Support Groups Offer Food Industry Workers A Way To Help Each Other Through Addiction

By Victoria Kim 06/14/19
The passing of Anthony Bourdain is one reason why the restaurant industry is paying more attention to mental health.
food industry worker

Workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry have among the highest rates of substance abuse, according to SAMHSA. Twelve-step programs like AA have helped, some say, but restaurant industry-specific support communities have emerged out of a need for a more targeted response.

The growing awareness of these issues in the community was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times.

With high rates of drug and alcohol abuse come depression, anxiety and disordered eating. Those in the industry say that a “confluence” of factors culminated in more chefs, servers, bartenders and sommeliers, among others, speaking up about their personal struggles with mental health and substance use disorder.

“Tony’s passing away was a watershed moment,” said TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern. Chef, documentarian and author Anthony Bourdain died by suicide last June, shocking both the industry and fans.

“There’s a confluence of events,” said Steve Palmer, who co-founded a restaurant support group called Ben’s Friends. “High-profile chefs getting sober, Bourdain, the opiate crisis, with people dying at a much younger age. That accelerated the conversation.”

Palmer and Mickey Bakst, both restaurant veterans, established Ben’s Friends in 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. They named the support community after their friend, chef Ben Murray, who struggled with depression and substance abuse before he died by suicide.

Ben’s Friends has chapters in North Carolina (Raleigh and Charlotte); Richmond, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Oregon.

I Got Your Back is another resource for those in the hospitality industry. The organization was established in Sacramento by chef Patrick Mulvaney, sparked by a recent and “sudden rash of suicides and overdoses in the restaurant industry” in Sacramento.

Playing off terms familiar to industry workers—like “In the weeds? There’s help.”—IGYB caters to the shared experience of working long hours, often under high pressure.

Steve Palmer emphasized the importance of having a space where everyone speaks the same language. “We believe that because of the hours and the subculture, we really needed something that spoke to our business. We felt that we needed to come out from the shadows and be a loud voice so that people know that we’re here.”

“The more conversation, the more transparency, the better—anything that supports folks in this industry, which has always been a great place to hide out,” said Zimmern, who has nearly 30 years of recovery.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr