Friday, November 14, 2008

What is an Alcoholic?

A commenter describes his drinking habits and says they don't interfere with work. He wants to know how I define "alcoholic"?

I think he and I agree that the question turns on how your drinking affects your work, short term and long term. Since everybody's physiology is unique, I don't think the definition can depend on how much someone drinks. What would put me in the hospital (I have a severe reaction to alcohol), might just be a thirst-quencher for someone else.

One problem with this approach is that alcohol definitely tends to take the edge off one's judgment. I have dealt with a number of worker/drinkers who believe their work is not affected by their drinking--but the reason I was asked to speak with them is that their work effectiveness has been dropping noticeably, according to their managers.

I see lots of moral judging about alcohol consumption, which in turn leads to a lot of defensiveness on the part of those who enjoy drinking. For me, I don't care if your work is affected by alcohol, M&Ms, or listening to too much opera. If something is affecting your work, then that's an issue for your manager and possibly your co-workers.

If it's affecting your health (long or short term), that's your business, and perhaps the business of your family. Of course, if it's affecting your driving, then it's my business as long as we're sharing a road. I won't accept rides from people who have been drinking--or who might be otherwise impaired.

In short, I'm concerned about your alcohol habits only insofar as they affect me. It's an individual judgment, not a stereotype--but it's definitely a sterotype for lots of people, something alcoholics have to live with in today's society.