Leadership Characteristics List – Dealing With Alcoholics


Hi Everyone!

You may not know it, but you fit into one of these three categories:

  1. you know you are an alcoholic leader.
  2. you know you are leading and serving alcoholics.
  3. you don’t know that you are an alcoholic leader and/or leading and serving alcoholics.

Welcome to this article, as part of our Leadership Characteristics List series (simply key Leadership Characteristics List into our search bar to find other articles in the series). We received a huge response to our articles about Helping People With Disabilities and Helping Survivors of Child Abuse…so were encouraged to tackle another social issue head on – helping those addicted to alcohol.

We have seen significant progress, albeit too slow in my opinion, regarding equal rights for women. I believe leaders have an obligation to ensure equal rights across the whole diversity spectrum – gender, race, religion, sexuality, sick and disabled, and disadvantaged. And, it turns out, alcoholism is a genetic sickness and disability.

This article outlined what disability is, the obligations we have as leaders and some interesting information you won’t have thought about regarding your employees and customers. It also recommends some books and other resources to help you.

What Is Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Let’s go with some reputable sources, starting off with Wikipedia: Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems. The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions are present: a person drinks large amounts over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use.

You may not realize this, but within the medical and scientific communities, there is a broad consensus regarding alcoholism as a disease state. For example, the American Medical Association considers alcohol a drug and states that “drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite often devastating consequences. It results from a complex interplay of biological vulnerability, environmental exposure, and developmental factors (e.g., stage of brain maturity)” [Source: Volkow, Nora. “Science of Addiction”. American Medical Association.]

Current evidence indicates that in both men and women, alcoholism is 50–60 percent genetically determined, leaving 40–50 percent for environmental influences [Source: Dick, DM; Bierut, LJ (April 2006). “The genetics of alcohol dependence”. Current Psychiatry Reports. 8 (2): 151–7].

Most alcoholics develop alcoholism during adolescence or young adulthood.

Facts About Alcohol Use Disorder

Pervasiveness of People with AUD

It is likely that most readers underestimate the widespread nature of disabilities and how problematic employment prospects are for people with disabilities. For example:

  • The World Report on Disability estimated that, in 2010, there were 208 million people worldwide suffering AUD – that’s 6% of the population – and its prevalence is growing.
  • In the United States and Western Europe, 10 to 20 percent of men and 5 to 10 percent of women at some point in their lives will meet criteria for alcoholism.
  • 37% of college students in the US meet the medical criteria for alcoholics.
  • About 12% of American adults have had an alcohol dependence problem at some time in their life.
  • According to the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2015 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older (6.2 percent of this age group) had AUD…and
  • …an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12–17 (2.5 percent of this age group) had AUD.
  • AUD causes significant mortality – for example, alcoholism often reduces a person’s life expectancy by around ten years. The most common cause of death in alcoholics is from cardiovascular complications.
  • There is a high rate of suicide in chronic alcoholics, which increases the longer a person drinks. Approximately 3–15 percent of alcoholics commit suicide,and research has found that over 50 percent of all suicides are associated with alcohol or drug dependence.

Workplace Disadvantages

Alcoholics are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to finding and keeping employment. The extent is hidden, given that adult survivors are significantly more likely than others to suffer debilitating illnesses such as:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – including flashbacks, hyper-vigilance and intrusive thoughts.
  • Anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – often associated with PTSD.
  • Depression – the most commonly reported symptom of AUD.
  • Interpersonal issues – often adopting an avoidant style (includes low interdependency, self-disclosure and warmth, leading to few interpersonal ties); or an intrusive style (includes extremely high needs for closeness, excessive self-disclosure and being smotheringly warm). The first style is codependent and the second overly demanding and controlling. Both styles result in loneliness and lack of work role promotions.

Research shows that alcoholics find it harder to obtain, and keep, jobs.

Our simple message is – know that you have, and are hiring, people suffering AUD. People with AUD have other disabilities – especially mental health disabilities – so implement visions, strategies, systems, processes and training that cover disabilities…and you will automatically help people with AUD.

Revelation For Business Leaders

The revelation is that it is highly likely some of your staff – people – are alcoholics.

Think about it. If research shows 10-20% of adults will suffer alcoholism, you can assume that you only need 5-10 employees to be likely of having a person suffering AUD on your staff.

And, when you hire graduates, we see that 37% of them have been categorized as AUD sufferers – that’s one in every three you hire.

So you have an obligation to meet their needs, just as you have an obligation to meet the needs of men, women, different races, religions, sexual disposition, the disabled and disadvantaged.

Leadership is about inclusiveness and diversity – from a humane perspective and from a hard-nosed business view.

Role of the Board and Executive

Leaders at Board and Executive levels need to set the noble cause and values of the organization…and live them by example. This not only means communicate, communicate, communicate (the second longest tenure Prime Minister of Australia once said he had to talk publicly about a policy 150 times before the message got across)…but to be seen authentically living those values.

Equality for women and people with disabilities is visible – you can see a women and, most times, a person with a disability. But AUD sufferers are invisible. But you need to lead AUD sufferers and accommodate their needs. Make it visible. As part of your good corporate citizen branding, support a not-for-profit organization that helps AUD sufferers…and make it public.

Do not accept people getting drunk at that free-booze corporate event – have a chat with them to check they are OK and, without scaring them, mention the anonymous support your organization provides.

Getting drunk is not normal – it’s a sign of AUD.

Role of the Hiring Manager

This one is often missed – no matter what the nobel purpose and values are, if the hiring managers do not realize they can be unknowingly hiring people with AUD, then no gains are made. For example, my experience is that this area is the biggest problem – yes, there is discrimination, but a larger emerging problem is that the hiring manager actually feels for disabled people and does not feel prepared to know what to do should there be any need to support the person’s disabilities if something goes wrong.

