THE SIGN, Vol. 32: 20-22, August, 1952
THE ALCOHOLIC AND THE JOB
by John P. Callahan
A 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.
He 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.
Compulsive 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!
Recognizing 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 drinkers.
Of the 700,000 in the New York area, 105,000 are described as “intractable” – psychotic, or physically damaged and in need of institutional care.
While 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.
Mr. 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
However, 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.
There’s 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.
While 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.
His 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 drinking session.
The weary, heartbroken wife was through. Either he looked into Alcoholics Anonymous, she said, or they separated.
And so it was on the evening of the day he was fired he went with an A.A. member friend to a meeting.
At 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.
After 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.
Within 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 arrested.
Of 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.
We 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.
A.A. 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.
The 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 member.
A.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.
To 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.
Let’s 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.)
That 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 drunks.
The 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.
Thus, 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.
At 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 are supervisors.
“No 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.”
Talking 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.”
Dismissing 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 may recall).
The 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.
There 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 large
plant, 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.
Another 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.
Still 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.