ALCOHOLISM AND ITS REHABILITATION PROGRAMME IN INDUSTRY PANNA REGE ...
ALCOHOLISM AND ITS REHABILITATION PROGRAMME
Alcoholism is a progressive illness with a high rate of incidence among industrial workers. It is a primary cause
for other problems like absenteeism, poor performance, accident proneness and low productivity. Some
industrial organisations have assumed a role of social responsibility towards rehabilitating their alcoholic
employees, which has turned out to be mutually beneficial. The major features of rehabilitating are programmes
for individual and group counselling and for family counselling.
Miss Panna Rege, a professionally trained social worker, is the Welfare Officer at Voltas Ltd., Thane.
Alcoholism in a Broad Perspective
The recent upsurge of alcoholism in our population is causing serious concern to
governments and industries. The World Health Organisation has pronounced
alcoholism as a third major killer of mankind after heart-attacks and cancer. So grave is
this problem, that alcohol is associated with a sizeable percentage of deaths caused by
accidents, murders, and suicides. It also takes its toll of human suffering by way of
broken marriages, broken homes and heavy financial loss to industry and economy.
There are diverse views and opinions held by researchers about alcoholism, but, as
yet, the precise nature of the causes of alcoholism has not been identified. There are
views which attribute alcoholism to a 'chemical allergy' or, in other words, consider an
alcoholic to be a victim of physiopathology. Others talk about an 'alcoholic personality'
or hold the view that an individual is psychologically vulnerable to alcohol. His
excessive drinking is a means of coping with life's stresses and strains.
Whatever the causes of alcoholism, studies have concurred that alcoholism is an
illness, and as such, a progressive illness. The intensive studies done on about 2,000
admitted alcoholics by the late E. M. Jellinek reveal that there are roughly four phases
of alcoholism. In the first phase, or the 'pre alcoholic' phase, the potential alcoholic
drinks to relieve tensions. Whereas other people in society may use better means to
resolve their tensions, this particular individual reacts to alcohol, and indulges in relief
drinking. In the second phase, 'relief drinking' may be resorted to oftener. He may also
drink in secret and think about alcohol much of the time. His guilt regarding his alcohol
would increase markedly. In this stage, he may often experience 'black-outs', a
condition where the individual has no recollection of his actions after the drinking
spell. Alcohol has already begun to affect his physical and mental health. In the third or
the 'acute' phase, the individual begins to lose control over his drinks. There is a
'craving' for drinks at particular times. At this stage of his drinking career, the
individual rationalizes his behaviour and projects his excesses on to others. His life
has already become chaotic and disorganised. In the fourth or the 'chronic' phase,
the individual has no more pretenses about his drinking. He has already resorted to
morning drinking. He is inebriated throughout the day or days together. This phase
answers our stereotyped image of an alcoholic, with a shaggy beard, tattered clothes,
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bleary eyes and a wayward walk. At this stage, he has probably lost his job and has
reached a stage of total demoralization and degradation. It may happen that not all
alcoholics pass through these phases. There have been cases of 'instant' alcoholics.
However, knowledge of these phases improves our understanding of the progressive
aspects of this illness, for the detection of its early symptoms and its subsequent
Alcoholism in Industry
A Management problem:
Although alcoholism is an age-old problem in industry, the
concept of it has undergone a lot of change lately. It is estimated that industry has 2
to 4 per cent of persons who are alcoholics on its pay-rolls. This is a staggering figure.
Alcoholism is also noticed to be a primary cause in a variety of industrial malaise which
comes out in the garb of absenteeism, poor performance, lower productivity, accident
proneness on the job and lowered morale. In the mid-fifties in the U.S.A., the loss to
industry due to alcoholism was referred to as a 'billion dollar hangover'. Today, an
accurate estimate of this loss is $15 billion. If left untackled, alcoholism could shake
an industry to its very root. As such, it has become a management problem and needs
an approach which can deal with it, with urgency and efficiency.
