Drink and drug abuse in the industry: An addict's tale

06 December 2007 by
Drink and drug abuse in the industry: An addict's tale

During 12 years in the hospitality industry, Chris Mordue found the perfect environment to take his drink and drug habits to the extreme. It was only an Ark Foundation seminar that eventually made him realise he had problems - and then address them. Here he tells his story to Tom Vaughan

Born in Newcastle in 1978, I was an active, happy child raised in a good family. I was outgoing, loved sports and was a successful junior athlete. Privately, though, I was nervous, felt a sense of pressure and could be over-sensitive and emotional.

I was aware of alcohol in my family and knew that my late grandfather and favourite uncle had been chronic drinkers. I grew up watching people drink in their spare time and saw it as a natural part of life. In fact I was quite amazed by the change it brought about in people and just how funny and different they seemed after a drink or two. Back then, I never saw any problems or negativity being a direct consequence of alcohol.

When I was 13 I drank to get drunk for the first time. That was my objective, and one can of Special Brew and another of Scrumpy Jack did the trick. I got drunk and was sick on my friend's mother. I lied to cover up what happened and was pleased when I got away with it. To be honest, I actually thought it was funny and liked the attention it gave me. I had no idea this would become the recurring theme of my drinking life. I'd drink to get drunk and to have a good time: most of the time I would lose control and something bad would happen, so I'd lie to try and get away with it.

During this period I started to experiment with drink, cigarettes, solvents, cannabis, LSD and amphetamines. It coincided with a difficult time in my life, including my parents' divorce and my losing some self-belief and belief in my family. Outwardly it seemed that everything was OK but I found it very difficult to make sense of my environment, struggled to relate to girls and was very self-conscious.

I looked up to people who drank and took drugs as they seemed like they had it sussed. And when I drank my personality changed. Given that I didn't like my personality, that was great.

I wanted to earn some extra money so took my first job in hospitality, working at a local restaurant. It was on the Quayside in Newcastle and, while I found it daunting, I loved it. I was nervous but thought the people were so much more interesting than my teachers and my mates at school. I was 16, a regular drinker and drug-user and quickly learnt how easy it was to get access to such substances. I spent time with older friends and became more and more disconnected from what was really important in life. Working late, picking up extra shifts, drinking and taking drugs was not conducive to school achievements and I ended up leaving before I had finished my A levels.

Over the next 12 years I bounced between front-of-house jobs in restaurants. Each time things would start off well, but then I'd push my use of drink and drugs too far - and end up leaving with no explanation, or when the restaurant had no choice but to sack me.

Working an evening shift I'd maybe sneak in a couple of vodkas from the bar at seven or eight o'clock, then do some cocaine maybe at 10ish. We'd kick out the customers just after midnight and settle in at the bar for a few hours, maybe smoking some weed to relax, before going back to someone's flat until the morning on a mix of drugs and booze.

The antisocial hours inherent in the industry meant I could sleep all day, get up, dash to work, use some amphetamines or coke to stave off the hangover then repeat the whole night again. To be frank, there was no way I could have afforded all that drink if I hadn't been taking it for free from the businesses.

I don't blame the industry for my problems because most of it was down to me, but a culture of constant drinking and recreational drugs meant that it was a dangerous place for those with little self-restraint. Colleagues were always drinking and I'm not against that, it's the nature of the industry, but employers never realised that some of us were taking it to the extreme. And in many cases owners and managers were setting the example.

I must have gone through more than 20 jobs in this period and restaurants never bothered to check up on my CV or references, so stayed ignorant of the fact I'd been sacked from my last job for gross misconduct. The problem was so endemic in some places that I even offered a manager a line of coke during one job interview and still got the position.

Eventually I achieved some success, was promoted to management, trained in wine with a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) course, despite my problem, and worked with some great companies. But the drink and the drugs always got the better of me. Every time the problem became too much for my employers I blamed someone else to justify my behaviour.

The sad truth is that, during all that time, I wasn't just coasting through the industry to get drink and drugs easily. I genuinely dreamt of owning my own restaurant and had great visions of how it would look, smell and feel. I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life but my actions never matched my intentions. I have since learnt that this is a common characteristic in addicts.

