Why is Alcohol and Drug Addiction so Prevalent in Hospitality?

The hospitality industry is suffering a real crisis at present, particularly in the UK. Not only is the rise in gas and electricity costs going to cause a real hit on businesses, only recently having been shut due to a global pandemic, the ability to find staff is proving tough.

There has long been a well-known problem with drugs and alcohol in the hospitality industry. It’s perhaps regarded as an open secret.

Many studies have found this to be the case, with research finding that in the UK, there were two-hundred and seventy thousand people in contact with drug treatment services between April 2019 and March 2020. It’s a similar story with drugs too.

But why is it that the hospitality industry in particular suffers?

High Stress Levels

Ultimately, that often comes down to high stress levels. Stress is incredibly high in hospitality as quality levels must be kept high, as well as staff required to remain switched on, with those public facing also required to remain happy, approachable and caring to every customer’s needs at all times. Which takes a lot of work and is incredibly challenging and tiring.

Of course when you place in the other factors around that, it can lead to many turning to drink and drugs to try and remain focused and get through their shifts, only to go again the very next day.

Among the biggest factors that contribute towards addiction in hospitality include:

Long hours

Long hours have always been prominent in the industry with many getting into the kitchen before 9am and not leaving until 10-11pm in the evening. That’s more so the case these days as hospitality struggles with staffing, with members of the team putting in double shifts and working days off.

Combined with typically low pay, many members of staff feel they have no alternative either to work such hours in order to pay rent, mortgages and bills.

Customer Service Demand

The demand for excellent customer service at all times is huge and that just isn’t feasible as a human. Fatigue and tiredness comes into play and you can’t please everyone 100% of the time. However, people turn to drugs to try and cope, pleasing everyone but themselves.

What’s more, when faced with customer dissatisfaction, many can turn to drugs and drink to try and numb the pain of a nightmare shift, where customers have been rude or complained about the food or service.

It’s that constant high demand over long periods, which isn’t sustainable, that leads people to such distractions as drugs and alcohol to try and fill that demand. Which can lead to breakdowns, addiction and an incredibly toxic working environment.

Who is this affecting?

Interestingly, it isn’t a small problem for the industry, a series of isolated incidents. In fact, according to recent studies 89% of people in the industry believe that alcohol and drug misuse is a problem in the industry, with 40% of those believing it’s a widespread problem.

That’s having a serious impact on the industry’s image, with Mark Lewis, editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, an industry magazine, labelling it a “plague”.

Which isn’t wide of the mark. While the reasons for people taking drugs is clear, there’s little being done about it. Only one in five employers are tackling the issue with training, with dismissal the more common route for anyone found abusing drink or drugs.

Which is understandable, but it’s clear that the problem lies with working life, with staying awake during a shift and coping with the stress the core reasons for taking substances.

The government has tried to tackle this in the UK, with Home Secretary Priti Patel announcing tougher penalties for drug users. However, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has claimed this won’t stop the rot in the hospitality industry. Michael Kill, NTIA CEO said, “I am not sure the Home Secretary is completely aware but the practice of banning people from licensed premises for drug possession or use has been in place for decades.”

It’s perhaps rather on the hospitality industry to try and take action and change the shape of the industry today. Many kitchens are changing their approach today, particularly led by females, to create a less toxic environment and a more supporting one.

That is going to have a knock on effect to people speaking out about their concerns, stress or exhaustion and turning to their employer for help and support rather than drugs. Ultimately, that will benefit the employer too as the turnover of staff rates will be lower, which means less training, a smoother operating kitchen and a happier and healthier workplace. That being said, if you are struggling with substance abuse or someone you know is, reaching out to a help center such as Vertical Treatment Centers is the first step towards recovery from substance abuse.

That starts at the very top and there are ways in which restaurant bosses and head chefs are trying to change the working environment. This has included:

  • Replacing Shift Drinks: Many kitchens would offer a free shift drink policy in which staff members could stick around after their shift for a free drink. This is essentially enabling heavy drinking in the workplace and causing an acceptance of substance abuse. Today, a number of kitchen bosses are turning to alternative incentives that still keep staff working hard but rather offer something that aids their wellbeing, not the complete opposite.
  • Encourage mental health dialogue: Bosses simply checking in and ensuring their staff are ok is becoming a number one priority among a new breed of head chefs. They’ve worked their way up in a toxic environment and are looking to be trailblazers in creating a new, supportive kitchen. By checking with employees that they are ok and getting any help they need can encourage them not to turn to the bottle, but rather yourself or a support network that is in place in a business.
  • Setting the example: Ultimately, management is needed to set an example, and if those at the top are not turning to substance abuse and being honest and open about the stresses of work, then staff will follow suit.

It’s not completely widespread at present, but the industry is starting to change and with that more people will re-enter it to work. It’s a difficult period for hospitality as a whole, but if staff can feel supported and like they can cope in the workplace, it’ll go a long way to finding its feet once again.

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