Changing Attitudes towards Alcoholics
With the increasing realization that alcoholism is an illness, and not a moral problem as
was thought earlier, employers are realizing their special role and responsibility
towards alcoholics. Whereas, the traditional approach has been either to dismiss the
detected alcoholic or tolerate him indefinitely, professional and forward looking
managements, today, are emphasizing the rehabilitation of the suffering alcoholics on
the job itself.
This approach has an element of wisdom. It serves a number of purposes.
Management hires an employee with a view to establish a long term contract. It
invests, in an employee by way of money, time and training. A dismissal of an alcoholic
involves considerable personnel costs, as once again the procedure of recruitment
and training goes on for a new recruit. However, there is no guarantee that the
newcomer may not have the same problem of alcoholism or develop it later.
Secondly, the rehabilitation of the alcoholic without dismissal, saves the society of an
additional burden of unemployment. The rehabilitation programme can be a mutually
benefiting experience to management and its employees. The employees would
appreciate the managements' approach of maintaining the dignity of the individual
and his job. This would go a long way in enhancing the employer-employee
Some Important Factors to Remember While Helping Alcoholics
Before starting a programme of rehabilitation, a company has to acknowledge certain
facts about alcoholism:
i) Alcoholism is an illness, not a moral problem.
ii) Alcoholism can be treated and, as such is worth treating.
iii) A change of attitude on the part of management, staff and fellow-workers,
towards the suffering alcoholic, is a necessity.
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The non-alcoholic world looks upon an alcoholic as a good-for-nothing-person. Some
people in the company may take a paternalistic attitude and shield an alcoholic
employee, fearing that he may be dismissed if notified. Others are critical. Their
accusations are often expressed in ways such as, "If I can hold my drink why can't
he?", "Serves him right he asked for it". Often from this quarter, management may be
blamed for 'mollycoddling' alcoholics and the recovery programme would be viewed
In essence, what is required is viewing alcoholism in its proper perspective. It calls for
a high level of tolerance and empathy on the part of its practitioners. Initially, the
alcoholic employee would try to exploit this concern of the employer to his
advantage, which has to be dealt with firmness.
Significance of Work as Therapy in a Recovery Programme
The significance of having an in-factory rehabilitation programme of alcoholism
contributes greatly to the recovery of workers suffering from this illness. Though the
family, church, and welfare agencies have also contributed in the recovery of
alcoholics the contribution of the work organisation is unique. A job is not only a
source of economic strength but also an emotional satisfaction to an individual. A
dismissal from the job would mean a double loss of face to an individual, who is
already carrying a stigma of alcoholism. A job carries with it an authority which is
binding on the employee and makes him face facts, or else....
A recovery programme in a factory could be started on a very small scale and without
much fanfare. An alcoholic is very sensitive about his addiction. He would go to any
extent to deny this habit even to the point of telling blatant lies. In a factory, an
alcoholic is also a target of jokes and ridicule of his colleagues and friends. He is
painfully aware of this. Hence, any showy publicity, while starting a programme,
would bring him unnecessarily into the spotlight. Attending the programme would
itself be an open confession of his alcoholism. Hence, he might avoid this.
Programme of Rehabilitation, its Nature and Content
The programme of rehabilitation, in an industry, would generally come under the
auspices of the Personnel Department. A well-rounded recovery programme has
four important aspects:
i) An individual approach or 'counselling' to the individual alcoholic.
ii) A 'group' approach or a meeting of alcoholics to be held once a week, or more
iii) Educating the rest of the working population regarding alcoholism,
iv) Counselling the family.
In the individual approach, the identification of an individual alcoholic is essential.
