. she may think since you’re the only one who brought it up, you’re the only one who noticed, so she may whine to BIL that you’re the snitch, and that’ll just open another can of worms.

    chances are, the whole office knows if another cowkrker has already noticed. (we had a becky in our office, and things like this are noticed and spread like wildfire.)

    tread very carefully if you intend to confront her, or at the very least say other ppl have noticed, so if stuff does hit the fan to higher ups, she won’t direct all her anger at you.

    1. Observer*

      or at the very least say other ppl have noticed, so if stuff does hit the fan to higher ups, she won’t direct all her anger at you.

      Realistically speaking, I doubt that the OP can do much to avoid Becky from reacting unreasonably. Nevertheless, it IS important for the OP to mention that others have already noticed. Because it will be very easy for Becky to say “You can tell, because we’ve known each other for so long, but NO ONE else can tell!” This makes it clear that it’s not the case.

      Will it help? Hard to know. But it has a much better chance than just the OP noticing.

  24. HS Teacher*

    It’s possible she isn’t drunk but having an adverse reaction to medication or something much more innocuous. If you are going to address it with her, I would suggest not doing it in an accusatory way and instead being more gentle about the behavioral changes you have noticed.

    1. ThatGirl*

      The LW has known Becky since middle school, I think we can trust her to know what’s probably going on. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be gentle, but it’s probably not medication related.

    2. Tuesday*

      Yes, she should absolutely be doing it in a non-accusatory way, regardless. Even if Becky brushes her off, she’ll know she has a trusted, non-judgmental friend to turn to down the road if she needs help.

  25. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Can confirm. Had to have this conversation with a higher-up at a long-ago job after he embarrassed himself and the organization at the company party. He was not ready to hear it and that did not bode well for my long-term employment there. Fortunately, I was already looking.

  26. Long Time Listener*

    As far as a script you could maybe use to open up the topic with your friend and sidestep outright accusations (if that makes you uncomfortable), perhaps something like this:

    “A few coworkers and I have noticed that sometimes when you come into work you [describe something she does only when you suspect her of drinking]. It reminded me of [an occasion when you had drinks with her] and I wanted to ask if something is going on. Is everything okay?”

  27. Fizzyfuzzy*

    Because sometimes this isn’t common knowledge, withdrawing from alcohol if she’s physically addicted (and if she’s coming to work drunk that sounds like someone trying to not to have withdrawal symptoms during the day) can be dangerous and potentially fatal. It may be good to go into this conversation with some basic information about detoxes in your area/ information on what your health insurance covers. My fear is she’d try to cold turkey it to attempt to show you she can handle it/ act like she hasn’t been drunk at work, but that could have serious consequences.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is very true. Maybe come to that meeting with her with a list of resources to help safely and medically get clear. Sometimes you can even find places that do a double pronged medical and counseling approach to help keep you clear.

    2. blackcat lady*

      Oh I second this! If someone is consuming large quantities each day a sudden withdraw can trigger medical crisis. I was lucky not to go through this but heard stories in the AA rooms.

      If you feel comfortable reach out to the husband. Have a plan that involves a doctor if necessary. I know Becky might, no will, feel ganged up on but sometimes that’s what it takes. As others have pointed out suddenly we see the light and choose sobriety.

    3. Lexie*

      This is one of the reasons liquor stores didn’t close during pandemic shut downs. It could have caused another health crisis on top of the one we were already going through.

    4. RagingADHD*

      My husband’s grandmother had a daily amount of beer prescribed for her in the hospital after her stroke, so she wouldn’t get the DTs. She was so excited they had “her brand.”

      1. Iris Eyes*

        All I can think is that if beer is ridiculously expensive at a bar just how much worse it is at a hospital. I bet the bill for those made the $10 beers at the local sporting arena look cheap by comparison.

    5. Cannibal Queen*

      Yes. My husband would have seizures (requiring hospitalisation) on days when he drank less than usual.