A growing realisation crept up on me that any new relationship I formed, be it a friend or a colleague, would eventually be damaged by my drinking. I broke trust, stole, lied and cheated, as I tried somehow to manage my drinking and drug-taking, and I surrounded myself with like-minded people. However, it was becoming clear to me that they all had some control I lacked.

I was drinking alone, hiding drinks and drinking in the morning and had growing debts as I tried to keep up with it all. I could be abusive and violent and had faced a custodial sentence for a very serious drink-driving charge but still couldn't relate to the seriousness of the situation. I knew I had a problem but was unaware of what to do about it and through a lot of the jobs no one picked up on the warning signs of my addiction.

It all came to a head in June 2004. I had lost every job I had ever had through drinking. I was working at Fifteen and was about to lose that job as well.

As a condition of my disciplinary process, Fifteen asked me to attend an Ark Foundation seminar. The speaker was former chef, alcoholic and drug addict Peter Kay, the chief executive of Sporting Chance (the charity founded by former footballer Tony Adams for the treatment of behavioural problems among professional sportspeople). As he described his life and drinking I identified with it all.

The speed with which he drank, why he drank, his feelings as a young person trying to overcome difficulties, how he moved and travelled within the industry was all a mirror of my past decade. It was a powerful story - drink and drugs nearly killed him. He had been in a life-threatening coma aged 31 and I was scared because I'd promised my long-term girlfriend I could stop at 30. Would I make it?

I knew that I would lose my job and relationship if I drank again but couldn't help myself. I loved my girlfriend, family and friends but I needed to drink alcohol. I had another blackout and it all became too much. I wasn't having fun I was hallucinating when withdrawing from the booze. I called Peter.

We met and he saw that I was in pieces, and as I had no way of funding it myself he gifted me a place at the Sporting Chance clinic. It all happened so fast. My self-esteem was so low and I was so paranoid that I thought I might be beaten up and punished when at the clinic. But it couldn't have been further from the truth, I was cared for and loved by all the therapists. Peter also liaised with Fifteen and they kindly agreed to support me and keep my job open, under conditions they agreed with the Ark.

I continued to get the right support and rebuilt my life through meetings, therapy and mentoring from Peter, and I have stayed sober since. It has been an amazing experience and my life has dramatically improved in all areas. I have been able to buy a flat, change career and set a wedding date with my girlfriend - all of which seemed impossible to me before that Ark seminar. I am very grateful to Peter, the Ark, Fifteen, Jamie Oliver and Sporting Chance for everything that they have done for me.

Once sober I continued to work at Fifteen and it was during this time that I became aware of how I had behaved while on the drink and drugs. It was a privilege when Peter saw potential in me and asked me to present seminars for the Ark. I now deliver to colleges and businesses all over the UK the same seminar that helped me so much.

It was always obvious to me that alcohol and drugs played a massive part in my life and the industry in which I worked. I had seen others experience difficulties and worked for people with heavy drink and drug habits, but at the time took it as normal. Mood swings, aggression, unreliability and other such unpredictable behaviour were all commonplace.

I had never seen a real way out and knew that there were others who were experiencing, or would experience, similar problems. I felt for a while that there was a shame associated with coming forward and admitting your problem, but it's not the case. It felt natural to want to support those people and the Ark offered me that opportunity.

When I was offered a job at Sporting Chance I left Fifteen. It's amazing to think that I had been treated there but now worked in that field. I am now being trained in psychotherapy and counselling, supporting the clinical staff as well as directing the education and training arm of the charity.

When working with Ark or Sporting Chance it's amazing to see the relief and satisfaction chefs, managers, other hospitality workers and even Premiership footballers get from talking about their problems.

The industry, in my experience, is perfect for a functioning alcoholic. I bent the truth on my CV and was never checked I was constantly exposed to alcohol and drank at work without getting caught out I finished late and slept all day and really had to do a lot wrong to get sacked. I was not alone and always found those who, like me, wanted to drink and we all covered for each other.

In the seminars, I say to colleges, employers and managers that, like the Ark, I am not against people drinking and that this is not a cure-all for the problem. I hope that participants can relate better to their use of alcohol and make better choices once they have been educated in the subject. And I always stress the positive aspects of the industry and the place of alcohol in it.

The truth is that, as a naïve 13-year-old getting drunk for the first time I never thought that bright young kid would have turned into someone who, 13 years later, would be an addict who had contemplated, and once attempted, suicide. I'd been in an industry for 10 years surrounded by people drinking and taking drugs as a way of life, and was able to bury myself in amongst them and push my habits to the extreme.

