Please help me deal with my friend/coworker who is an alcoholic.
June 15, 2011 6:21 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with an alcoholic coworker/friend?

A coworker/very good friend was discovered drinking at work yesterday. He was in a highly intoxicated state and admitted to me that he had relapsed. About six months ago he had shared with me that he was 5 years sober (I had suspected that he was in recovery but we had never talked about it previously), but I have strong suspicions that yesterday's relapse was not an isolated incident.

Yesterday's incident also started unraveling a huge web of lies that he has told me and others over the years. (Again, I had had suspicions, but didn't want my instincts to be true). He is also having financial difficulties and is estranged from his family.

Due to HR policy, he is able to remain on the job. HR has provided him with info about treatment, and has explained our paid medical leave policy. He is adament about remaining on the job, and claims that he is starting treatment again on an outpatient basis.

At this point, I don't feel that I can believe anything he tells me. He is a dear friend and I care about him, but I don't want to enable him any longer and I don't want to continue to deal with the lies. I understand that no one can force him into working productively towards recovery. I don't have any illusions that I can "save" him. We work very closely together, so our interaction on the job will continue. I love my job and don't feel that his behavior should force me into moving to another department. I have told him frankly that I value his friendship but that he has lost my trust.

How do I continue to interact with him at work? Do I try to limit our communication strictly to required work subjects? Do I immediately end our friendly interactions outside of the workplace (phone calls, texts, emails, etc) until I feel I can trust him again? And how will I know when/if that ever happens? I want to be supportive if he is attempting recovery again, but I don't know how to do that if I don't trust him. I am at a loss.

I truly feel that I am grieving the loss of a dear friendship. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated.
posted by bookmammal to Human Relations (8 answers total)
There are resources for loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. I recommend contacting your local chapter of Al-Anon or reading their website. You'll likely be able to get some comfort and good advice from people who have been through this situation before and can offer you ongoing support as you figure out how to handle your feelings and needs in a way that both protects you and offers whatever assistance you are able to give to your friend. I'm very sorry you're going through this, and I hope everything works out.
posted by decathecting at 6:36 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pay attention to what you see (work, social, personal ) not what he says--be polite and civil as you would to any friend, do not make any decisions or build any dependencies based on his statements about the future, assume that any joint responsibilities will be your responsibility. Go to Al Anon--it can be extremely helpful. Do not second guess or doubt your self for not trusting him. Do not do things for him that he can do himself but be there to support him in his behaviors that are part of sobriety. Trust me--as a professional and the loved one of a recovering alcoholic there is only one thing you absolutely must do--Take care of yourself--treat your self with integrity, respect and keep your word. No matter how confusing it is for you it is unmanageable for your friend.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:46 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

What kinds of lies were they? On one hand, alcohol can't make people do things they don't already have the capacity to do. On the other hand, it was the booze/addiction talking. I'm not sure which is the better way to go with it. Probably both.

Other advice is good. You are not wrong for feeling mistrust. You just have to figure out where your comfort level is for forgiving and letting bygones be bygones, without excusing the behavior.
posted by gjc at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2011

There are people who drink too much and are not shady characters, and then there is the other kind.

One of the things you learn in recovery is that being sober doesn't automatically cure your other "character defects," to quote recovery-speak. Seems your friend is in the later category.

Keep your professional relationship vibrant as long as the work gets done well. Do the fade on the friendship. Lying is uncool, sober or not. It's not germane to the work relationship as long as work gets done.
posted by jbenben at 11:06 PM on June 15, 2011

Yes. You are grieving the loss of a dear friend. It happens in life a lot for many different reasons, not just addiction. It's OK for you to grieve.
posted by jbenben at 11:08 PM on June 15, 2011

"On one hand, alcohol can't make people do things they don't already have the capacity to do."

Alcohol can't make non-alcoholics do things they don't already have the capacity to do, but it can certainly have that effect on an alcoholic.
posted by tel3path at 4:06 AM on June 16, 2011

Were these lies situational lies intended to cover up his financial problems and alcoholism, or were they something else?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:12 AM on June 16, 2011

You got burned. Realize that people get burned everyday - by their parents, children, social group- whoever. Your friend is obviously in trouble. but I say, unless his offenses are absolutely horrific/unsafe/ illegal, be a true-friend that (almost) no matter what, you won't judge or shun, as hard/shitty as that may be- it may be a seed of hope for him later on down the road.
You don't have to hold his hand or tolerate more lies, - but let him approach you about this sensitive subject, with maybe the occasional, "you alright?" - you can still support him without trusting him.
posted by mrmarley at 12:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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