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SIGN, Vol. 32: 20-22, August, 1952
ALCOHOLIC AND THE JOB
John P. Callahan
hundred eyes stared across the office and saw at the door
the miserable figure of a semi failure - forty-two years
trying, two years dying. A pair of those eyes glared with
justified anger at the drunken employee who had, time and
time again been excused. The fellow office workers long
had been tolerant of the fun-loving frolic, but his staggering
no longer drew a laugh. Rather, they were embarrassing;
everyone knew the tragic story behind them. It was the story
of a transformation, or deterioration, that had been in
the making for two years. That day, in the middle of a busy
afternoon at the large industrial office, one phase of that
tragic life ended. The drunk, whom we shall refer to as
Mr. X. was fired.
was one of hundreds of thousands of persons let out for
that reason throughout the nation last year. In almost every
instance, those employees were more conscientious, more
intelligent, and more productive workers - when they worked
– than the non-alcoholic employees. But employers
couldn't afford them: they were not reliable.
drinking, that is, uncontrolled, helpless inebriation, cost
the nation $1,400,000,000 during 1951 in lost wages, accidents,
and institutional care. That loss has its related adverse
effects on every segment of society - the home, the school,
the government, and business. The drunks' time loss is at
a staggering (the pun was unintentional) figure. In New
York, where 700,000 persons drink too much, 595,000 of them
lose an average of 22 working days a year!
the fact that statistics are anathema to almost everybody,
let's get most of them out of the way now. Authorities estimate
that nationally 65,000,000 persons drink. Of that total,
4,000,000 drink too much, and close to 1,000,000 are problem
the 700,000 in the New York area, 105,000 are described
as "intractable" - psychotic, or physically damaged
and in need of institutional care.
there is no such thing as a "typical" alcoholic,
medical and scientific men have found that most drunks are
in the thirty to fifty age group, married, likable, and
good workers when sober. Incidentally, when we speak of
a "drunk," we don't mean the fellow who gets an
edge on at the annual office party. We mean the fellow who
never gets tight on holiday eves; his benders begin when
the rest of the town returns to work.
X, that drunk who was fired from the industrial plant, was
sick, just as sick as the diabetic or the man who forced
to take time off during the year because of severe arthritis
attacks. These latter get the sympathetic understanding
they deserve. But the drunk is usually considered a moral
weakling, a slothful liability on the office books and,
generally, a bum with a white shirt
employee ignorance of his trouble is being replaced by familiarity
with his problem. More than altruism is prompting the big
industrial concerns to look deep into the matter of coping
with the drunken employee. They want work for pay. Fortunately,
any effort made by industry to understand and to help the
drunk is just as welcome and just as beneficial to him as
that made by the persons who love him, and who want so much
to help him.
only one "but" in the recovery of an alcoholic.
He can recover, but, only if he wants to recover. All the
effort in the world won't amount to a drinker's dram if
he isn't ready to quit. After the professional diagnosticians
tell him what's wrong and what he can do to arrest - never
cure - the disease of alcoholism that afflicts him, he is
his own doctor. Usually he keeps his determination firm
by joining Alcoholics Anonymous.
it was unfortunate that the employer of our Mr. X was ignorant
of the fact that he was a sick man, it was just the prod
X needed. It sent him home frightened, hurt, and terribly
aware of something that everyone, his wife and four school-aged
children included, knew - that he could not be a social
drinker: that once he took just one drink, he was headed
for an extended bout with the bottle. One drink was too
many; ten, not enough.
wife was less concerned with the shabbiness of their home
than with the marks of degeneration that were fast beginning
to appear his language, first uncouth, had become obscene.
His dress reflected a complete neglect and disinterest in
appearance. Where once the wave of his hand replaced the
good night kiss for the children on the rare occasions when
he saw them, now, even that was forgotten. He had also forgotten
his God. The Sabbath was spent in bed until shortly before
the saloons opened at 1 P.M., the signal for an extended
weary, heartbroken wife was through. Either he looked into
Alcoholics Anonymous, she said, or they separated.
so it was on the evening of the day he was fired he went
with an A.A. member friend to a meeting.
the meeting, in a community hall, Mr. X heard one of three
guest speakers from a neighboring A.A. group tell the audience
of about a hundred alcoholics and their friends and relatives
how he had quit drinking three years earlier. The speaker
traced the trouble he had with alcohol for fifteen years
prior to joining A.A. after being fired for drunkenness
on a responsible job. Mr. X thought the speaker was drawing
on his own recent experience with John Barleycorn, their
cases were that similar. Actually, most members of A.A.
tell the same story, except some hold out longer than others
before joining. In every case, they came into A.A. when
they "hit bottom," to use an expression peculiar
to their descriptions of defeat through excessive drinking.
the speaker's story of the plight that went with his drinking,
that actually was his drinking, he unfolded a happy tale
of recovery through A.A.
a week after attending that meeting, Mr. X got his job back,
thanks to a non-alcoholic friend of A.A., an employer who
became a friend of A.A. Aided by the experience of seventeen
years of A.A., industry is slowly recognizing that it can
fight, along with the victims, the scourge that alcoholism
is. This fourth most dreadful and most devastating disease
in the world claimed 12,000 known victims last year. Unlike
the so-called natural diseases, it can be controlled or
course, it is not simply a matter of just quitting, but
really a matter of keeping alive your determination to stay
away from that first drink. And if a person wants it, there
is the help that 120,000 ex-drunks will gladly give. They
know and understand the problems of confusion and remorse
that afflict the man or woman trying to fight his or her
way back to normal. And they are happy to help in gratitude
for the help that was given to them.