  28. meagain*

    Is she drinking at work and driving home? If so, that’s a huge liability for the company as well. Reminds me of the possible scenario with Andy Reid’s son.

  29. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    Best advice I have is to talk to a professional for strategies on discussing with Becky. Al-Anon or someone from your EAP can give you guidance. It is true that many people do not want to hear that they have a problem, however delicately said; however, there are still good ways and not good ways of going about this.

    Alcohol consumption is way, way up because of the pandemic and lockdowns. Please be gentle with your friend.

  30. Squint Eyes*

    I had a similar situation happen with me. Though some of the circumstances were different. My neighbor was a lead at a manufacturing plant and knew I was a good worker. I was looking for switch jobs for something higher paying. I knew he drank but I didn’t know the extent of how much he actually drank. Once I started working there it was eye opening and a bit scary since he was running overhead cranes lifting product that weighed more than 2,000lbs. I went to the head boss Bob (not his real name) and said “I think Tim (not his real name) has been coming in drunk.” Bob didn’t seem to really listen. After that I noticed when Tim would mess up Bob would say to him “You’re lucky I like you.” I knew then there was nothing I could do and I didn’t want to put my life at risk. When a new position opened up with a different lead I jump on the opportunity and was immediately taken in. Same manufacturing plant just a different area.

    OP, All I can say is that I hope you can speak up. I would expect my close friends to tell me when they think something is becoming a problem. She will most likely not listen, if that is the case please speak up to someone who will.

  31. Alex Rider*

    As the child of an alcoholic, please talk to her as a friend. My father is not sober but has tried to receive help. His coworker is someone who pushed him to rehab the first time. Be prepared for denial. Also, if she is driving her self to work, that is a major safety issue for herself and everyone around her.

  32. LGC*

    Oh my goodness.

    Really wishing the best for both of you – problem drinking is a BEAST to deal with.

    And I’ll be honest – this is going to be awkward. But if people are noticing…it’s definitely serious. (It’d be serious anyway, but it’s a matter of time before someone else brings it up.) And if your company has an EAP: you might consider suggesting it to Becky.

    (Also for what it’s worth: doesn’t treatment for substance use disorders fall under the ADA anyway if you’re in the US? If it comes to that when she hopefully gets help.)

    1. Observer*

      Treatment, yes. Coming in drunk? No.

      Which means that if the place is big enough for ADA to apply, Becky will also be much better off, job wise, getting treatment than not.

      1. LGC*

        My presumption was that Becky shouldn’t hesitate to get treatment if she’s afraid of losing her job over it.

        I’m also saying that LW should approach this as a friend here and not her boss. Tell Becky she’s got a serious problem (which she does) and encourage her to get help. What she does with that is up to her, but that should be LW’s first step.

  33. hbc*

    In these situations, I find it best to look at the outcome if you choose wrong. 1) You have the conversation with her, she dumps you as a friend and keeps drinking. Not great. 2) You don’t have the conversation and she hurts the company, herself, and/or others, and you’ll never know if you could have stopped her. Brutal. The consequences to 1 are nothing compared to 2.

    For the work aspect, I think you just need to be really clear on what the risk is. If she’s making mistakes at the same rate that the next guy does and occasionally a TPS report needs a second edit, I might not say anything. If she drives a forklift or is QC for injectable medicines, I’m telling her supervisor the next time I notice any impairment.

    1. anon for this*

      Exactly — and as so many folks have said in the comments, even if she dumps you as a friend right now she might see things differently in three years. We all have our little roles to play.

  34. Boof*

    If she’s driving herself to work while drunk, if she is doing anything that could impair safety (operating heavy machinery, in charge of other sensitive tasks) then I think you are obligated to speak up OP. Not just to your friend either.

  35. Teapot Unionist*

    I work for a union, and am a member of a union of union workers. This is so much more common than we all care to admit–especially as we move through the pandemic. It is never an easy conversation, but it is so much better if you can have it with her as a friend than if it becomes a conversation with HR and her employer. If she seeks treatment now, before the employer gets involved, she may be able to preserve her job long term. (Substance abuse is a covered ADA condition, but you can still lose your job for performance issues or violating drug/alcohol free workplace rules).

