Just How Difficult Is It To Be a Recovering Alcoholic in Public Accounting Anyway?

Hi my name is Adrienne and I'm a snarkaholic. If you are just dying to tell someone your life story, let's meet in the church basement and talk it out. We're here for you, buddy. It works if you work it!

Wonderfully Sarcastic GC team,
I have a serious question, even if it brings down the mood on the site for a post or so (we can get back to McGladrey bashing or talking about how KPMG makes it the Big 3 1/2 next, I promise). No use mincing words, so…I'm a recovering alcoholic.

Long story short, I have been sober since April; I finished my Master's in May; and I start my job with the Big Four in two weeks. I cannot even go into a bar, as I have found out the hard way. Even being around a single beer is a terrible idea (as anyone who has dealt with alcoholism knows). On to the questions…

How much will this hinder me when starting work? I interned in industry, so I don't have first-hand experience with Big 4 drinking, but I am concerned if all the new hires meet for drinks after training, or if my senior/manager on an engagement wants to grab a beer after a long day.

Similarly, how much discretion can I expect if I reveal my alcoholism to certain people at the firm? If I tell my senior that I can't grab a beer because I'm an alcoholic, should I expect everyone in the firm to know within a week or two? Also, if I do disclose my alcoholism to my senior, will it be looked at as a weakness by the firm? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps even spark a discussion in the comments?

Note to potential commenters: I get that this is the Internet, but I'm looking for a modicum of serious advice. Please take pity on a recovering alcoholic.

Soberly yours,
Bill W

First of all: congratulations, OP. I know, maybe I shouldn't congratulate you for coming to the conclusion that you are a lush but the important part here is you recognized it and climbed out of the abyss. As anyone who has been through it can tell you, that is no easy task.

You already know that you have your work cut out for you not only in the first few years of your career but for the rest of your life. Lucky for you, you picked a profession known not only for nurturing more alcoholics than, say, the exotic dancing industry but one that tends to pile so much stress on a normal human being that if you aren't an alcoholic going in, you'll surely be one going out. It's a good thing the stereotypes are simply generalizations and not necessarily reality, however. In other words, I'm pretty sure you'll come across more fellow recovering alcoholics in your career than you think.

Your personal life is not your colleagues' business. At this point, you aren't comfortable enough to go to the bar and order a Sprite (and who wants to do that anyway?) so what I would suggest is to confide in your mentor at the firm if you have one, possibly your senior if he or she is cool and/or understanding and no one else. You still run the risk of getting judged (show up to work tired with bags under your eyes just one day and suddenly they're wondering if you're back on the sauce) but that's something you're going to have to learn to deal with.

Since you cannot participate in the drinking component of firm socialization, I would highly recommend you attend any other events or activities with your colleagues you can. Otherwise they'll perceive your constant rejection of their invitations to the bar as being an asshole and you don't need that heat right now. A reasonable person might look at your situation and go "Wow, you know, this guy has a lot of character. He came to a tough realization at a young age and worked hard to fix his life, how admirable!" but you and I both know public accounting isn't necessarily reasonable. So don't expect a round of hugs if you confess your situation in a moment of weakness.

So yeah, you might be a bit of a pariah at first. The firm probably won't bend over backwards to pat you on the back for not being able to hold your liquor. Will it hurt your career long-term? Absolutely not. Your work will speak for itself once you have some experience under your belt, so be the guy people want to work with who does good work and you will do just fine.

You already know you'll be missing out on a huge component of the public accounting experience – namely, getting hammered with your colleagues – but by missing it, you automatically guarantee you'll never be the guy who shits his pants at the holiday party or punches an associate just after kissing him on the lips. That's pretty reassuring.

On the flipside of that, however, the temptations will be there and plenty so not to sound cliche here but just take it one day at a time. Avoid the temptations as best you can, resist the urge to go all 4th step on your client if you screw up their work and keep your sponsor close just in case. Once you're more comfortable in your career and sobriety, maybe you can go out to the bar and order a Sprite, or maybe you're one of those alcoholics who can never, under any circumstances, even be around the stuff, in which case you'll get really good at carrying around a vodka cranberry sans vodka at holiday parties.

Worst case scenario, it's too much and you have to find a new career. Unfortunately I do not know any career that doesn't preclude itself to heavy drinking. School bus driver, maybe? I dunno, I swear mine was drunk all through middle school.

Good luck and by all means, feel free to reach out if you need a sympathetic ear along the way. I can't speak for my black-hearted colleague but we're far more compassionate than our reputation leads you to believe.

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