I am not blaming the industry for what happened to me, but I am inviting it to recognise that this problem exists. People often don't realise that all addicts start as occasional users. Full-blown addiction may affect only a minority, but it is no joke. It not only affects the sufferer and his employer but their families and communities and it's the responsibility of the industry to acknowledge this. Ark is not a quick fix, but it was life-changing for me.

How to spot if you have a problem

Below is a list of 20 questions, as used by the Ark Foundation, relating to alcohol and drugs usage. Read through the questions and answer them as honestly as you can before checking your responses against the guide at the end.

1. Do you find one drink is not enough, and halfway through it are thinking about the next?

2. Do you find the first drink "disappears" very quickly, maybe in a single gulp?

3. Is drinking or drug-taking making your home life unhappy?

4. Is it more comfortable drinking alone than with others?

5. Is drinking or drug-taking affecting your reputation?

6. If your dependency has escalated, has your ambition decreased?

7. Have you ever felt remorse and sadness after drinking?

8. Have you often drunk last thing at night to aid sleep, or in the middle of the night for the same purpose?

9. Have you ever "lost" periods of time the next day attempting to piece together what took place?

10. Have you ever been in hospital, a police cell or prison because of your dependency?

11. If a function you were attending was "alcohol free", would you "slip a few in" before attending?

12. Would it seem "odd" to you to leave a half-full glass of your own drink?

13. Have you ever decided to "give up" for any period of time, say a week or a month, to prove to yourself you could do it?

14. Do you drink because you are shy around people?

15. Has anyone expressed concern about your drinking or drug taking?

16. Do you ever find you end up drinking considerably more than you had intended to at the start of the evening?

17. Has a relationship ever broken down because of alcohol or drugs?

18. Do you ever "sneak" a drink at the bar when ordering a round?

19. Do you feel ill at ease with people who do not drink, or drink very little?

20. Have you ever lost time from work through drink or drug taking?

According to the Ark Foundation, if you answered YES to any of these questions it should serve as a warning. If you answered YES to three there is valid reason for having a close look at your dependency. And if you answered YES to more than three, Ark's experience tells it you are displaying symptoms and characteristics which need addressing.

What is Ark?

Peter Kay on Chris Mordue

The Ark Foundation is a service offered by industry charity Hospitality Action.

It was founded in 2001 by Michael Quinn, whose own career as a chef was blighted by alcoholism. Quinn set up the Foundation to educate students and hospitality professionals about the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drug dependency.

Ark uses experienced industry professionals who, having themselves fallen victim to alcoholism and/or drug dependency and sought help for their problems, now give seminars on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption and drug misuse.

Through its recently set up consultancy arm, Ark for Business, it sets out to help businesses deal with the problem in a cost-effective and positive way.

To contact the Ark Foundation or Ark for Business, or to find out more about the services they offer, contact Hospitality Action on 0870 351 0160, e-mail info@hospitalityaction.org.uk or go to www.hospitalityaction.org.uk.

Chris is one of the most unassuming people I've ever come across.

When we initially met, the first thing he said to me, in front of his girlfriend, was "I'm not an alcoholic". Not only was he facing the sack, his girlfriend had told me privately that she would leave him if he couldn't sort his alcohol problem out.

He agreed to come in for treatment but back then we were tight for money and could only afford to put him in for a week. He was fearful of what he would have to go through but grasped in one week what would take most people four weeks.

Chris was like a sponge and made a huge impression on the whole team with his commitment to recovery, his compassion to others and his ability to be rigorously honest - to such an extent that two years later we talked about employing him.

In March this year Sporting Chance Clinic increased its staff by 25%. Initially Chris was supposed to come just to help me deliver education and training but now he's being trained up to be a psychotherapist. Whether he's mentoring a commis chef or a Premiership footballer it doesn't bother him, he's exactly the same to everyone. He has excelled himself both at Sporting Chance and at delivering the Ark seminar - so much so that we're in talks with him about joining the clinic full-time.

He's a truly outstanding man and what he has done to turn his life around is remarkable. I'm not only very proud to have him work for us but I'm really proud to have him as a friend.

Peter Kay is the chief executive of Sporting Chance

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