Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How Can You Recognize Alcoholism in a Service Provider?

Jeff wrote: "Do you have a specific test for that [alcoholism in service providers]? Many of the alcoholics I've known hid their problem well, at least for some period of time."

Good question, and one I couldn't answer at the time. After being placed in jeopardy with the government as a result of Provider's actions, I began to study the problem with great interest. Here are some signs I now recognize that I didn't pay attention to at the time:

Late for Appointments and Missing Deadlines

This one I definitely noticed, but didn't recognize the possible significance. I just told myself that Provider was a person who was "habitually late." Like many of the other signs, lateness could be attributed to many things besides alcoholism, so I let it pass without comment.

Depression and Mood Fluctuations

Again, I noticed this, but didn't appreciate the possible significance. I believe I thought, "Well, such providers aren't the most sparkling of personalities." Actually, my next provider proved even that assumption wrong. She's terrific.


Everybody makes mistakes, and I tend to be pretty generous in allowing for them. Some of Provider's mistakes were hidden, and that was my fault for not having a reasonable feedback mechanism. But I had noticed a rather higher level of mistakes than I'd like to see in a provider, and I just let it pass.

Personal Problems as Excuses for Mistakes and Lateness

Provider was never short of excuses for mistakes and lateness. Health, problems at home, "the dog ate my calendar"--he was very creative.

Choosing Lunch Dates in Drinking Places

I didn't have lunch with Accountant very often (taking lunch alone may be another sign), but looking back, I realize that he always insisted on restaurants that had a bar.

Showing Up Intoxicated

I never noticed this with Provider, but in subsequent years, I've noticed it with other service people. Whether they're alcoholics or not, this is unacceptable. For example, someone operating a power lawnmower when drinking is a risk to his life and limb--and to my entire business if he sues me for cutting off his foot while working for me.

Health Problems

Anybody can have health problems--I'm a prime example. But someone who is consistently coming down with one misery after another might be showing symptoms typical of alcoholics. Same is true for frequent injuries and accidents. But, of course, they might just be a natural klutz.

Speaking affectionately about Drinking

I should have recognized this one, for my mother was an alcoholic. She often spoke lovingly about her Southern Comfort. Provider's drink of choice was different, but he seemed to have the same love affair. Affairs, really. He loved 'em all.

Signs, not Proof

None of these signs prove that someone is an alcoholic. They could be signs of other things--other addictions or something quite innocent. But my job is not to prove some provider is an alcoholic, which can be incredibly difficult. Alcoholics are experts at denial, rationalization, dreaming up excuses, blaming others, manipulating you, or hooking into your caretaker needs. Besides, their alcoholism is none of your business.

Your Responsibility

What is your business is your business. You hire a provider to do a particular service. If they don't do that service well enough, it's your responsibility to replace them, not to make excuses for them. And especially not to fix them. Set performance criteria. Communicate those criteria. Observe performance relative to those criteria, and take action when performance doesn't measure up. Why it doesn't measure up is not your job.

I didn't do those things with Provider, so I got snagged into his drinking problem. It was his problem, but it was my responsibility to protect myself. I now do a better job of fulfilling my responsibilities as a business owner. Overall, I've protected myself not just from alcoholism, but from other problems that are not my problems.

But She's My Friend

Does this sound heartless and cold? Maybe you're good friends with your service provider? Can you treat your friends like this?

To take just one example, I had a copy editor who had trouble getting to work in a timely manner. We have flexible working hours, but I couldn't depend on her for any schedule. Turns out, she was not an alcoholic, but was depressed over her mother's death three years earlier. She tended to sleep 12 or 14 hours a day. After causing me to miss an important mailing deadline one afternoon, she said, "Oh, if you need me and I'm not here, you can just call me and wake me up."

Not my job. Not as her client. I replaced her with an editor who could wake herself up.

Then, as a friend, not a client, I helped the copy editor find a really good therapist. Just as I helped Provider fulfill his AA twelve steps. It turns out, if you want to help people with such personal problems, it's easier if you're not hiring them to do a job.


Jeff Langr said...

Talk about instant blog gratification, man! Thanks for the quick response Jerry!

Unknown said...

But he's my brother...

My brother can draw good cartoons. I once asked him to draw some cartoons for an article I had written, and I was going to pay him $$ for the cartoons. He didn't come through as he had family and health issues.

The next time I needed cartoons I hired someone else.

He is my brother, I love him, and that was a business decision.

Michael Broad LLB, ARPS said...

My partner is a binge alcoholic. When she was working she would binge every 3 weeks for about 7 days. It took 2 weeks to recover.

She wouldn't phone in sick. But eventually did and always made up stories about long standing illnesses.

Yes she was ill but not in the way she said.

Her employer was generally very tolerant, way too tolerant and I hated the corrosive and incessant lying. Alcoholics are the best liars - beware.


Diary of a Victim of An Alcoholic

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Anonymous said...


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Living In Luxury said...

Drinking puts a great risk to life of not only the imbiber but also the innocent public. There are so many signs of an alcoholic is in itself amazing and very helpful

Unknown said...

What is your definition of an alcoholic?

I have never found a clear definition .. this is of interest to me, because according to Washington state testing, I am an alcoholic. In fact under just about every test out there, I'm sure that I would pass as an alcoholic.

I am also a software consultant .. and very experienced (and IMO a good one) at that.

I have got into a daily regiment of getting drunk before I sleep, but I wake up every workday WITHOUT a hangover, I go to work perfectly sober (ok, so not always on time). I work a full day without drinking (unless someone invites me out to lunch where alcohol is served). I come home from work perfectly sober.

To me, alcohol is a drink like coke, Pepsi, tea and coffee, except that it helps me relax and unwind.

I am also very healthy. My doctor worries about how much I drink, but has not noticed that it is damaging me in any way.

I would be more concerned about health issues from someone who is obese.

So my question is: "If I am an alcoholic, and I could make your job more profitable, would you hire me?"


Deepak said...

I was an alcoholic for 12 years and now i am sober.


Unknown said...

Parents and school authorities should take necessary actions by providing various extra classes with specialized professionals to make them aware of drug addiction and its serious effects.