Addiction at Work – part 2

Second part of an exclusive interview with Dorte Tommerup, a Danish addiction counsellor who currently works at the European Parliament in Luxembourg.

Manuela Boghian: Do you think a lot of companies have a problem with alcoholic employees?

Dorte Tommerup: Yes. Whatever company you are in, construction, administration or whatever, about 10% will have a problem with alcohol. Half of that number may be alcoholics. That’s what the statistics tell us. AA did a survey which found that about 85% of their members are employed.  

Manuela: How long can an alcoholic keep his job?

Dorte: That depends on the work environment. If nobody says anything, he can keep it until he dies. And that’s what happens sometimes, people just die because nobody ever said anything. That’s one of the things I tell to people: you will be very sad if that person dies and you could have done something to save him or her. Nobody asks you to talk to them yourself, if you don’t feel like. But at least tell a professional about it.

Manuela: How can this behaviour be changed in companies?

Dorte: Holding information meetings. For the last 10 years I have been presenting meetings about what alcoholism is, what it does to people, what it does to family, friends and colleagues and what it does in the workplace. If an alcoholic doesn’t perform his job right, the company can lose a lot of money. Lost hours, inefficiency and a lot of mistakes which could have been avoided.

Manuela: Where is your job based?

Dorte: I work in a big organisation where I’m based in the medical service. My office is on a different floor than the medical service though. People can come and see me without anyone knowing about it. They can be totally anonymous when they talk to me. I never even ask them their family name. If they want me to call them we exchange phone numbers. I also tell them what the consequences can be, like not getting their contract renewed. But it’s up to the person to accept help or not.

Manuela: How do you relate to addicted people?

Dorte: The main point I mention is that I’m an alcoholic myself. I don’t tell people what they should do, I tell them about myself. I had a patient who was sent by the medical service. He was a very angry man and he came to my office:

“I was sent by the doctor, but I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Ok, I understand that. I don’t want to talk to you either, but since we need to do what we were told, how about if we sit down 5 minutes and talk?”

“You can talk if you want, but I don’t want to talk.”

“Ok. I will tell you my story. I suppose you’re here because you have an alcohol problem?”

“I don’t have an alcohol problem.”

So I told him my story for about five minutes and I could see him getting smaller and smaller in the chair. He was crying. He said: “I’m one of yours.” He later went into treatment and got sober.

It would be great if you could have a person in each big organisation who has the experience of relating to addicted people. I don’t tell them what to do. I just say “when I was in your situation, here is what worked for me.” And I can tell you that my experience is the experience of thousands.

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