Alcoholic in the Room Next Door?

drinking45647596Without a doubt, life overseas can be lonely at times. Being single at a small school, especially, may lead to feelings of isolation & possibly the need for a “little something” to lean on. Likewise, teachers may be tempted to “wash” away the stress & strain of a week at school if they’re in a party town where bars, clubs & cheap liquor are the norm or the only opportunity to socialize.

We all enjoy a drink off-and-on, be it wine, beer or spirits. But when liquor starts to affect teaching & on-the-job performance, there’s a problem. ISR is dotted with Reviews that complain of teachers who drink to excess & the effect this has on the teacher &/or their school.

We recently spotted the topic of alcohol on the ISR Forum. To expand the discussion, we’ve transplanted the topic to you, our Newsletter readers. Here’s the original post:

“At my current school, a disproportionate number of my colleagues seem to have very serious drinking problems. I’ve heard stories from teachers at other schools about colleagues who enjoying drinking quite a bit, but at this school it really seems to be a very big problem. Since it’s a small school and not easy to just distance yourself, I looked up Alcoholics Anonymous to see if there is a local chapter. No. These teachers seem like decent people, but their behavior – both outside and inside of school – seems to be effected by their alcoholism and its associated problems.
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Has anyone experienced anything similar and have you seen it dealt with in an effective way, either by the individuals themselves or by administrators? I am seriously expecting to walk in some morning and hear that one of them is dead . . . it’s that bad.”

Whether you’ recognize this trend in yourself, a colleague, or simply hoping to realign your school environment toward a healthier situation, what can you do when confronting the dark reality of alchohol abuse? Should you mind your own business, look the other way? Or, face possible ostracism by finding a way to bring help to others, even yourself? The international teaching community, or maybe even the teacher sitting right next to you may be seeking answers to just this question. Go to Blog

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40 Responses to Alcoholic in the Room Next Door?

  1. Suzanne says:

    I am one of the few who doesn’t drink at my school and although there don’t appear to be more than 1 or 2 with the disease of alcoholism, I am still a social outcast because I am not only sober, I am over 40, which translates to irrelevant and invisible to the majority, who are either in admin or 20-somethings. I don’t let it bother me too much and I concentrate on making myself happy. I am lucky there are support meetings in my city. As far as others’ drinking–it is none of my business. If you feel led to mention it, you had better let someone in recovery or a medical professional handle it; I am not sure an addict will listen to anyone else. I am sorry if your school is affected by substance abuse. It’s a nasty illness and hard to treat. I pray the sick find their “rock bottom” quickly and seek the help they need.

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  2. Brian Meegan says:

    Living in Saudi Arabia is no different. A 74-year-old Brit was recently released from jail after over a year, for transporting and distributing alcohol. A colleague of mine, an excellent teacher, was sent home 24 hours ago, after going missing for a few days, and then being discovered having been involved in an incident while inebriated. And some other residents of our compound were arrested and jailed for a while for possession (or being in the presence of some who possessed) of drugs and alcohol. Where does the alcohol come from ? The consulates and embassies, the Royal Family, or others with connections.

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  3. John says:

    As adults we are afforded the ability to make our own choices. some people choose to alter their mood with alcohol, others with prozac, others reading their holy books, and others choose to pass judgement. It would be a pretty boring world if everyone was the same.

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  4. A.G says:

    You’re getting paid to teach, not manage other teachers. It’s the job of the administration to deal with whatever issues teachers have, not yours. And I doubt you are qualified to assess whether someone is an alcoholic or not, and even if you are, see the above two sentences.

    The only time you are justified in saying anything is if it exposes you or a student to a demonstrative risk. Then yes, you should say something that way you are on record and you can protect yourself from potential claims of negligence (“He saw what was going on but didn’t do anything”).