    I have historically found that spouses are typically not the best source of support–their denial and codependence is often insurmountable, and on more than one occasion, acknowledgement of the union member’s addiction would have meant acknowledgement of the spouse’s addiction as well. An added complication is if your workplace culture includes regular Friday happy hours or the occasional lunchtime beer.

    But, your friend still deserves a conversation. The details of who and how depend on all sorts of things only you and your colleagues would know.

    1. Teapot Unionist*

      Also, I don’t ever use the term “drinking problem” or “addiction” or “alcoholism.” People get defensive and announce that they aren’t an alcoholic, don’t have a drinking problem, etc. Instead, I tell them that only they would know if they fit that definition, but that their drinking/drug use/whatever, is causing a problem at/with work.

      Me: have you ever considered treatment?
      them: treatment? for what? I am not an alcoholic! I don’t have a drinking problem!
      Me: I didn’t say you did, but from what others are saying, it seems like you have a problem at work, and your boss and coworkers think that the problem stems in part from when and where you are drinking. A therapist can help you figure out the best way to handle the stress you are under to make sure that you are using the best tools to manage your stress and help you sleep better at night so you can be at work on time, and last night’s alcohol isn’t still in your system when you get there.

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        This is great.

        I have found the same – people are much more willing to consider talking to someone who could “give them tools” than they are to take a step that acknowledges they have a substance use disorder and may need to be sober.

  36. Mystik Spiral*

    Speaking from experience, you may want to try urging her to talk to HR. At the lowest point of my alcohol addiction, I was drunk at work every day. I had my own office and just tried to interact with people as little as possible. Then came the day that I had a total breakdown, and I went to our Safety Director and came clean, that I’m an alcoholic, that I need help. I was working for a non-profit at the time, so there’s the possibility that they were just more compassionate than other places may be, but it’s my belief that once I notified them of my addiction, I was protected by the ADA. I got a month off to go to rehab, at which point I was welcomed back with open arms.

    It saved my life, and keeping my job kept me from being homeless, as I’d worn out my welcome with friends and family and would have had no place to go without an income. I left that job because I moved out of state, but I’m 9 years sober and solidly employed, and I believe loved by my boss… :)

    Your friend can get help if she wants it, but honestly there’s only so much you can do if she doesn’t.

    1. OhNo*

      I don’t know if I’d urge her to talk to HR yet (especially since we don’t know how HR would react at this company). But especially if the LW is a manager, they might be able to get a few details about the EAP, possible leave for treatment, or other accommodations in advance just to have some data in case she is ready to hear it.

      1. Mystik Spiral*

        Fair enough. The OP will know her company better than any of us. Just thought I’d throw the suggestion out there since it helped me!

  37. June*

    I had a coworker who is several levels below me come to work completely loaded on benzos. She had been going through a rough divorce. I pulled her aside and said you have to go home. She asked why. I said you’re under the influence of drugs. She thought she appeared ok. I said say you’re sick and have someone come get you. Someone else is going to notice and you’re going to get fired. She never came to work altered again. Tell your friend. Though your company may already know.

  38. RagingADHD*

    I can’t imagine that the husband doesn’t already know, unless they live separately. According to the LW, Becky had a problem long before she got married. He may not know that other people see it so clearly.

    The reality is, she’s unlikely to face any job-related consequences because she is a member of the boss’s family. That lack of consequences isn’t good for Becky or for the company, but it’s something LW should bear in mind.

    LW should certainly speak up to Becky, because that’s what a good friend should do. Becky likely won’t take it well, and if it continues (as it probably will), LW’s next step would be to bring it up to Becky’s direct supervisor or to Boss.

    The sad part is that none of it is likely to do any good in the short term, but perhaps it will have a cumulative effect in the long term. We can only do the best we can, and hope.