The Business Unit and Human Resources have a big role to play in ensuring hiring managers are fully educated and supported…and to ensure that there are anonymous employee assistance programs well promoted so that sufferers of AUD can get help without fear of reprisal.

Role of Employees

The main role here is for employees to genuinely embrace people with AUD – as Stephen Covey famously states in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “seek first to understand before you seek to be understood”.

When you see someone drink too much – ask them if they are OK. Let them know you will help…even if that is simply referring them to available support resources. Drinking too much is not normal – it’s not harmless “being one of the boys or one of the girls”. It’s a sign of AUD.

You Serve Customers With Alcohol Use Disorder

Too many people forget that people with alcoholics represent a large customer base – 6% of the world’s population! It reminds me of the narrow-mindedness of the equality for women debate…85% of household purchases are made by women!

And, of course, when you sub-segment your markets, the incidence of AUD is more than double this in the adult population segment and over six times this figure for customers attending college.

They’ll applaud and reward organizations that acknowledge the AUD problems and support AUD not-for-profits.

Famous and Successful People With Alcohol Use Disorder

Amazing People, Amazing Achievers

In general, people coping with AUD are amazing – they are not the cliched hobo on the street (they are poor and extreme examples of AUD). I have had real experience with alcoholics and I can genuinely say that they typically are more can-do than most…and more compassionate.

And that’s the experience in the famous people demographic, too…

Ten Household Names Who Overcame AUD

There are many people I could have included, so please just treat this as a sample that is representative of the pervasiveness of famous people who became famous (for the right reasons), despite struggling with alcoholism, from varied walks of life.

  1. Award-winning actor, Bradley Cooper
  2. Star of the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe
  3. Legendary singer-songwriter and Grammy Award winner, Billy Joel
  4. Multi-award winning actress, Carrie Fisher
  5. Best-selling author, Stephen King
  6. Former First Lady to US President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford
  7. Famous author, Ernest Hemingway
  8. Artist, Vincent van Gough
  9. Revered United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill
  10. Astronaut and second person to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin.

Families and Friends

And I must recognize that people with AUD plus their families and friends are real day to day leaders.

Pay It Back and Forward

Every successful leader had a lot of help along the way and, oftentimes, a lot of luck and opportunities that the disabled and disadvantaged just won’t get.

If you are one of these people, you may wish to consider adopting the philosophy one of my mentors, who was a successful partner in a well-known legal firm – “I give back by volunteering my time in three areas: mentoring emerging business leaders; being on Boards of not-for-profit organizations serving the disabled and disadvantaged; and being on the Board of a sporting organization. So, emerging leaders, not-for-profits and sport“.

So, consider volunteering at an organization that provides support to alcoholics and families of those suffering from alcoholic use disorder.

Books and Other Helpful Resources for You

As covered in a previous article (click here to read it), mybestchoices.org and Amazon have collaborated to provide you with recommended books at the top of this article. We ensure the recommendations are up-to-date and include books about alcoholism, books about treating alcohol use disorder, books about counseling families of alcoholics and books about research on alcohol use disorder.

We believe this is the best choice for you out of all websites we have researched…indeed, we only determined this mechanism as an unintended result of the research we conducted.

To get help, and to get an understanding about those that do, please make contact with alcohol addiction support groups. There will be one near you. Here are just a few organizations that will help you:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous – https://www.aa.org/
  • Alcohol Rehab Guide – https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/support/
  • Rehab4Alcoholism – https://www.rehab4alcoholism.com/programme/alcohol-addiction-counseling/


Alcoholism is a very important topic – one that requires leaders to continually address. It is the right thing to do about people, and there are clear business benefits.

You are surrounded by people suffering alcohol abuse disorder, whether you know it or not. Reading about it well help you address such an impactful social issue…and knowing about support organizations to refer anyone you suspect of having AUD will ensure you can help in specific situations.

Have your say – leave comments below this article and share this article!

Onward and upwards!


Founder, mybestchoices.org

About Author


  • Rachel

    My father used to be an alcoholic, and because of that, a lot of people refused to hire him. That was way back in the 1980s – 1990s. He had to open his own business simply because no one wanted to hire an alcoholic and thought that it was his fault for drinking excessively. It was until he fell sick that he had to quit drinking alcohol altogether (which was a really long process of 5-10 years), but even after that, employment was difficult with his medical history.

    Therefore, I really appreciate your post on alcoholism. It made me understood more the difficulties that my father had undergone, and I sincerely hope that your post will help others who were just like my father to obtain jobs that they qualify for even if they are alcohol-dependent.

    • David

      Hi Rachel

      Thanks for your heartfelt comments – they are really appreciated.

      It is big of you to share your father’s story – it must have been very tough on all (still, I bet), as the stigma was even worse in the past.

      I also hope the article will help others – in fact, I plan to write another article on the subject, from the perspective of a person who overcame AUD…but knows he needs to stay vigilant.

      Kind regards


  • Paul

    You have really done your research here my friend.While your description of and meaning of the disease makes things very clear it is your attention to the differing roles that leadership plays in the care of AUD people in the workplace. The likelihood of having a few employees and one is a AUD suffer is a surprise to me.

    However as you have outlined these people can be helped and it is our duty to give them every opportunity to do so.

    Well done mate


    • David

      Hi Paul

      Many thanks for taking the time to post your comments.

      Thanks, too, for your attitude about the issue…and your encouragement.

      I plan to write another article on the subject, from the perspective of a person who overcame AUD…but knows he needs to stay vigilant.

      Well done to you, too.