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Drinking does not enhance your teaching and it can sure as hell mess it up. As has been mentioned, it is up to the individual to make a decision about that ultimately. I will note that in many international schools they most certainly do think it their business what you do own your own time if it is in public.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Alcoholism is a very serious illness and it is unlikely that the OP’s co-workers are alcoholics or that they need AA. Obviously coming into work stinking of booze is an issue, but what they do outside of work is their own business. There is a big difference between drinking a lot and being a true alcoholic. I work with a lot of people who drink excessively but they still go to work and do their jobs. If I thought there was an issue with a colleague’s drinking (or other activities/behaviour) then I would speak to them about it. I worked with one teacher who didn’t drink much allowed their personal life to seriously impact their teaching as they did not properly prepare for work and never knew what they were going to do the next day. At the same time I had another colleague who drank excessively several nights a week but was always prepared, punctual, and professional. The first teacher did far more disservice to their students than the one who drank. So long as private and professional life are essentially kept separate who cares? Also, be careful when accusing someone of alcoholism. Other than that, don’t pass judgement on others, and if you have a concern, speak with them privately.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I drank before teaching overseas, but I became an alcoholic in India. I was isolated and lonely, and the bottle became my best friend. I knew I had a problem and I made it to AA, but I’d only stop drinking for max 3 weeks at a time. I developed serious alcohol-related health problems and realized that I was dying. I stopped drinking 2 years ago, woke up, met someone, and got married. Life is better without booze. Achieving sobriety is hard work, but will only succeed if one is intrinsically motivated.

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  8. Thomas says:

    I have also seen this problem in schools around the world. Perhaps the worst was in Shanghai where excessive alcohol consumption was actively promoted by the director who served staff and faculty wine and spirits in his office. The HS principal, an American woman, was drunk in a local bar on a regular basis along with her ‘cadre’ of teachers and administrators. When I voiced concern over this situation I was considered ‘not a team player’, and became a target of derision by the principal and her clique. The director, an Irish ‘lad’ seemed to think I was just ‘one of those prudish Americans’. This was an impossible situation for many reasons, not the least of which was the problem of alcohol abuse.

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    • Wizzy says:

      Thomas, I encountered a similar problem in the same city, Shanghai.
      I was singled out because I do not drink to all hours and come to work stinking of booze.
      One co-worker insisted that I should experiment with cocaine, since that ‘is what everyone’ does. Sadly, this bloke just moved out of mummy’s house at 43 years of age.
      On paper, the school is great, one of the leading K-12 schools not only in Shanghai but China, but beneath the veneer it full of washed up drug addicts. ( 11 out of twenty co-worker)

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  9. Old School says:

    I think the best thing to do if you think some one is an alcoholic is to talk with them one to one and just let them know if they need someone to talk to you are there (do not even bring up their drinking). The true alcoholic really wants to stop drinking but can not and one of the biggest issues they face is a sense of loneliness.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Just an immature way to act in general….lots of people do it at some point in their lives, in foreign countries or not. In a foreign country that they don’t really care to live in for the long term? Of course people are going to enjoy themselves. It’s part of what they went there for. Some developing countries are a lot easier to make a living in and to have bad habits in than developed ones. Can your school afford to raise its standards, or is it hard to get any teachers at all? Schools have to decide that for themselves.

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  11. truth says:

    I think stress and loneliness in a different country is an excuse. I have worked with several “teachers’ (mostly from the U.K.) who drink beer every chance or opportunity they get or like others say one is suppose to drink water. I believed these people came to the schools this way, grew up this way, and were happy to live cheap in a country with cheap beer. Also, many of the teachers partied at the same clubs as and had sex with the upper grade (aged) students, and bragged about it. I seriously suspected many of the also often racist “cheap labor”, whose White faces made money for the school, had low to no professional skills and experiences and had criminal records where they came from.These “international teachers” simply felt they could not make it in the U.K., America, Australia, etc, lived high on the land (compared to local standards), did what they did to keep their jobs, while maintaining a quiet and clear understanding with local and foreign administrators of what was up. As BP Rawlins mentioned above, it could be said to be a good ole boys hookup abroad.

    A White administrator at the most popular international school in east Africa once openly admitted to hiring mostly White teachers from the region he is from in the U.S.., as he was known even by those closet to him for not really hiring teachers of color- even from the U.S..Once again, the good ole boys’ drinking culture, racism, sexism, reserved and restricted privileges and practices, and often define “international schools”.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    I think stress and loneliness in a different country is an excuse. I have worked with several “teachers’ (mostly from the U.K.) who drink beer every chance or opportunity they get or like others say one is suppose to drink water. I believed these people came to the schools this way, grew up this way, and were happy to live cheap in a country with cheap beer. Also, many of the teachers partied at the same clubs as and had sex with the upper grade (aged) students, and bragged about it. I seriously suspected many of the also often racist “cheap labor”, whose White faces made money for the school, had low to no professional skills and experiences and had criminal records where they came from.These “international teachers” simply felt they could not make it in the U.K., America, Australia, etc, lived high on the land (compared to local standards), did what they did to keep their jobs, while maintaining a quiet and clear understanding with local and foreign administrators of what was up. As BP Rawlins mentioned above, it could be said to be a good ole boys hookup abroad.

