Chemical Dependency: When a Colleague Has a Problem

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CIII, No. 7/8July, 2003

Leslie Cardell, CSW

If you think the problem of chemical dependency hasn’t touched your life, stop and look around.

According to a conservative estimate by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 million Americans are affected by addiction.

The music industry is certainly no stranger to substance abuse. The Musicians’ Assistance Program was originally created in 1983 in response to musicians’ concerns about colleagues who were abusing alcohol or drugs. Since then, MAP has grown into a service that responds to a variety of members’ needs, but the issues involved in chemical dependency remain an important focus.

Perhaps there’s someone you’ve been concerned about, and you’re wondering if he or she has a problem with chemical dependency. How do you know? Contrary to popular belief, your colleague doesn’t have to be drinking or using drugs every day to have a problem, but here are some warning signs. Your friend may have a problem if he or she:

  • has been drinking or using drugs more than usual, even if the increase has been gradual, and over time.
  • has a personality change when under the influence.
  • periodically goes “on the wagon” or switches from one substance to another.
  • can’t seem to stop at just one.
  • is late more than usual, and the quality of the person’s work seems to be suffering.
  • has money problems, borrows often or runs up credit card debt.
  • gives explanations for events that don’t add up, and make you wonder if the person is lying.
  • has extreme mood swings from an upbeat agitated state to a low and depressed one.

When a colleague shows signs of abusing alcohol or drugs, it can be difficult to know how to respond, and you may wonder if anything you could say would even make a difference. It just might.

In a survey of people in recovery, almost 70 percent said they stopped using only after a friend or relative spoke to them about the problem. More than half doubted that they would have gone into recovery without the intervention of friends. Of those who hadn’t experienced such an intervention, 41 percent said they would have gotten help sooner if someone had expressed concern.

So how could you intervene? Here are some suggestions of what to discuss with your colleague:

  • Wait to talk to your friend until he or she is sober and clear-headed.
  • Express your concern in an honest, but respectful and caring way, using nonjudgmental language.
  • Offer specific examples of behaviors that concern you, and focus on the facts, without making accusations (“you cancelled rehearsal the other day,” rather than “you never keep your word”).
  • Tell the person how these behaviors affect you directly, and try to use “I” statements, since your friend can’t argue with your feelings (“I noticed&” or “I’m worried”).
  • Don’t use labels, blame or criticize your colleague. Your friend could feel attacked and become even more defensive. Simply state your concerns and encourage your friend to get a professional assessment.
  • Give your colleague the number of the MAP office (212-397-4802) and explain how we can help.
  • Don’t be surprised if your friend isn’t ready for help. Denial is one of the more unfortunate symptoms of substance abuse. Back off, and let your friend know you’ll be there when you’re needed.

MAP’s staff can provide the support that helps musicians confront their addiction, get treatment, stay sober and get their lives back on track. We offer members and their families assessment, counseling, referral to detoxification (if needed), rehabilitation and 12-step programs.

If a member doesn’t have health insurance, we can refer them to foundations that offer financial assistance for substance abuse treatment.

We continue to work with members throughout the recovery process, providing ongoing support as the person begins to rebuild their life without the substance. As with all of MAP’s assistance, these services are strictly confidential and free of charge.

Some of the sources for this article came from, and