Drinking & The Flight Attendant Life: When does drinking in aviation become a problem?

By Chase B

New Year’s Day 2015 was monumental for me.  For the first time since I began drinking at 16, I was alive and functioning after the festivities of the night before.  I greeted the sunrise in San Diego.  I curled my hair and put on my lipstick.  I had a very difficult day with flights full of tiny children who loved that funny little green button above their heads.  I went home and went for a long run in the sunshine that accented my neighborhood.  I was able to rise to the day’s occasions with energy and zest.  It felt amazing.  It was truly a personal revolution.

Living a good life

I quit drinking two months ago.  As a flight attendant, this is extraordinary.  From my experience in the industry, flight attendants and pilots drink.  And drink.  And drink.

Is drinking and other substance abuse in the airline industry a problem?  Many would say, yes.  Flight attendants I talked with have told me many stories- of finding bottles full of straight liquor on airplanes prepared just for overnights.  Crews drinking on “stand-ups” with less than an eight-hour layover, or just straight up drinking copiously on every overnight.  Flight Attendants even have a recovery group specifically for the demographic.  It’s called FADAP (Flight Attendant Drug and Alcohol Program).

Why is this?  My theory is that we are alone.  A lot.  Many of us work with new people each trip.  W are able to spend only short amounts of time with friends and family.  It is a lonely job.  When I drank, I did it to try to escape my boredom, loneliness, or my crippling social anxiety.  I drank to feel less alone.  It was a type of bonding mechanism to others.  Socializing, for me, was so much easier when I drank.  It would seem that when I drank, everyone would automatically become a friend and comrade.


My drinking came with costs.  When I noticed that it had begun to cause issues in my life, I was finally able to see that I had a drinking problem.  Among other things, my drinking interfered with medications that I needed to take.  My drinking caused me to be late or unprepared for work, which in this industry can easily break you.  My drinking, at times, put me and the people that I care about in danger.  Two months ago, my problems with alcohol came to a head.  I reached out to my little brother for help.  At two years sober, my brother was able to point me in the right direction.

My life has changed drastically in just 60 days.  My energy has skyrocketed.  I am far happier.  I am able to do more of the things that I love.  My integrity is in great place as I am able to go to work everyday on time, prepared, and not hungover.  I can exercise everyday, work long hours, and still greet each day with joy and alertness.

Chase Flight Attendant

How do you know if your drinking is problematic? Deciding whether or not you have a drinking problem is an extremely personal process.  I cannot emphasize enough that no matter what anyone says, you are the only one who has the authority to say if you have a drinking problem.  That being said, the main question I asked myself was: “Are my actions in line with my moral compass?” My answer was no, at least not while I was drinking.

So, now that you have resolved to cut down or stop drinking (for me, cutting down caused more stress and energy than just quitting altogether, but that is not the case for many), the question is, how? With colleagues and crews in new and exciting cities, how does one not partake in the common activity of layover drinking?

One thing I realized is that you can still participate without drinking.  You can still go out and have fun!  In fact, you can have just as much fun, and sometimes more fun without drinking.  Sober people, I have found are some of the most impressive, interesting, engaging and fun people I have ever met.

When I go out with people who are drinking, I will order a soda water, or ginger ale to defer any attention, and for that strange sense of security I get from just having a drink in my hand.  I have never been more hydrated in my life!  The best part about this is you can wake up the next day with vibrance and energy instead of feeling like laying in bed all day.  I noticed that since I stopped drinking, it is actually easier for me to get out of bed every day when before it was quite a struggle and many times resulted in my complete failure to get out of bed until the very last second.

Another strategy that helps me stay sober on overnights is planning something fun, exciting and perhaps even physically challenging the next morning in the city you’re in. I have enjoyed many early nights in so that I could go on hikes and runs in Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods or Calgary’s river walk. Reminding myself that I would not have been able to have the same experience of the new city if I had been drinking gives me new resolve to stay sober.

Colorado Springs Layover

What can I say, I also love a RON DIY spa night. I always carry with me all the supplies I need for a relaxing night in. In my swanky 15th floor room overlooking Calgary’s urban vibrance last night, I gave myself a mini facial (cleanse, exfoliate, tone, mask, tone again) and a manicure. I will often take long baths with Netflix on my laptop, my favorite essential oils I always keep in my bag or maybe some Bjork and a book.  Afterwards, I always take time to moisturize and read some more.

Relaxing Layover

Not only do these activities keep me from drinking, they keep me from feeling sorry for myself or angry that I can’t drink.

Making the decision to not drink came at me unexpectedly, but it was also a journey. The decision I made was an incredibly personal one that I had to arrive at on my own. Quitting alcohol has changed my life, and I thank the powers that be for each sober day.

What is your experience with alcohol abuse in the airline industry? Do you feel like it’s a problem? Are you a sober crewmember? What has been your experience? I would love to hear your thoughts!

For more information and resources about alcoholism and substance abuse, visit fadap.com or www.aa.org.

About The Author

Chase B. is a flight attendant with a regional carrier based in The Pacific Northwest.  She loves punk rock music and going on adventures.

About the Author Kara

Max says January 31, 2015

Interesting subject. I think it depends on many factors – age being one of them.
Certainly, when I first started we’d drink on layovers because we were in party mode like our non-aviation friends were… we just happened to do it in London, Paris and other cities (plus… PUBS!)

Being away for major holidays probably figured into it. I used to say that we worked hard, and we played hard. Jetlag made it harder to sleep so a drink here and there helped with that.

Now, I drink much less. Not a slam-clicker, but maybe one beer/wine with dinner and that’s it. I know my limitations and I like to be well-rested for long days. I worked with a hangover ONCE. It was over 20 years ago but I still remember it well (yet I can’t remember if I had breakfast this am 😉

On the other hand… there are those that still think they’re much younger and drink to excess, thus putting extra work load on those of us that aren’t hungover the next day. Much like just about every other industry – there are those who have a drinking problem and know it, and those that refuse to face that fact until it ruins them and their career.

Debi says September 8, 2016

I’m on day 8 of my free from booze Flight Attendant journey…..How are you doing now several months into your journey?

    Chase B says September 8, 2016

    Hi Debi! A year and a half later, and I’m still going strong. Living sober has been absolutely incredible for me. It’s still hard at times, but I’m finding that life just works better for me this way. I can truly say that today I am living in my actual dream and I could not be where I am today if I were still drinking. Happy trails!

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