Advice hub. Addiction

Hospitality has a reputation for being a fast-paced, fun, social environment.

But with that fast pace can come pressure, and when pressure tips over into stress, it’s all too easy to reach for a crutch to help you cope.

Whether it is alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other behaviours, addiction is often the first sign of a deeper underlying issue.

Addiction can happen to anyone – it isn’t a personal failing. Other than stress, it can be caused by pain, trauma, or negative experiences in childhood.

Addictions can take many guises some of which are more obvious than others so it can be hard to identify them at an early stage before they become obvious and out of control.  

Warning signs can include: financial issues, regular lateness or absence, paranoia, temptation to partake during service, hanging around with wrong people, and not remembering what has happened.

If you’re concerned about your relationship with a substance or behaviour, ask yourself the following questions:


  • Do you find you need more of the substance/behaviour to get the desired effect or that the same amount has had less of an effect?
  • Do you feel sick, unwell or just uncomfortable when the effects wear off?
  • Have you used it in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than you intended?
  • Would you say that you’ve had a persistent or strong desire to use it?
  • Do you spend a large amount of time obtaining/using or recovering from its effects?
  • Do you reduce or give up work, recreational or social activities as a result?
  • Do you continue using it despite having physical or psychological problems with it?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to three or more of these questions, you may well have a dependency issue.

Many people with addictive behaviours hold down jobs and live lives that can look pretty normal on the outside. In short, they are us. Addiction breaks up families, destroys careers and ruins lives. It can be a terrifying and lonely experience. But crucially, help is available and recovery is possible.

Alcohol can help us relax, connect with others, and have fun. It’s for those reasons that it is ubiquitous in the hospitality industry.

But as anyone who has ever got into real difficulty with alcohol will tell you, it can also wreak havoc with both home and work life.

Often, it can do so in subtle, cumulative ways that can be difficult to spot until it is too late. For some, that makes it necessary to stop drinking altogether. For others, it requires a reassessment of both practical and emotional coping strategies.

Know your limits.

In England, among people aged 15 to 49, alcohol is the leading cause of ill-health, disability and death. The current UK chief medical officers’ (CMOs) advice is that adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. There is no ‘safe’ lower limit and no level of regular consumption improves health.

Spotting the warning signs.

It can be difficult to admit a problem. You may worry about feeling shame. There can also be concerns about repercussions at work. But if you are drinking problematically, it won’t go away on its down. Denial is not a strategy.

Hazardous drinking is defined as drinking over the recommended limit, but it’s also defined as drinking with the specific intention of getting drunk (binge drinking). Other indicators include not being able to meet normal obligations (at home or work) because of alcohol, not remembering what happened the night before, and being advised by friends to cut down.

Signs of harmful drinking include:

  • Difficulty stopping once you have started
  • Covering up how much you drink
  • The need to start drinking again to relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • Needing more to achieve the same effect
  • Losing interest in pleasures, activities or relationships
  • Continuing the habit, despite its harmful effects

The end of the line is full-on dependence, where you feel unable to function without alcohol. Withdrawal becomes even more severe, including hand tremors, sweating, nausea and seizures. Alcohol-induced illnesses include liver cirrhosis, which is irreversible, along with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Moderate drinking.

For people who do not believe they have become dependent drinkers, there are strategies you can employ to keep drinking safe and enjoyable:

  • Eat before you drink – Eat a big meal before you go out to absorb alcohol into your system more slowly.
  • Stay hydrated – Alcohol is a diuretic that will dehydrate you. If you drink plenty of water you will feel less thirsty and drink more slowly.
  • Count your drinks – As soon as you know how much you are consuming in a week, you are in a position to do something about it.
  • Don’t drink before you go out – It may be a cheaper way to get drunk but it’s a fast-track to problem drinking.
  • Alternate drinks – Alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones on a night out can help you to drink less.
  • Get into an abstinence routine – Try not to drink at all for at least two days a week to give your system plenty of time to recover. Try giving up completely from time to time – say, for a week.
  • Never drink to fix emotions – It is much harder to control how much you drink when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable.

Getting outside help.

It is common for people struggling with alcohol to believe their situation is hopeless. Even though drinking can be a sociable activity, problem drinking can become a very lonely habit. It cuts people off from supportive, nurturing relationships and replaces them with a substance. And that makes it harder to reach out for support or to ask for help.

Drinkers can feel ashamed about not being able to control their habit. They may also fear social rejection if they admit a problem.

And yet millions of people have tackled their drinking problem successfully. Some give up completely and join support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Others return to moderate drinking but with deeper awareness.

It is critically important that you talk to someone if you feel you are losing the battle with alcohol. Hospitality Action’s helpline is staffed by qualified and experienced counsellors, several of whom have particular expertise in alcohol and other addiction issues. There is no need to feel on your own. If you are concerned about your drinking, give us a call.

Gambling is supposed to be fun. But for some people, it can end up getting in the way of the life they want to lead. Gambling can become a problem when it starts to impact either you as an individual, or your family and friends.

Reasons for gambling.

People can gamble for all sorts of different reasons including:

  • The enjoyment of a big win
  • The thrill
  • As a chance to ‘beat the system’
  • Social acceptance
  • To change their self-image
  • As a ‘bubble’ where they can stop thinking about something else temporarily
  • As a form of punishment – indirectly expressing anger, for example.

A gambling problem doesn’t have to be just a money issue. A preoccupation with gambling can create problems with jobs and relationships and can have a ripple effect on health and wellbeing for an individual as well as those they care about.

Problem gambling.

Give an honest ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer for each of these statements:

  • I can win (back) money through gambling
  • I do not have the money to gamble
  • Gambling affects key relationships
  • Gambling puts my job or studies at risk
  • I have made several unsuccessful attempts to control my gambling
  • Gambling helps me to forget about other issues for a while
  • Gambling helps me to deal with difficult feelings

If you answered mostly yes to these questions, then it is less likely that simply trying to control your gambling is going to work. Consider every ‘yes’ as a sign you should stop gambling altogether.


If you feel you are able to control your gambling yourself, there are some simple steps you can follow to help:

  • Spend plenty of time with and around friends and family who do not gamble.
  • Make sure you pay all your important bills and debts when you get paid and before you dedicate any money to gambling.
  • See gambling as entertainment, rather than a way of making money or chasing losses.
  • Don’t be tempted to gamble on credit
  • Talk to someone if you feel you are struggling

Help for problem gambling.

If you do feel you need help, the good news is you can treat gambling successfully, in the same way as other addictions.

According to the NHS, cognitive behavioural therapy usually has the best results.

For help and support:

The Gordon Moody Association – offers residential courses for men and women who have gambling problems

Whether it is stimulants like cocaine or MDMA, or relaxants like cannabis or painkillers, drugs are sadly all too available in the world of hospitality.

While users may start off taking drugs recreationally, some start taking them to help them with work and can become dependent. The hospitality industry involves anti-social hours and sometimes requires bursts of energy for stressful periods of high intensity (this is particularly true for chefs). Some people come to rely on stimulants to cope, while others take relaxants in a bid to deal with stress.

Common drugs.

  • Cannabis – the most widely used street drug, and although some dispute whether you can become addicted to it, research shows that heavy usage does create dependence, which can lead to a wide variety of emotional and physical disorders, including psychosis, high blood pressure and fertility problems.
  • Spice – a group of synthetic cannabinoids. Originally designed to mimic the effects of cannabis, they are more harmful and unpredictable. Some are so potent that they can leave users unable to move, experiencing chest pains, heart palpitations, seizures, paranoia and even psychosis. Heavy users report withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, low mood, anxiety, cravings and difficulty concentrating.
  • Cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines – stimulants that leave users feeling energized and euphoric. The rapid highs and violent come-downs make these drugs very difficult to kick.
  • Heroin – an opiate, creating warm feelings of drowsy contentment. Again, it is highly addictive. Users often are driven into petty crime to fund their habit
  • Tranquiliser drugs – tranquilisers such as Valium and Temazepam are highly addictive and very difficult to get off.
  • Nicotine and caffeine – more socially acceptable but cause lasting and often irreversible damage.

The journey towards recovery.

No matter what the substance or behaviour, those caught in the grip of an addiction will often find it hard to believe that life would ever be possible without their chosen fix. But just admitting they have a problem is probably one of the most substantial and significant steps they’ll ever take towards a new life. Once this has happened, anything becomes possible…but it has to happen.

There are many options available, all of which you can discuss with one of our Helpline or EAP Assistance line advisers.

  • Residential treatment – for those who feel they just can’t cope anymore, residential treatment offers a safe space for a period of time, away from the temptation of their drug of choice, where they can receive the necessary medical care and emotional support to make the transition to a new way of living. For those with heavy physical dependencies, a safe, monitored detoxification programme is often essential.
  • Structured day treatment – there are many programmes available that enable people to continue staying in their own home, but offer a supportive environment where they can go each day.
  • Support groups – again, there are many different kinds of groups where addicts can find not only others going through similar experiences, but a rich support network of people who have already been through it all and come out the other side. There are 12-step groups dealing with drugs, food, sex, debt and cigarettes. The NHS also runs a host of different groups, as do many charities such as MIND. Recovery is different for everyone, so it’s important to find what feels like a good fit.
  • Counselling and psychotherapy – many people with addiction problems are helped enormously by therapeutic support and, again, there are many options. Psychodynamic therapists, for instance, will help you explore and understand the root causes of your addiction and provide a reliable and safe support while you confront and process the difficult feelings that your addiction is trying to soothe. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will help you look at the thought patterns that drive your addictive behaviour and look at practical strategies for facing difficult situations.
  • GPs – for many people the first port of call is their local GP, who will start by looking at the physical impact of the problem. GPs will also be able to refer to local community drug teams or specialist drug units (that include psychiatrists, specialist nurses and social workers).

For more honest information about drugs, go to:

An open conversation about addictive behaviours could well be a stepping-stone into getting somebody to open up about a deeper issue.

We understand that's a difficult conversation to approach so we produced an addiction awareness film.

It's a free resource for employers to broach this delicate subject. The film features chefs Phil Howard and Tom Kerridge who talk openly about their own experiences.

Urgent Help – the information provided by Hospitality Action is not a substitute for seeking medical assistance or advice if required. If you are unwell, have any medical concerns or issues or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others you should seek professional assistance urgently. Consider calling NHS Direct on 111; the emergency services if the situation is urgent on 999 or your GP to make an urgent appointment (if the surgery is closed a message should direct you to the Out of Hours GP). If you feel you are unable to keep yourself or other safe then you should go straight to A & E.