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April 1976

About Alcoholism - Alcoholism Information, Research and Treatment

Trends in Industry

Many of these items are contrary to AA philosophy. Their publication here does not mean that the Grapevine endorses or approves them; they are offered solely for your information.

Sandin-Murray-Sutherland, Inc., a New York firm, uses a hard-headed approach to alcoholism counseling. Its clients are Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.; New Jersey's Public Service Electric & Gas Co.; and Marsh & McLennan, Inc., the insurance concern.

Companies like these are trying a bold and controversial strategy: They are putting teeth in their alcoholism programs. Most corporate programs for problem drinkers still wait passively for a handful of obvious alcoholics to show up with jittery hands and bloodshot eyes. But a few dozen aggressive programs, mainly started in the last few years, try to ferret out the secret alcoholic as soon as his performance starts to slip, often ten years before jittery hands set in.

These programs offer every possible help in recovery--no gimmicks, just the standard methods such as residential rehabilitation centers and Alcoholics Anonymous--and usually threaten instant dismissal if the employee doesn't use it.

The more effective corporate programs are achieving remarkably good recovery rates of 65% to 85%, says William S. Dunkin, assistant director of labor-management services at the National Council on Alcoholism. U.S. companies currently operate over 600 alcoholism programs, Mr. Dunkin says, double the figure five years ago. However, Paul A. Sherman, who directs the counseling program at International Telephone & Telegraph Corp., estimates that because of a lack of management and union support, fewer than 50 of these programs are working well.

The corporate programs show that the employee drinking problem is far greater than many executives believed possible. In Salt Lake City, the 7,300-employee Utah Copper division of Kennecott Copper Corp. says it has reached 660 alcoholic workers since it started an aggressive program five years ago. Similarly, the 38,000-worker New York City Transit Authority says its 19-year-old alcoholism program, one of the oldest aggressive programs in the country, has handled over 5,000 problem drinkers. The program regularly hospitalizes 175 to 200 workers a year, says Joseph M. Warren, its director.

While some critics find the methods harsh, counselors claim they are often the only hope of reaching the alcoholic. Once the counselors decide an employee is probably alcoholic, they usually send him to a physician for a double check. On a doctor's advice, many companies send their more serious problem drinkers to residential rehabilitation centers, commonly for about four weeks. Practically all the aggressive company programs insist on participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, preferably attending "90 meetings in 90 days" to start.

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