The thought of binge drinking normally brings to mind college students at frat parties, but this dangerous practice is actually on the rise amongst adults of all ages, especially those in the 18-34 age range, according to the CDC. In the US, there’s one demographic in particular that’s particularly prone to the overindulgent lifestyle—service industry employees.
As a former server, bartender, and craft beertender, I experienced firsthand the realities of binge drinking in the industry. Most of the establishments I worked at during my seven years in the industry were fun, well-paying gigs in which my coworkers quickly became my family. We worked long physically and mentally demanding shifts. Since our jobs were to serve others and enable them to have a good time, by the end of a long shift we felt entitled to have a good time ourselves, too!
Lax or non-existent rules about drinking on the job at some bars meant I would often start drinking long before clocking out. Some owners even encourage their bartenders to have a couple drinks before work in order to loosen up and be more entertaining to the customers. Also “shifties”, AKA free or deeply discounted drinks available to employees after their shift, made me feel like I had to stay after work and drink. At one brewery I worked at, employees were entitled to three free liters of beer (the equivalent to eight 12oz bottles or cans) after every shift! The usual routine was: hang out at our place drinking our shifties, and then go to whatever bar was nearby and open later than us and close it down over shots, beers, cocktails, and whatever other substances were being passed around by other industry friends.
Granted, I met some of my best friends while working these jobs and had some great times I’ll never forget, but many of them I’ll unfortunately never remember. Eventually, that lifestyle of heavy, excessive drinking most nights of the week started catching up with me—it caught up to a lot of us. Ultimately, it’s not a healthy or sustainable way to live. As I know firsthand, when you’re working in that environment it can be extremely hard to take a break or say no to all the drinks seemingly pushed in front of your face. As I reached my late 20s, I started taking steps to get out of that world. As much as I loved the camaraderie, culture, and tip money, it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore.
The service industry wasn’t really my passion, and despite its upsides, I think staying in it for so long contributed to my depression, my feeling a lack of fulfillment in life, and my alcohol dependency. The “jaded by humanity” feeling I got from too many years serving demanding customers led to an overall feeling of unhappiness with life, which led to more substance abuse, which led to more depression and negative health consequences. Not so fun anymore, right? My life and moods got gradually better once I left the service industry and shortly after, gave up drinking.
Luckily, I was able to move on and find a new career path, and have since watched many of my friends do the same. For the many talented bartenders, chefs, and servers who do want to make this their lifelong career, they need to find balance. For anyone in that situation, I would encourage you to prioritize your health and remember that occasionally saying no to the party isn’t the end of the world. You don’t have to say yes every time a customer wants to buy you a drink either! You’ll thank yourself the next morning!
For those who are struggling with the drinking culture in the restaurant industry, don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support when you need it. There are a few organizations cropping up now, like Ben’s Friends, primarily in the Southeast US, which holds meetings for folks in the industry who are struggling. Whatever your habits around alcohol and career goals currently are, let’s strive to make conscious decisions that support our health and personal and professional longevity.
About the author
Carrie Hoffman is a travel-obsessed California girl now living the digital nomad dream in Asia. She's also a former craft beer nerd and bartender turned sober woo-woo hippie yoga teacher. Besides travel and yoga, her other obsessions are photography, coffee, vegan food, and breaking the stigma about addiction! Find her on her travel blog.