are more concerned here with what industry is doing about
the alcoholic employee than with a detailed history of alcoholism
and Alcoholics Anonymous. But because A.A. is such a unique
phenomenon in society, because it is completely free of
materialism, it might help all of us to better understand
the informal group if we mentioned one or two facts about
it that set it apart in a world pretty much preoccupied
with the "gimmies," with a suspicion of anything
free. A.A. is refreshing in that regard. It asks nothing
of the potential member but that he or she sincerely desire
to stop drinking.
has no formal membership, no dues, offers- no material aid,
and is not affiliated with any religious group or political
party. It cares not what your social status is, nor is it
concerned with even so much about you as your name, if you
want it that way. However, A.A.'s because they are alcoholics,
are sociable, gregarious people, a fact that goes far to
explain the success of the organization.
meetings are informal. A newcomer may stroll into a session,
sit and listen to the speakers, partake of the customary
coffee and cake, and head home without anyone having "bothered"
him. Usually though, a newcomer is easily recognized by
his very effort to be inconspicuous, and is greeted by a
has only one purpose: to help alcoholics get and keep their
sobriety, and to be happy in that sobriety. That last conjunctive
phrase is the nub of it all: happy sobriety. Many non-A.A.
alcoholics have been sober for periods, but they seldom
were happy t and usually returned to the bottle with destructive
vehemence. That very briefly, is A.A.
understand what industry is doing about alcoholism among
its employees, glance at this roster of some of the larger
firms that are doing a mutually beneficial job: Eastman
Kodak; The Texas Company; Allis Chalmers, of Milwaukee;
American Cyanamid Company; American Rolling Mill Company
of Middletown, Ohio; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company,
and the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.
look in on the last named, Con Edison, as the company refers
to itself on the thousands of signs and flags that it has
posted and flapping throughout an extensive Metropolitan
area. We chose Con Edison, which is the largest electric
utility system in the world, because it recently disclosed
the results of a program, inaugurated over four years ago,
looking toward rehabilitation of the employee who did not
know how to drink...and proved it. The proof took many forms,
not excluding too many trips to the "dentist,"
Grandma's funerals," and that ever-recurring "sore
throat." (No one ever thinks of the embarrassment experienced
by the poor wife or mother who has to deliver the bare-faced
lies to the employer of the drunk. Both usually know, too,
which makes it more embarrassing.)
company's program of rehabilitation for the excessive drinker
began in December 1947. The record actually began on January
1, 1948 (always a good day of resolution, that first day
of the new year), and in the time since, 135 employees whose
heavy drinking interfered with their work were brought to
"final warning." Of that number, 53 responded
quickly to comparatively simple measures - threats of time
off without pay, reminders of the permanent debility that
could result from continued excessive drinking, and other
admonishments and advice. According to Dr. S. Charles France,
associate medical director of the company, the 53 were "chronic
excessive drinkers without psychological maladjustments,
reactive alcoholics, and less serious psychoneurotic alcoholics."
In other words, they were uncomplicated, run-of-the-mill
remaining 82 repeated their drunkenness. Eighteen of them
were retired on pension because of age and faithful service.
Thirty-seven more were discharged without pension but with
separation pay over a lesser period. Eighteen responded
to treatment and eventually were returned to their jobs
as "arrested cases," and nine, of whom several
had severe psychological disturbances, were discharged.
the overall number of employees reclaimed there was 71 of
135, or 52 per cent. Of the cases coming up for recurrent
offenses, only 18 of 82, or 22 per cent, were reclaimed.
Du Pont, Dr. George H. Gehrmann, medical director, said
that A.A. had saved the lives of at least 180 employees
there since 1943. It was in that year that Du Pont became
one of the first major companies to recognize alcoholism
as a disease and began to treat it as a health problem.
Of the 76,000 workers at Du Pont, 180 are active in A.A.
groups established at twenty plants. Thirty-four of them
man should be fired just because he is an alcoholic,"
said Dr. Gehrmann. "If an alcoholic wants to stop,
he should be given a real chance. He can be helped, and
he is worth helping. When an alcoholic stops drinking, he
is a somebody. He is a man of character and intelligence.
I believe that we have actually saved the lives of 180 Du
Pont employees who are in A.A. now. If these alcoholics
had not joined A.A., in all probability they would be dead
or insane now."
about the employer's role, the doctor, who probably has
dealt with more alcoholics in industry than any other medic,
said this: "An employer takes less risk in hiring a
member of A.A. than anyone else because such individuals
know their problem, are honest with themselves and are trying
to grow emotionally. He warned, however, that if an alcoholic
"cannot, or does not want to stop, he should be discharged
- the sooner the better."
him under such circumstances, the doctor emphasized, "may
prove a blessing to him" because "it may be just
the jolt he needs" (as was the case with Mr. X, you
Du Pont program involves work and education with supervision
throughout the company and among the individuals themselves.
Meetings are held in plants and offices to acquaint management
and employees with A.A., and to break down the old stigmas
attached to alcoholism. The alcoholic worker is urged, but
not pressured, into joining A.A.
are many approaches to the problem by industry, and while
Du Pont sets a pattern, some of the others have merit worthy
of adoption by concerns still feeling their way along. One
for example, has set up a special bureau within the personnel
division just to deal with the alcoholic employee. Several
hundred employees are being "cased" intelligently
after a therapeutic experiment conducted during the past
year and a half.
plant hired a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Because he
knows the problem first hand, he has had real success in
getting the drink-problem employee into Alcoholics Anonymous.
another concern of about 4,000 employees leans heavily on
the services of a community clinic for alcoholism, utilizes
one man from the labor relations department as a liaison
between the company, the clinic, the individual, and the
immediate supervisor. Then there is the company that is
active in aiding the development of more effective community
resources to meet the problem of alcoholism. Through its
medical staff it refers employees to the community agency
which, leans heavily on A.A.