Chefs speak out about addiction in the restaurant industry

The Staff Canteen

We shared a story a few months back about a chef being caught with drugs, which generated a huge social media conversation around that topic. So, we asked our members and followers for their thoughts and opinions on addiction within the industry.

Following on from your responses, The Staff Canteen spoke to people who have worked in the hospitality business and who are familiar with the chef lifestyle. They shared their personal stories with us and contributed their own advice, in the hope that it will help those who may be in need of some support within the industry.

Hiding addiction - why is this a problem?

“Chefs are fairly polished in the kitchen, but outside of that they don’t often want to talk about what is going on in their personal lives,” a chef who wishes to remain anonymous tells us. “For me, the main problem is when chefs start hiding their addiction, so you don’t find out until it gets too much for them.”

Working in the industry from the young age of thirteen, he believes that the drinking culture was ingrained in him because of the chef lifestyle. He was surrounded by drink and it soon became a necessity.

“For me, it got past the point where people were drinking with me. That’s when it becomes dangerous. When you start doing it on your own and no one knows that you’re doing it, then you are addicted,” he explains.

Some of the comments on Facebook and Instagram also provided a key perspective from people who have experience within the industry.

Many agreed that improving the working conditions within the industry would be a good step forward. 

Incredibly long shifts can lead to an extreme lifestyle

James Whetlor, owner of Cabrito Goat Meat and former chef, agrees that incredibly long shifts can lead to an extreme lifestyle and believes that the industry can be an easy place to hide an addiction.

He says: “You’re always around alcohol and if you are a young chef, there are always lots of young people in hospitality who are interested in food and wine and going out. On top of this, the environment is chaotic and there are a lot of people that come and go. That really suits addicts as well, as they don’t want meaningful relationships, because they don’t want anyone to get to know them.

“However, I don’t think the restaurant industry should beat itself up. Although it has a responsibility of care for people that work in their environment, you can’t legislate for everything,” explains James.

“There is a certain attraction because of the access to alcohol and form of lifestyle but, I don’t think you’ll find there are more addicts in this way of life than any other.”

Here is what our final Twitter poll revealed about our followers’ thoughts on the subject…

Are drugs an individual life style choice or do the pressures of being in the hospitality industry contribute?

Although the majority believe that taking drugs is an individual life style choice, there is still plenty of support available for those within the industry who are battling with any form of addiction.

Since 2002, Hospitality Action has been running seminars on alcohol and drug awareness, teaching both students and employers about the industry and the risks that are implicit, such as the pressures of the job as well as the long and empty social hours. The seminars are incredibly successful as they are run by people who are all in recovery themselves, after working in the industry and developing addictions.

addictions quote1Co-ordinator and Presenter of the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Programme, Ken Crosland, worked in the hospitality industry in New York, in his twenties. After developing a cocaine abuse problem, he returned to the UK and took on a management role within the media. Although successful, Ken refers to himself as a “functioning alcoholic” during this period of his life. After changing his lifestyle, Ken was given his job at Hospitality Action.

He tells us: “Initially I would talk to managers who would say that they have no problems, because they know their staff. This is a hidden problem. It’s not advertised by people. So, running awareness training for employers about alcohol and drugs is good practice. It’s the industry standing up and saying we’re grown-ups and we understand the pressures.”

In 2016, Hospitality Action was able to support 2,037 people within the industry. Of the 2,037, only 2% of those receiving support from the organisation for alcohol and drug abuse. These statistics suggest that some people may be struggling to come to terms with their addiction and therefore, refusing to admit that they are in need of some support.

“Addiction is a society wide issue. It is the one illness that tells you that you don’t have a problem,” explains Ken. “We are persuading employers in the hospitality industry to be proactive, to say as an employer that they recognise that problems sometimes happen and if someone has a problem then we would like to support you. It is about balancing employee welfare provision against running a successful business.”

Education and support for those in the industry is key

Agreeing with Ken, many of our Instagram followers believe that educating those in the industry about the lifestyle and how to cope with it is extremely important. 

When it comes to seeking support, James Whetlor says: “If you are an addict, you get to the point where you realise that you’ve got to admit to it. That takes a lot to do. People are afraid. However, I have seen on Twitter in the past, where famous chefs talk about charities that help those who have addictions. I have also had generally positive reactions from people when I admit that I had an addiction.”

Our anonymous chef tells us: “The main thing I want people to know is that you can go and see your GP. It’s not embarrassing and they will direct you to someone who will help you out. Once you have done that, you will be more awake, more alert, more presentable, you’re a better chef for it. I am a prime example of this. I had anxiety, depression and was a borderline alcoholic and now it’s all turned around. All it takes is one phone call.”

By Alice Lewis

 Do you need support or know someone who does? Hospitality Action are available to help

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st July 2017

Chefs speak out about addiction in the restaurant industry