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Maine helps workers in an industry plagued with addiction

The hospitality industry is ranked the highest for substance use disorders -- double compared to what other industries have. Here in Maine, it's no different.

PORTLAND, Maine — The hospitality industry is fast-paced and stressful. It's also plagued with addiction.

This industry is ranked the highest for substance use disorders -- double compared to what other industries have.

Here in Maine, it's no different.

Tom Leahy knows that all too well. He loves to cook -- it's been a passion of his since he was young. 

Leahy and his wife, Nicole, own Espo's Trattoria on Congress Street in Portland. It's home to great food and a talented staff, most of whom are in recovery -- and that includes Leahy, who is 9 months sober.

"I'm getting older. I want to be happy. I don't want to rely on drugs and alcohol to get through the day," Leahy says.

But in the hospitality industry, where there are long hours and late nights, drug and alcohol abuse is no secret.

"One of the reasons when I moved to Maine I got into the restaurant business -- it's a party."

And it's a big problem.

"We kept going through the same revolving door where turnover was crazy in this industry, but drugs and alcohol is not," Leahy says.

It's why Hospitality Maine, a trade group representing the state's hotels and restaurants, is talking about the problem and trying to help businesses maintain a healthy workplace for its employees and guests.

They held a workshop on the subject at the 2019 Maine Restaurant and Lodging Expo at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

RELATED: Help Wanted: New program launched to help bolster workforce shortage in Maine's hospitality industry

Kerry Altiero, the owner and chef at Cafe Miranda in Rockland and a 38-year veteran of the industry, was a panelist.

"Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'I want to destroy my life and my family around me,'" Altiero says.

But it happens all too often -- so Altiero is now investing in more than just his employees.

"My thing is I invest in the community organizations that help people, in terms of prevention and also recovery."

Susan Polyot is a substance-use disorder councilor.

"It has to start with the industry. The culture has to change," Polyot says.

Polyot says that starts with businesses making consistent policies and having resource materials available. 

"When we start talking about it, we take the stigma away and make it okay for people to talk about it, and then it becomes okay for people to get help."

Help is what Tom Leahy needed to continue working at Espo's Trattoria. So he and his wife made their restaurant a safer environment to work in.

"It didn't take long to where we had a group of people that were looking for the same thing -- serenity and a paycheck," Leahy says.

And a family who understands all too well.

"Temptation is always going to be there. We hold ourselves accountable, and we're able to pick ourselves up when we fall, and we have each other's back."

Sounds like a recipe for success.

Leahy is currently taking classes at SMCC where he is studying to become a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.




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