Let’s talk… alcohol and drug abuse

Jo Rawlinson is an alcoholic celebrating three years sober. Her own experience with addiction has led her to help educate people on the telltale signs as well as the help available.

Talking about drug and alcohol abuse

Since the pandemic, overall statistics for alcohol and drug abuse in the UK have risen, and research found that the creative industries (including hair and beauty) came third in terms of the biggest problems concerning a culture of alcohol and drug abuse. Jo Rawlinson, founder of Manor Training and Consultancy, shares that it’s time to leave preconceptions and stereotypes of what an alcoholic or drug addict looks like behind. The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate.

“The fact is is that an alcoholic and/or drug addict could be your friend, your colleague, your family member,” explains Jo. “I know this all too well…my name is Jo, and I am an alcoholic. I wasn’t sat on a park bench, nor did I keep my alcohol in a brown paper bag. I was a teacher, a mother, a wife but still the disease of addiction had me in its suffocating grip and this toxic relationship with alcohol endured a hellish six years.You may be reading this knowingly thinking of colleagues you are concerned about…this person could in fact be you.”

Jo’s essential guide to talking about drug and alcohol abuse…

Why the creative industry? 

The constant fear and anxiety of furlough, ill relatives and home schooling was enough to drive anyone to want to escape. Add the stress and strain of owning a business in the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding its future, you have a potential ticking time bomb for those looking for the ease and comfort that alcohol and drugs can offer. Alcohol and drugs are often used as medicine to relieve that anxious feeling, to escape that low mood, to treat ourselves as our world turns into something we no longer recognise.

Is it use, abuse or dependence?

  • Substance use is any consumption of alcohol or drugs. Something as common as drinking an alcoholic drink with friends in the beer garden is classed as substance use
  • Substance abuse (or misuse) is the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances (including drugs and alcohol) if you are abusing substances, you are noticing changes in your behaviour. 
  • Dependence/addiction is a compulsive addiction to alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. You may be unable to stop drinking or using drugs on your own. You may also notice physical withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit (such as the shakes and sweating). Addiction is a chronic illness.

Do you know your units?

The Department of Health suggest we drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, whilst also having days off from alcohol all together – but what does 14 units really look like?

  • Half a pint of beer is one unit
  • 76ml of wine is one unit
  • 25ml shot of spirits is one unit.

It takes one hour for each unit of alcohol to leave your body. If you were to have eight pints of beer on a night out and stopped drinking at midnight, the alcohol would still be in your system until 4pm the following day, rendering you unfit to drive until this time.

Signs to look for:

You may be concerned about someone regarding their alcohol and/or drug use, but how can you offer your help? What signs can you look for? This list is based on my own experience, but the signs can vary. Some are obvious, others are key indicators when found in conjunction with one another. 

  • Absence – does this person have an increasing amount of time off?
  • Asking for money – does this person often ask for wages early or borrow money from colleagues regularly?
  • Tangle of lies – this person had some time off sick and when asked about it they became confused between true or false and the explanation they initially provided
  • Excuses – many people in addiction prefer to drink and use alone. They may turn down the offer of a night out or refuse an invitation to a works ‘do making up excuses
  • Hostility between colleagues – some colleagues may be weary or nervous about working with this person as they begin to act unpredictably and are sloppy
  • Dual diagnosis – it is common for those in addiction to also have mental health issues/diagnosis. The drug and/or alcohol is commonly the medication sought to soothe stronger pain
  • Sensitive – short and snappy to respond to things, especially when challenged about their absences
  • Angry – most commonly they are angry with themselves however at times this can be taken out on those closest to them
  • Fluctuating mood – for me, if I knew I had drink at work waiting for me I was giddy but, on those days, where I couldn’t get drink and I was full of fear
  • Distant and reclusive – maybe they don’t engage in chat as much as they used to and are spending less time at work and work events. For the addict, it is safer and better to be on their own with their substance
  • Fatigue – drink and drugs seriously affect your sleep pattern, are they exhausted?
  • Poor health – are they taking more time off due to health issues? Has their personal care decreased?

Other more obvious signs to look out for are coming into work under the influence, withdrawal symptoms such as shaking and sweating and taking multiple short breaks to the toilet or outside. 


Let's Talk


Starting the conversation:

Broaching the subject of alcohol and/or drug abuse with anyone is a daunting prospect. By type, the addict is a real Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you are ready to start the conversation with your friend, family member or colleague, below are some suggestions of how to initiate:

  • Make sure the space is safe, away from distractions and others
  • Keep note of your nonverbal communication – keep it open and friendly
  • Use a lighthearted conversation starter, something as simple as ‘how are you doing’ or ‘we missed you at the staff meeting last week’
  • Have a mental note of evidence you may have and where your concerns have come from
  • Apply non-judgmental listening to the conversation
  • Be prepared for a negative response
  • Reassure them that help is available.

Those struggling with alcohol and/or drug abuse or addiction may not be ready to quit. Be prepared for a ‘no’ or even a more colourful response! For someone to want help they must come to this decision on their own. You can offer them reassurance, a shoulder to cry on or a friend on the other end of the phone however, you can’t save them. Addiction is a powerful force so don’t take it personally if you are told where to go. The important thing is that you have expressed your concern and from that point onwards, the person in need knows that you are available for them when they are ready.

Further support available:




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