According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, employees of the restaurant industry use illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, at double the rate of the national average. More than 17 percent of workers are addicted to drugs, alcohol or both. Chefs, prep cooks, servers, bartenders, managers, and bouncers rely heavily on cocaine to get them through fast-paced, exhausting shifts.
Popular TV chef Gordon Ramsay became so disturbed by the prevalence of cocaine use in restaurants that he made a documentary film about it.
It’s not just employees who have made eateries a hub for cocaine use. Customers are to blame as well. The celebrity chef reports that it’s common for high-profile customers to request a sprinkling of coke over their souffles or a clean plate for doing lines in the restroom. Many diners kill two birds with one stone by patronizing restaurants in which servers double as drug dealers. A bartender in London was recently busted for selling coke over the bar top in drink menu folders.
Chef Ramsay takes coke addiction quite personally. He lost his talented head chef, David Dempsey, to cocaine in 2003. Dempsey had a bad reaction to whatever he’d been sold in a club. After becoming delirious, he fell 40 feet to his death from the roof of his apartment.
According to an interview with Ramsay in October 2017, his brother Ronnie, a coke addict who had progressed to heroin, had taken off for Portugal several months prior and hadn’t been seen since. At the time of the interview, Ramsay had no idea if Ronnie was dead or alive.
Rampant cocaine use in restaurants is better understood if you know what cocaine does and what it’s like to work in restaurants.
At appropriate times, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, that are responsible for emotions like pleasure, motivation and reward. The chemicals are normally reabsorbed and recycled for the next use.
First, cocaine prevents these feel-good chemicals from being reabsorbed, so overly high levels flood reward pathways in the brain. The result is an immediate, intense euphoria that lasts anywhere from five to 30 minutes.
Second, cocaine triggers the release of additional dopamine. That accounts for users feeling more alert, energetic and talkative.
Most restaurants are open continuously throughout the day and night. Servers and bartenders who come up short at rent time routinely pull back-to-back shifts. Depending on business hours, a waiter who works from lunch to closing time may put in a 15-hour workday. Most of that time is spent hustling on his feet, keeping track of orders in his head and talking to guests and cooks. It’s easy to see, then, how someone who has been at it for 12 hours might be attracted to a drug that boosts his energy and makes him more sociable.
Cooks and servers are under considerable pressure to deliver high-quality meals and beverages as quickly as possible, so working in restaurants is especially stressful. However briefly, coke makes people feel happy, relaxed and in control.
The prevalence of coke can also be attributed to the heavy cash flow in restaurants. If a guest or coworker has drugs to sell, it’s no problem for a bartender with $200 in tips in his pocket.
Finally, unless an employee is injured on the job, most restaurants do not conduct drug tests. Cocaine users may be attracted to the business for that reason.
A Recipe for Disaster
The health risks of coke include agitation, anxiety, paranoia, aggression, delusions, respiratory failure, heart attack and stroke. As if those weren’t scary enough, restaurants have extremely high potential for injury. Throw in slippery floors, sharp knives and deep fryers, and you can see how working in a restaurant as a coke addict could be life-changing or even fatal. The last thing a fry cook needs is a drug that makes him jumpy. The last thing a bouncer needs is an extra dose of aggression.
The risk of sudden death is 20 times greater when cocaine is combined with alcohol, yet many bartenders use coke and drink on the sly during shifts.
What’s the Solution for Cocaine Use in Restaurants?
It’s almost impossible to quit cocaine without professional help for addiction, but the chances of recovery are very good for people who undergo detox and intensive therapy in quality rehab facilities.
Given the widespread cocaine use in restaurants, staying clean for good may call for pursuing another line of work.