Chronic absence coupled with poor job performance, is an indication of a problem
with alcohol. This could be reaffirmed by his officers or supervisors. The individual
then could be motivated to participate in his own recovery. He needs to be educated
regarding the disease aspects of alcohol. He would be given insights into his
behaviour. A 'tough' alcoholic could be confronted with data as regards his poor
attendance, his poor quality of work, all results of his alcoholism. He will blame his
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poor attendance on external factors but rarely his drinks. (If the reasons given by an
alcoholic for his absence are compared with the reasons for absence of the non-
alcoholic employees, one will be amazed at the number of 'deaths' in the families of
alcoholics. Often by oversight, the same member would have died twice.) The threat
of losing a job could act as 'constructive coercion' to motivate him to change his
Individual counselling per se
may not be enough. It has to be sustained by a 'group'
approach. Meetings of the spotted alcoholics could be conducted inside the factory
premises. These meetings could be organised on the basis of the approach of the
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A factory may have recovered alcoholics who are
members of the AA. These members can be instrumental in forming a group within
the factory. If there are no such recovered alcoholics, AA members from outside
could be invited to conduct meetings, till such time that the factory has some of its
For meetings, a company has to allot a certain fixed time during the factory hours
and a convenient place to hold the meetings. Taking the three shifts into
consideration, the meetings could be held at a time when maximum participation is
The group approach gives the individual alcoholic the support and strength of
numbers. He gets acceptance and companionship in the supportive climate of the
group. In the group meeting, the recovered members 'share' with the group their
experiences with alcohol, the beating' they got in their lives due to it, and their
wonderful recovery by 'keeping away from that first drink'. This sharing is the guiding
force to the suffering alcoholic. Somehow, he has come to a stage today, when he has
admitted defeat as far as alcohol is concerned. He is desperately in need of help and a
better life, and AA is a godsend at such times. There is an immediate 'identification'
with the recovered alcoholic and a feeling "if he can make it why can't I". And so
begins the recovery programme for him.
No programme is successful unless the co-operation of others in the factory is
forthcoming. The involvement of the union, officers, supervisors and fellow-workers is
very significant. It is necessary to inform these people about alcoholism and how it
could be arrested. Informative literature on alcoholism could be circulated amongst
them to modify stereotyped attitudes and misconception about alcoholics. Non-
alcoholic employees may be invited to attend the meetings. Anonymity is an
important AA tradition and has served its purpose well. However, the factory reality is
different. Here employees are known to each other, especially alcoholic employees,
who are noted for their habit. Again if the meetings are kept closed, an aura of
secrecy prevails, exciting the curiosity of non-alcoholic employees. The chances are
that an alcoholic who attends the meeting would be unnecessarily ragged on the
shop-floor. Group meetings, in a way, serve a double purpose; to the alcoholic the
meetings are a sort of therapy and the non-alcoholic gets an educative experience.
Role of a Social Worker Counsellor in the Programme
In companies, big or small, where the rehabilitation programme for alcoholics exists,
the services of a Social Worker or a Counsellor are indispensable. Often a recovery
programme of alcoholism could be conceived and executed in this department. With
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her knowledge and skills, a counsellor is capable of assessing a wide variety of
human problems. To make the programme viable, she has to serve as a link between
the individual alcoholic, his family members and the working milieu.
Often the families of alcoholics are in need of some orientation regarding the
recovery programme. It is noticed that owing to the fear of a possible termination
from the job, the family members often deny the existence of an alcoholic problem in
This gives the alcoholic a further chance to take advantage of the situation. While
working with the family members, specially the wife, the counsellor can allay her
fears about the termination of job, orient her about alcoholism and encourage her
to attend AA meetings held outside. There are also meetings of Alanon and Alateen
(which are offshoots of AA) conducted in different parts of Bombay, especially for the
spouses and children of alcoholics.
It is essential to acquaint the supervisors and chargehands with the stages of
alcoholism. The shop-floor personnel are in a position to contribute to the
identification of alcoholics; early detection of such cases would save a great deal of
A counsellor has to take individual needs and differences of alcoholics into
consideration. Some alcoholics respond to motivational and confrontational methods,
others 'click' at their first group meeting. However, alcoholics in the acute phase, may
require detoxification and drug therapy. They may have withdrawal symptoms or
convulsions in this phase and hospitalisation is advisable. They may be persuaded
later to join the recovery programme.
It takes time to develop a recovery programme in an industry. Often, quick results are
expected. Frustration is very often experienced when an alcoholic takes his time to
be "on the wagon" or when he "slips" after remaining dry for a while. At one stage, it
may appear that the programme has bleak prospects. But with persistence and
tenacity on the part of the practitioners, this phase also passes and the programme