    1. Lexie*

      The husband could be in denial, it’s impressive what people can avoid seeing when they don’t want to see it.

      If this has been going on since before they met he could think this is just her and that she’s able to handle it.

      It could be he likes her better drunk than sober.

      I had a relative who was a functional alcoholic for decades. He was basically always drinking but never seemed drunk. On the occasions when he attempted to quit the people in his life realized he was nicer when he was drinking.

      1. RagingADHD*

        “On the occasions when he attempted to quit the people in his life realized he was nicer when he was drinking.”

        Very sad, and just highlights the fact that “not using” is not the same as “recovery.” Addiction is so complex because it’s rarely (if ever) just about the physical dependency. It’s a coping mechanism for something else that’s *worse* than the addiction itself (or at least, something that feels worse to them). Unless the person gets a better coping mechanism in place, they have nothing else to fall back on.

  39. Robin Ellacott*

    I’ve had this conversation a few times (not at work though). One listened politely, agreed there was a problem, but didn’t change his use until years and many, many other consequences later; the others acted offended. I’m still glad I tried.

    She’s sadly not likely to say “yes, I’m drinking too much and I’m scared” and will likely be defensive, but you never know when the comment you made is one more straw on the camel’s back and will make a difference eventually.

    There are lots of suggested scripts online for telling someone you’re concerned about their drinking, but I’d suggest leaning into your care for her and your long friendship, and say this looks a lot like other times in the past you’ve seen her after drinking, and ask if she is ok. But there’s probably no point arguing with her or trying to convince her once you’ve said your piece. If you have EAP that covers counselling or treatment you could briefly mention it, just like “If you want to talk this over with someone who knows more than I do I remember that our EAP covers anonymous counselling….”

    As others have said, if she is driving to work impaired that gets trickier, because there is a duty of care to others involved. The company may be liable and if you know and something happens you’ll be in a terrible position. There are times you have to tell someone if they drive you’ll have to call the police, and it’s not easy, and if you find yourself there I’m sorry.

  40. HeyPony*

    In my final days of drinking (sober for over 10 years now), about the only thing I could say for myself was that at least I wasn’t going to work drunk. I was actually proud of that. I suspect that it’s pretty hard line close to the bottom for most people who struggle with alcohol. Point being, if she’s gotten to the point where coming to work drunk makes sense to her, or is something she can’t stop from happening, she’s about as far as she can go. She needs a friend.

  41. meagain*

    My partner had a situation several years ago where his boss had a major problem with alcohol. It was to the point he was putting vodka in a water bottle (no one knew that until years later) and was slurring words in meetings. Everyone kind of noticed, but no one talked about it. Most of his employees weren’t based at the office. They saw it here and there, but weren’t getting the full picture. The office guys did, but felt their jobs were dependent on him (as well as feeling loyalty that he had brought them to this organization) and in hindsight kept trying to manage the situation instead of intervening. And he always downplayed it.

    At a another work event, my partner was in a car with the executive and several other people and they did not realize he was drunk (they were driving to morning meetings, not from a bar or dinner at night) until he was swerving all over the road and they all feared for their lives. One employee did confront him later and he swore he would never drive like that again, claimed he was more sleep deprived than drunk, etc, but in reality, his problem with this was just way too big for him or any colleagues to manage. The next year he was drunk in very important meetings and his #2 guy told someone to get him out of the room before others noticed. It was all so sad bc he was a really good guy and great at his job (when sober) and I think that’s why his employees kept trying to fix/cover. It was a really bad situation. My partner didn’t even realize himself how bad it was for a long time, just through rumors, because he wasn’t based in the office and only saw his boss 3-4 times a year at work meetings. Eventually it got to the point there wasn’t any more that employee/peers/management could do for him. They got him into rehab and were very supportive, but he relapsed more than once, often before major work functions/decisions that were a big deal, some played out in public and in the media, and there was no choice but for the company to part ways.