    A White administrator at the most popular international school in east Africa once openly admitted to hiring mostly White teachers from the region he is from in the U.S.., as he was known even by those closet to him for not really hiring teachers of color- even from the U.S..Once again, the good ole boys’ drinking culture, racism, sexism, reserved and restricted privileges and practices, and often define “international schools”.

    Like

  13. jd says:

    I am a recovering alcoholic with quite a few years of sobriety and have worked in international schools for six years. I have been on both sides of the problem and sadly can say until someone wants and seeks help not too much can change. Worse yet there are less AA programs to offer help overseas. Some counseling… That being said I choose the school I teach in here in a medium size city in South America because there is a good AA group which I am a regular part of. I speak Spanish so it works for me but it would have difficult to sober up that way. Many people with substance abuse problems are attracted to the overseas life, its easy to hide a problem, theres a lot of social partying anyway, the cultural differences tend to blur the apparent addiction problems, and most just head to a new spot after two years, right when everybody is about done with them. Good topic.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    It’s pretty simple to me. I have been teaching overseas for 7 years now and I drink but it’s never been a problem. Why? Because I only drink on Friday night which gives me Saturday and Sunday to regain full strength and go in feeling strong on Monday. I would never drink on a school night teaching is the worst way to spend a hangover.

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  15. Jim says:

    As for anyone who accepts someone at work that is under the influence of alcohol then maybe a good dose of the movie “Flight” would be helpful. If you are charged with the care of children then you should be in a state to do so.

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  16. John Vagabond says:

    This has happened more than once in my career. I taught in countries where the only alcohol to be had was bootleg ‘vodka’ or similar where a lot of worried alcoholics go precisely because drink is hard to come by. A friend’s life became unmanageable and sadly, he died. The problem lies in the fact that even if the teacher is a hopeless alcoholic, just throwing him on a plane home usually puts him on the streets. The point I am making is, yes, interfere. Make them get appropriate help if required and if and when they get cleaned up, accept them back.

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    • Old School says:

      I think this is a great idea in a perfect world but from my experience these schools are basically businesses and teachers replaceable workers. Few administrators will take the time and expense to do this.

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  17. I love a drink or two and I have no problem with teachers who drink. As many people here say, if it doesn’t affect their performance at school then I don’t think that anyone should interfere as its not their problem.
    However, this is not always the case. Recently I was teaching with a friend who really was an alcoholic. He was more or less fine as long as he didn’t have a drink. But, after one drink, he couldn’t control his need to keep on drinking and soon it became obvious at work as he took more and more time off and, at times, came to school ‘not his usual self’.
    The morning that he was sacked and escorted to the airport by the owner of the school, I met him in the hallway between our flats. I had to hold him up and stop him from falling down the stairs. He stank of booze and could hardly speak – this was at 06:45.
    The other trouble was that he still, today, hasn’t accepted that he has a problem – and this is at least the second school that he has been sacked from (consecutive schools).
    In his eyes the schools have been at fault. It is a sad situation. I just hope that he can come to terms with it and ask for help before he kills himself.

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    • Old School says:

      I think the word is going to get out about him in the international circuit if this is the second contract he did not complete because of his drinking. Its a lot smaller then you may think. In this economy he will need to be able to explain a 2-3 year absence from teaching but maybe not being able to find a job is what he needs to go through to deal with this alcoholism.

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  18. anonymous says:

    Alcohol and drugs does interfere with the school culture or perhaps defines it. Often the school leader may be at the center of it all. Next add in sex with young prostitutes or even harassing young teachers from the country of the school and staying to finish your contract can be a challenge. This particular school where this happened to me was listed with an international teacher placement agency…those recruiters know the situation and looked the other way. Now I am at a great school…so glad I finished my contract.

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  19. Tom says:

    My Mother is a Born Again Christian and she believes that one beer is “too much.” I have read several descriptions of what constitutes an “Alcoholic” and all of them have been different, not to mention that over the years they change the definition as well. Your job is to come in and do the best possible teaching that you can for your students. If one of your colleagues is drinking too much on their free time and it is getting in the way of their performance at school then the school administration has the duty of managing the problem, not you. If their behavior crosses over into your territory then you have a reason to bring it up to administration but otherwise, mind your own business.

