Addressing Substance Abuse

Hello all,

Has anyone had to address a member with a substance abuse problem about the effect that their habit has on the rest of the community?

I have one member who has opened up to us about his alcohol dependency, and has recently begun to vocalize how much he relies on our community to keep him from drinking too much. Our staff provides immense love and compassion toward him and have been able to balance their work while also giving him attention and support in a meaningful way with out interrupting their day too much. Lately though, as his drinking habits have begun to increase in frequency, his behavior has become more of a nuisance to staff and the community. He doesn’t often drink at the office, rather just on his way in. I did ask him to promise me he will not drink in the office, to which he responded that he would not on that particular day, but said that he would need reminding of on a daily basis. I adore this member and feel an immense amount of empathy for him, and an impulse to guide him through this struggle, but I also know I cannot bear the burden of his drinking problem, nor do I want my staff or the community to feel pressured to do the same. Anyone have any advice on how to approach substance abuse issues in a way that considers the needs of everyone?

I applaud your efforts and your empathy and compassion–there is too little of that considering the growing substance use disorder issues/ epidemic within our society. I have to say, however, he must do this one his own. It’s not fair of him to put the onus of responsibility onto the other members or community by vocalizing how much he relies on the community to keep him from drinking ‘too much’. Because when he fails, and he will fail, often and frequently, the community will feel bad at first but later they will feel resentful and so will you if you take on his responsible big sister role. He will fail at your request many times, Elizabeth, so many times that you will start to feel incredibly resentful towards him. It sounds like ‘too much’ is always going to be ‘one too many’ with him. He needs a program or place where other like-minded individuals (read: addicted in recovery) can help him get onto the right path. Unfortunately, he must realize this for himself. You, as manager/owner/operator of a community coworking space, you have to realize this and put a line down of how much you will put up with (and how much the community can take) and what you will do about it when that line is crossed. And then stick with it.

I agree that it is important for you and your staff to decide what is ok and what is not ok and let him know where the line is. Also let him know what will happen if he crosses the line. For example, we won’t remind you not to drink, as that is your own decision, but if you come in and we believe you’ve been drinking or if you drink here, then we will ask you to leave our community, and that would make all of us very sad, as we appreciate you and your _______ (sense of humor or whatever you like about him).

In the above, you’re just asking him to leave, period. Another option is that you will ask him to leave the community for a month, and you’d be happy to have him return in a month, though if it happens again, you’ll ask him to leave permanently.

I don’t mean to be telling you what to do as much as providing examples of the kind of boundary you could set (don’t come in here after you’ve been drinking) as well as the ‘consequence’ that will happen if he crosses the boundary (he must leave). And then you must follow through with the consequence if he crosses the boundary.

Thanks Kari and Penny :slight_smile:

I definitely agree that setting boundaries is the first thing I need to do!

One idea that I’m considering is telling him that while we love his presence in our community, if he has been drinking he probably shouldn’t be working anyways, so better to just sleep it off at home until he’s ready to work. I’m also considering mentioning specific behaviors that are disruptive and asking him to avoid them. Such as “the front desk coordinators have a lot of work to do so please don’t dominate their day by standing at the front desk and chatting for long periods of time.” or saying “I’d prefer if you didn’t talk about sensitive subjects like sex in a community setting. Maybe save that for outside of work.” (these are two habits that he has when he drinks). That way, the drinking is in his hands, but I’ve addressed the disruptive behaviors, and now he knows our rules that apply to him, sober or not.

I think you’re on the right track with setting the boundaries, Elizabeth! And be sure to be very specific in your expectations, as people can interpret non-specific guidelines in hugely different ways. So, no chatting for ‘long periods of time’ would be more specific if you said for ‘more than 5 minutes’! Otherwise what you mean by ‘long periods’ could be very different than what he thinks.

Good luck!