    You could try to talk to Becky as a friend first, but the reality she is may not be able to control this without help. If she’s doing anything that is putting the company or others at risk, I think you need to talk to management or call an EAP hotline, etc. Hopefully since she is married to the boss’ brother, they will be concerned for her well being and can address in a way that gets her help if she needs it while still giving some job protection. But that really means being proactive. Once someone does something that really hurts the company or exposes them to liability, the risk is high that the company will fire them without first trying to work with them or encouraging a leave, etc. Also, it’s not fair to the other employees either. I can’t even tell you the chaos and issues this caused in my partner’s organization. Obviously everyone was most concerned about the boss’ health and wellbeing, but as a secondary issue, the position he left the company in put a strain on everyone.

    1. JB*

      The issue is that many rehab facilities don’t practice dual diagnosis. They only treat the addiction, and never look at any underlying conditions.

      I have multiple family members (one immediate, a couple extended) who developed addictions to treat their anxiety. It sounds like that may have been what was going on with the man you’re describing as well. If the anxiety is never managed another way, they’re going to keep relapsing; but the majority of rehab facilities (in the US – can’t speak for other countries) treat addiction like an isolated problem, and never even raise the possibility of other issues the patient might want to look into.

      1. meagain*

        I think you are right about the anxiety and other underlying issues. This also kind of reminds me of Elizabeth Vargas/ABC News. I feel like if it’s to the point that a colleague is coming into work drunk, they are already well past the point of problem drinking or being able to control this. If they don’t get some type of help, decisions are going to be taken out of their hands at some point. In this case, I think the boss’ brother may need to intervene. Hopefully the family has good, supportive relationships.

        Public figures tend to get second chances. The general public often does not. My partner’s boss was known and well liked in the industry and given second and third chances at other organizations where management tried to put everything in place that could help him – less management responsibilities, more remote work, go back to the stuff he enjoyed at heart without the stress and pressure, etc. Most people don’t get those kind of additional chances and support, and then struggling with lack of employment can make things worse. And unfortunately, those situations didn’t work out either and even some of his best friends were forced to let him go.

        I just don’t know the line where you help support/confront/encourage a coworker as a friend first, but ultimately if it’s already to the point they are drunk at work, it may go beyond the scope of how much you can really help. That’s a tough call how involved to get, but if others are noticing too, it will likely implode at some point. The driving issue is a major concern to me. Not just because of what it shows about her judgment, but because if she is in fact drinking AT work and kills/hurts someone driving home (like the potential situation with Andy Reid’s son), the company may have a major liability problem on its hands.

      2. Boof*

        The problem is, it’s VERY HARD to treat the other conditions (with medications) until the drug withdrawals are done. I mean anxiety/depression (not, say, schizophrenia or bipolar or something). Ideally the person’s brain chemistry gets a chance to equilibrate before you start throwing more [refined] drugs at it.

        1. Cannibal Queen*

          Very much so. My husband was adamant that PTSD was the cause of his drinking and if he ‘cured’ his PTSD, the drinking problem would go away by itself. In fact, his alcohol abuse was destroying the very mental resources he needed to manage his PTSD. He only learned to get his PTSD under control after he stopped drinking.

  42. H.Regalis*

    I don’t have any better advice than what anyone else has already posted. Addiction is hard. Being an addict sucks, and watching someone you care about struggle with addiction also sucks, and can be saddening and frustrating. Some people never get clean. When you can talk to Becky about this, she’s probably either going to deny it or get angry at you. I hope she’s able to get help and can get sober.

  43. JB*

    I wish you the best of luck, LW. Have the conversation, and be prepared for her to react poorly. No matter how carefully you choose your words, she will likely be embarassed and ashamed, and in many people those emotions come out as defensiveness and anger. That doesn’t mean you said the wrong thing, it’s just the reality of her situation. Ultimately, it will help her to know that you are on her side.

    Also, do a bit of research and have the name, phone number, and address of a couple of detox+recovery facilities on hand just in case.

  44. Delta Delta*

    Talk to her. As a friend.