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  20. Joe C says:

    I think it depends on a number of things. Currently, I work at a school where excessive drinking is the norm in the country of origin of the majority of western expats teachers (UK and just my opinion). However, what I see as excessive, others see as normal. If it affects the school and the students, then it is a problem to be reported. If it’s just people going out to have a good time, I say let them if it’s not affecting me or the school. Having said that on my first overseas assignment (over 15 years ago) I saw the issue differently. I was given a roommate who popped a beer first thing in the morning before school. This put me in a difficult situation, but I felt that I needed to report it. The school listened to me, but let it go on for a month until the guy was on the field with his second graders and fell flat on his face drunk.

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  21. unaffected says:

    If it doesn’t affect your job and how you do it, people should mind their own business. What teachers do in their off time is their own business as long as they do the job well and are professionals.

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    • Tom says:

      I second that.

      Like

    • Old School says:

      If a person is an alcoholic it will eventually affect their job performance. If they are just social drinker it will not. To look the other way when you know someone has a drinking problem is only setting them up for a really big problem down the road.

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      • Anonymous says:

        One of the teachers in my school has “fallen” because he’s “clumsy” twice since we started in August. Smashed his face up both times. Drinks every night in a bar about a block from the school, and staggers home at all hours on weekends making all kinds of noise. Most recently, he “fell” the Sunday night before PTC Monday and had some lie to tell students and parents. Sure a person’s private life is their own, but professionally this guy’s clock is ticking. Excessive use of alcohol will eventually cause problems for the addict, doesn’t matter if they pay their bills and show up for work on time.

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    • Anonymous says:

      In some ways I agree with this but I also feel that depending in what country/school you’re in, you must go in recognizing that there’s going to be a blurry line between your “off time” and your professional time. I drink and probably more abroad than I do when I’m in the States so I’m not knocking drinking. I’m not even against getting “too drunk” every once in awhile. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a very fine and delicate line between the professional and the private in some countries. When I first started teaching abroad I was at school in a large city but with a fairly tight knit expat community. A group of teachers were big weekend and weekday drinkers and routinely got into public drunken scuffles and dangerous situations (that would have probably been prosecutable had they not been operating under western expat privilege). Because it was not on professional time (and they were great to fair teachers) they were allowed to continue working. Ultimately they were the involved in an incident where an innocent local person was seriously injured as a result of their drunken behavior and it created a whole host of issues for the school in years after for hiring and obtaining visas. I feel like if the school had addressed the issues a lot earlier the situation could have been avoided. In my experience consistent excessive private life drinking usually bleeds into the professional life at some point.

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  22. BP Rawlins says:

    This is indeed a widespread problem. It seems to be partly a personal response to the stress of bad working conditions in “international education”, but there is often a cultural aspect as well amongst White Anglo expatriate ‘good old boys’. ‘Fitting in’ with work ‘mates’ often involves being seen to be a ‘manly’ drinker, and the calibre of management can be evaluated in their eyes on such grounds as well.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    I suppose for some people, living abroad can be stressful or uncomfortable, which makes them turn to alcohol more frequently than they would have in their home country. What I have found disturbing, or strange, is that I have been in two ‘dry’ countries and that fact seems to drive many to drink even more. Why choose to work and live in a country where alcohol is illegal or restricted if you like to drink?

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    • Old School says:

      I think they go to these countries thinking it will almost be like rehab where they have to get sober but no matter where you go if there is a demand for a good there will be a supply, you just have to pay more.

      Like

  24. Ouch!!! says:

    I worked in Thailand and this was a problem at our school. These guys would go out and party all night with the bar girls and then drag themselves into school in the morning smelling of liquor and cigarettes, along with perfume that rubbed of on them. Drinking seemed to be the sport of some of these teachers and the admin just accepted it without ever saying a word. Eventually the parents got wind of what was going on and they put pressure on the director who still did nothing. Finally the board president stepped in and got rid of the director and this group of teachers and he ran the school for a semester. The following a new director came and everything was nice again. Drinking is fine but teachers who drink to get drunk really need to clean up their act or go home.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    I think we worked at that school (lol) Was it in Turkey?

    Like

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