In what’s either a new drunken version of the Village People or the beginning to a really terrible joke, doctors, thieves and celebrities alike have all been accused recently of being drunk while at work. Even North Korea’s ball of sunshine Kim Jong Un’s drinking on-duty has made headlines over the last few months. Plus, coming out of the closet about being work-wasted was one of 2016’s more popular (and annoying) blog trends. So what’s the deal? Have people always boozed it up on the job but are just now getting caught, thanks to technology and social media? Or is increased drinking on the clock symptomatic of a surge in alcoholism? Let’s consider the evidence.
Doctors, Drunks and Robbers, Oh My!
Waikato Hospital in New Zealand recently got some unwanted publicity when an unsavory video of a drunk doctor yelling at a patient set the Internet on fire. The obscenity-laden rant more suited for a 2 am brawl outside of a pub than a sterile place designed to save the sick and suffering featured the stressed out doctor crying, insulting the patient and pretty much acting like the worst episode of Grey’s Anatomy ever.
I was less shocked by the gay slurs and overuse of the word “bro” (hideous in any accent) than by the discovery that drunk doctoring is something of an epidemic. From San Diego to New Hampshire, there are signs of an industry-wide drinking problem. “I’d like to tell you substance abuse isn’t a problem for doctors, but unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand that there are physicians who practice while they are under the influence,” wrote Ken Murray MD for Time. Other high pressure jobs like law enforcement have tons of cases at work drinking often linked to stress or trauma.
Yet it’s not just real jobs where people show up loaded. You would think if you chose a life of crime as your profession that maybe having a clear head would be beneficial. But you’d be wrong. In fact, do a quick search for “drunk robber” and you’ll be overwhelmed with stories of thieves whose drinking got in the way of their master plans. My most recent favorite? A New York man who broke into a Long Island salad shop (called Sexy Salad, by the way) and was so hammered that he stopped for some bananas—about 12 of them—peed in a trashcan and quickly passed out. This super genius then dropped his driver’s license on his way out the door. Sexy Salad didn’t press charges but I think we can safely assume that the guy’s high potassium levels didn’t alleviate the humiliation too much.
A Star is Scorned
In other professions, I think people just assume you’re drunk or on drugs. I waited tables and worked in nightclubs for years where it wasn’t just okay to be drunk at work but really kind of expected. It was fairly standard for me to be in a blackout while counting cash, paying bands and tipping busboys, not to mention serving food. And if there’s any field where being under the influence is more expected than food service it’s probably the entertainment industry. The latest stories of this swirl around Sharon Osbourne, estranged ex of Ozzy and a candidate for platinum level Al-Anon status, who has recently come under fire for appearing wasted while working on the UK’s X Factor. The longtime judge grabbed headlines for forgetting the names of contestants on her own team two nights in a row. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a reality show judge to appear drunk (love you, Paula Abdul) but Osbourne clapped back at the charges, saying she was especially offended because of her family’s history with substance abuse.
But let’s get real. While research suggests that my sweeping generalization about the hospitality industry could be right, many active alcoholics will drink at work no matter their profession simply because being drunk on the clock speaks more to the out of control unmanageability of alcoholism than it does one type of profession. And the truth is you can stay sober no matter what your job is.
I mean, I’m a sober writer, for God’s sake. Take that, folks who think you need booze as a muse.
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