    A colleague was suspected of showing up drunk from time to time. The drinking cleverly hid depression. And then it didn’t anymore, and the colleague killed himself. A lot of people wished they had talked to colleague.

  45. Ann O'Nemity*

    Were the OP’s questions more centered on protecting the company than on helping Becky?

    As Alison pointed out, the OP can talk to Becky as a friend. At the very least, give her a heads up that the intoxication is being noticed. Refer her to the EAP or insurance if applicable. Hopefully she will stop drinking, or at least stop being drunk at work.

    In the OP’s role as department head, yeah, there may be some expectations to do something in a management capacity. Part of this depends on the danger Becky poses to herself or others. Is she operating equipment? Working with the public? Driving? etc etc. I know Alison’s answer focused on acting like a friend, but there may be some repercussions for the OP if Becky causes serious damage and it gets out that the OP (a senior manager) knew about it and did nothing.

  46. Managerish Person*

    Please talk to your friend and to your friend’s husband, if you can. I recently had to go through the process of letting someone go who had come to work drunk/under the influence. They had had repeated problems over the previous four or five years, which my predecessor did not address very effectively until it involved employees outside of our immediate department. The person’s behavior was directly reported to HR by someone outside of my predecessor’s chain of command. At that time, they went through an inpatient rehab process, and it stuck for a while. They worked from home during the pandemic and came back on site when we all returned to campus (it’s an academic job). In the meantime, my predecessor retired and I came on. I immediately touched base with HR when another colleague shared carefully about the ongoing issue. Basically, they’d used up all of their mulligans with HR and any further incident of being intoxicated at work would result in their termination. Unfortunately, they came to work under the influence and had a serious medical event which traumatized the folks who were working that day. I was out of the office myself and didn’t witness it personally because I was on sick leave. They worked out a resignation rather than going through the full termination process.
    I hope that they will get the help they need, and I hope that it sticks this time. But I’m fully aware that it may not. It’s tragic because when they were sober, they were one of the strongest people on the team. Their performance had been falling off in recent years due to their addiction illness. It really sucked to have to let them go, but it was the only way forward.
    If I had NOT gone through the process of allowing them to resign/terminating them, it would have sent the message to their other colleagues that I would put them at risk of further abuse from this person, that I didn’t support their needs for having a safe environment at work, and that I wouldn’t follow through with real consequences when it got tough. I was new enough that the termination affected how others perceived me; the person in question was a longtime employee and it ruffled other people’s feathers. But those who were offended didn’t see what others did and were not impacted in the same way by the person’s behavior.
    So OP, your boss is in a tight spot. I’m betting that he knows that his SIL/employee is having serious problems. My guess: he’s feeling that if he does the right thing at work, he’ll screw up his relationship with his brother and he’s worried about the impact on the rest of his family. He isn’t doing you and your team any favors by letting it linger on and on, and he’s certainly not helping your friend.
    Good luck to you. I hope she can hear you.

  47. Pikachu*

    I just want to offer a giant, massive congratulations to everyone in the comments who have fought through their addictions and emerged in a better place. It’s even more amazing to come here and share your stories in such a public forum. One of the hardest parts is feeling alone in this journey, but we really aren’t, even if our only allies are anonymous commenters on a blog. Much love.

  48. Persephone Mongoose*

    “though it does make me a little anxious”

    Oh, LW. I mean this as kindly as possible, but you absolutely must get over that with a quickness. There is far too much at stake for you to not have this conversation, especially when you have as much standing to do it as you do.

    Friendships sometimes come with hard parts and this is one of them. Please, please be a friend to her and talk to her about this. I’m wishing you both the best.

  49. Oh Behave!*

    My first thought when I read the title was is she driving. If so, it’s vitally important you speak with her. If you don’t and she causes someone injury or death, it will haunt you.

    This is a VERY SERIOUS situation. You need to speak to her. You’re such long time friends, it begs a convo. It sounds like the hubby won’t be responsive to you (your comment above). This sounds like a dumping ground for her (BIL being the boss). How many jobs has she had? Just wondering if she’s been fired.

