Overconsumption of alcohol in the form of alcohol misuse is tightly linked to the service industry. The service industry, particularly the food and beverage service industry, has some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse of any profession. Because of the high stress, fast pace, and high demand to meet customers’ needs, many service industry workers use alcohol to cope with their stress, especially if they work in the presence of alcohol, such as in a bar or restaurant.
If you work in a hotel, bar, or restaurant, you most likely have constant and easy access to alcohol, and as a result, consuming a drink or two on a challenging day may be very tempting. This drink or two to ease the stress can become a regular pattern. It can lead to binge drinking with coworkers after a shift and unhealthy behaviors associated with alcohol consumption.
What is the “availability hypothesis”?
The availability hypothesis is a well-known and studied hypothesis that explains why certain populations, such as hospitality workers, have higher levels of alcohol consumption compared to the general population. The physical availability of alcohol is one of the primary factors in levels of alcohol consumption, and the easier it is to access alcohol, the higher levels of alcohol consumption will ensue.
Research suggests that workplace alcohol availability is the highest predictor of alcohol misuse for employees. Bar and restaurant managers may increase the availability of alcohol by providing a “shift drink,” using alcohol as a reward, asking staff to regularly “taste test” cocktails, and providing leftover bottles of alcohol or unserved leftover drinks if they are not suitable to go out to customers.
What does the research say?
A 2022 published study surveyed 390 bartenders through an online cross-sectional survey that recorded the number of units of alcohol consumed and hours worked per week. Using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the researchers measured hazardous drinking patterns. The results of the study were as follows:
- 39% of participants were categorized as having harmful alcohol consumption
- 43.6% reported moderate to severe alcohol use that might indicate alcohol dependence.
- Male bartenders reported drinking significantly more units of alcohol per week and scored significantly higher on the AUDIT than females.
- Bartenders aged 26–30 and 31–40 reported drinking significantly more alcohol per week than bartenders aged 18–25.
- A high workload (more than 40 hours per week) significantly affected units of alcohol consumed each week.
How do I know if I drink too much because of my job?
If you work in the service industry and consume alcohol, you may question whether or not you are on the slippery slope to having an alcohol use disorder. A few questions to ask yourself before setting clear boundaries and making different decisions include:
- Do I feel stressed out at work?
- Do I use alcohol to alleviate my stress?
- Do I wake up hungover?
- Do I go out with coworkers after work and binge drink?
- Do I crave alcohol?
- Do I feel like I need alcohol to function at work?
- Am I able to cut back on my alcohol consumption?
Answering Yes to one or more of these questions could be a sign you might wish to change your routine or habits. While this quiz is not designed to be a diagnostic tool, these are good questions to ask yourself, or even your health care provider, if you feel you might have a problem.
What can I do to cut back on alcohol?
If you are concerned that you are consuming too much alcohol because you work in the service industry, here are a few tips that can help:
- Communicate your boundaries about alcohol: If you have chosen to cut back on alcohol, then be honest and upfront with your decisions. Explain to your coworkers and managers that you are cutting back and taking some time off from drinking and that you ask that they respect your decision. That is okay if this means not going out with your coworkers after work. Look for supportive allies in your workplace who can help support you and hold you accountable. Maybe some coworkers are in recovery or choosing to remain sober.
- Adopt an engaging life outside of work: Working in the restaurant industry most likely means that most of your friends are your coworkers, as restaurant employees tend to bond and socialize. Stepping away from alcohol means you may need to do other activities that promote an engaging and healthy lifestyle. These may include exercising, spending time outdoors, picking up a new hobby, cooking, crafting, or gardening. New hobbies outside of work also allow you to meet new friends. These combined outlets can help you take a step away from alcohol.
- Adopt new ways to manage stress: Working in the service industry can be stressful, so we often turn to alcohol to alleviate this stress. Regardless if alcohol is in the equation or not, adopting healthy stress management outlets is important to be able to manage our mental health at work and outside of work. Some stress management skills include adopting a healthy sleep schedule, eating whole, nutritious foods, getting adequate hydration, exercising regularly, having a supportive social network, and adopting mindfulness and breathing techniques.
- Seek professional help: Taking a step back from alcohol may be more difficult than you imagine. Maybe old triggers, past trauma, unresolved feelings, and hardships arise as cutting back on alcohol often results in mental clarity, and drinking may cover up any underlying motivations or unresolved thoughts. Seeking professional help through a therapist or an alcohol recovery program can help you healthily work through these unresolved feelings. The idea of going to a therapist or alcohol recovery program may seem odd, especially if you do not have a full-blown alcohol use disorder. Still, in many cases, professional help can make it easier for you to cope with triggers at work, adopt healthy new habits, and change your relationship with alcohol.