Advice column: I'm concerned about a colleague who I think may have a problem with alcohol

Dear Ash 

I am becoming increasingly concerned about a colleague. He has always been the life and soul of the party, but lately he seems to be smelling of alcohol when he arrives for work in the morning and he seems less conscious of his appearance. Our manager pokes fun at him about his appearance and what he calls “laddish behaviour”. But I think he may actually have a problem with alcohol. I am not sure how to approach the subject without causing offence, but he has been making silly errors at work and I am tired at covering for him.

Ash replies:

According to the charity Lawcare, which offers assistance to members of the legal profession coping with stress-related problems, the ambitious personality of a typical lawyer, combined with the pressures of a challenging working environment, makes lawyers particularly susceptible to heavy drinking.

Lawcare also recognises the potential impact on those having to work with a possible addict, and I refer you to the help sheet on the Lawcare website entitled “An Alcoholic in our Workplace?” One of the possible solutions offered is intervention. However, such an option is normally instigated by a manager arranging a meeting with the employee in question to insist he/she seeks assistance.

In your case, I suggest you have a private chat with your colleague, preferably when he is sober and at work. Advise that you are concerned about him, but also highlight that you have been covering for him but it is becoming increasingly difficult for you to continue to do so. It may make him more likely to seek help if he sees his job is at risk.

If your colleague is unwilling to listen, you may have to seek assistance from your line manager. He may be oblivious to the extent of the problem, which may be why he is making light of the situation. He should, however, take your concerns seriously. You should not feel guilty about seeking such assistance, as ignoring the problem will more than likely just make the situation worse, and in the long run intervention may be just what is required in order to make your colleague face his addiction head on.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or


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