    Your intervention may be the one that ‘takes’. Please, please say something to someone (Becky, husband, boss, HR, police (if driving drunk). My 5 year-old sister was killed, mom and three other siblings were seriously injured because of a drunk driver. This driver walked away with barely a scratch.

  50. BK1*

    Please do talk to her. But as others have said, manage your own expectations. It is highly unlikely she is going to suddenly see the light during that conversation.

    A few years ago I was on a nonprofit board and one of our members developed a serious drinking problem. She came to an important meeting obviously intoxicated. My friend was chair and didn’t know what to do and was clearly going to let her go on making a spectacle of herself. So I intervened, asked for a break and we got her home. Caused a fight w/ my friend, he thought I was being cruel by confronting her. I saw she needed help and I didn’t think pretending she didn’t was the kind thing to do.

    Personally, I was never a daily drinker. But I was a serious binge drinker. It took a long time for me to admit to myself just how big of an issue it actually was. Part of the realization was friends not wanting to spend time with me if alcohol was involved. I was never mad at them, btw. I felt awful. But it also took a good amount of time before I was ready to change. Almost 6 years sober now.

  51. blackcat lady*

    It has been great reading the comments from fellow recovering addicts! Recovery is a hard journey but the end result is wonderful. Raising that glass of San Pell to everyone! I think that is why programs like AA and others work. By sharing our experiences with others we realize we are not alone, have the same struggles, and pull each other to the finish line.

    LW please keep us updated on Becky. But yes, be prepared to have her be very angry with you.

  52. Recovering Heroin Addict*

    I struggled with heroin addiction while I was attempting to get a masters degree in social work. As part of that degree, you also have to do a field internship under the supervision of a licensed social worker.
    I shot dope multiple times a day, every single day. I went into the bathroom at my internship and got high. I’d show up late and leave early to get drugs. I had track marks on my hands. After over a semester of this, I thought no one suspected I was using. Despite the fact that it was completely obvious, especially to social workers who worked in behavior health!

    No one every asked me point blank if I had an addiction problem. Instead, what my supervisor did was comment in her evaluation on the issues with my overall behavior. She mentioned me coming to my internship with my appearance/hair unkempt and my issues with attendance and lateness. This evaluation is one of a number of things that got me to consider that people could tell that I had a problem. A couple weeks after this evaluation, I called out of work when I was already an hour and a half late. I sent the supervisor a long message apologizing and said that I was really struggling with my mental health and would go to my field advisor at the school to figure out my next steps. The internship supervisor was extremely compassionate. She offered to let me come up with a plan on how I could make up the hours, and this is ultimately what led me to get help (and leave social work school in the process). I knew that as long as I was using heroin, I was never going to make up those hours. No amount of kicking the can down the road could buy me enough time to solve my heroin addiction by myself. And the fact that she was compassionate when I told her I needed help with my “mental health” gave me the courage to come clean to my parents. I ended up withdrawing from school. I have almost two years off of heroin.

    I know my situation is different from LW’s friend in quite a few ways. I wasn’t working with friends or family members when I was struggling with my addiction, and I was also an intern (had I been an actual employee I would have been fired wayyyy before it got so bad). I just wanted to chime in with my experience struggling with addiction in a professional setting and how it ultimately led me to seek help.

    LW- even though the circumstances are different, something that might be helpful in your case is mentioning specific behaviors you are seeing from Becky that indicate something is going on.You can be upfront about the fact that she seems like shes coming to work drunk, but if you also include details about how it is specifically coming out in her behavior at work, it will be more likely to cut through some of the denial that she’s probably experiencing. It was really embarrassing for me to read about specific things that my colleagues were noticing about my appearance but as I said, it also helped. She might not want to acknowledge the way that her consumption of alcohol is impacting her standing at work. She might shut you down, or she might seem contrite only to show up drunk to work the next day. Regardless, you will have planted a seed. For a lot of addicts/alcoholics, there is a big difference between struggling in private with your addiction and struggling with it in public.

  53. Margaret*

    I had a coworker coming to workdrunk and i told my supervisor but she was new and didnt know how to handle it. she subsequently left and a new supervisor came in and i told her but it seemed to make her dislike me.

  54. Might Be Spam*

    Please be careful about assuming someone is drunk. My friend has MS and slurs her words when she is tired. She was on the ethics committee in our town and was kicked off by the new mayor because “it didn’t look good”. Many people knew about her MS and she was a valued member of the committee. Unfortunately, it’s legal to discriminate for health reasons, if it’s an unpaid position.

    1. Kit*

      While this is a good rule in general, in this case Becky is a long-term friend of OP’s; it’s safe to say that this isn’t a case of another health condition masquerading as drunkenness on the job, since OP has known about Becky’s problematic relationship with alcohol for years.

    2. RagingADHD*

      1) This isn’t a new person. It’s Becky’s childhood friend.

      2) This isn’t an unpaid position. It’s an actual job.

      3) LW isn’t concerned about how Becky looks or sounds. They are concerned that Becky’s known and ongoing alcohol abuse has escalated to a very serious point.

  55. BeenThere*

    OP — I’m a recovered alcoholic. There are two things true here:
    1- She needs to know that other people know she’s drunk.
    2- She might not get help right away, and she might not react well in the moment.

    I think as her friend you really should (or at least, on behalf of people like me, I hope you choose to) speak to her. The way she responds to you may not be encouraging, it may even be hostile, but she will take the information in. If she’s drunk at work, she’s at a bad place. She may, like I was, be in a situation where she has to keep alcohol in her system to prevent withdrawal from beginning. Just the thought that she might be there makes me so sad & scared for her because it is a brutal place to be.

    It is important that she realize that her secret is not a secret. There is so much shame in addiction, and so many people don’t get help because they are afraid of letting people know there is a problem. It’s sad for many of us that everyone knows even as we’re killing ourselves trying to keep it hidden. Knowing that it’s out might spur her to action immediately or it might be one more piece of evidence that she is at a point where she can’t handle this alone that doesn’t add up yet, but adds up eventually.

    For what it’s worth, when my friend intervened it was one of the worst things that I’ve ever been through, but even at the time I knew it was a brave and kind thing he was doing.

  56. Anonosaurus for this*

    I’m pretty sure this is why my mom was “asked to leave” her job. Of course in a family of alcoholics, no one will say as much.

    I wish one of my mother’s friends or family would have had that conversation with her. Instead I had to cut contact. I was the first and as such, even if she manages to get sober and we resume a relationship, I know she will always hold that against me.

    Please say something. Be prepared for it to not immediately change your friend’s behavior. But you may be the first domino. Do it despite the potential costs on either your end or hers.

  57. YL*

    OP, god speed.

    Trigger warning: use of the word rape ahead.

    Be prepared for your friend to deny and put the blame on you. Be prepared for the husband to do the same. If he hasn’t said anything to his wife yet, he might like/accept her as she is. Be prepared to walk away from the friendship. Be careful because you work with this person. She might try to sabotage you at work.

    I was honest with my friend. Her reaction was worse than I thought. Her reaction showed me how evil she really was and I don’t think I can blame the alcoholism. She not only tried to accuse me of not taking care of her when she got blackout drunk, she tried to deny that she had ever enabled her friend to stalk me (I was very afraid that I would be raped) and said I was calling him names and judgmental and that I wanted her to be perfect. She tried every single thing to make me the bad person. She made me cry. I cried because I couldn’t believe the lies coming from her mouth, I couldn’t believe I was friends with this person. I tried to be her friend, but she wouldn’t admit she had a problem. She did do even worse things after that. No one thought she had a problem because drinking was part of their culture. They tried to accuse me of holding an intervention when I was just honest in the moment. I share this so you can prepare for the worst.

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