Square Mile tackles ‘high functioning’ drink and drug addicts

Boozy City Lunches

This month, the Financial News interviews WDP’s Medical Director and Joint Chief Executive Officer, Dr Arun Dhandayudham, and WDP Square Mile Health’s Operations Manager, Laura Morton, highlighting City workers who regularly drink or use drugs, yet who would not consider themselves a stereotypical addict. Below is an excerpt from that interview:


Finance’s reputation as an industry of long boozy lunches and drug-fuelled nights out stretches back decades. And despite the emergence of the uber health-conscious worker arriving at the office in their lycra, the City still plays home to its share of regular drinkers and recreational drug takers – most of whom see themselves as a breed apart from the stereotypical addict.
“Look at a rough sleeper with a can of something. That’s the image most people have as having a problem with alcohol,” said Laura Morton, operations manager at Square Mile Health. “If that’s your perception, you’re never going to [consider you] have a problem with alcohol until or unless you turn into the vision.”
Now entering its second year, the Square Mile Health initiative – a service of the Westminster Drug Project, in partnership with the City of London Corporation – goes into City firms to provide their staff access to services that can help with excessive drinking and drug-taking and treat more serious addiction issues.
In 2016, some 2,000 of the Square Mile’s 400,000 working population engaged with the WDP to learn more about how to get help with addiction-related issues.


‘There’s still stigma around it. It’s not something you would tell your friends or colleagues’


Far from being an issue of the past, signs of increasing drug use are mounting.
Last year, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported that cocaine use in London, after having fallen steadily since 2010, had begun to rise again in recent years. The agency, which tests how much of the substance is found in wastewater, found London was second only to Oslo within Europe for the presence of the drug.
Alcohol statistics are harder to come by, but a report by City Hall in April showed that although the City is the capital’s smallest local authority area by area and population, with 150 venues it is joint sixth for the number of pubs and bars it contains.
It’s a small step, but WDP hopes its service, which is offered for free to all companies based in the City of London, will be taken up by more human resources teams who can tailor the service that WDP provides their company’s staff.
“Companies can contact us with a shopping list that they need to address. It might be absenteeism, presenteeism – where staff may turn up for work, but they’re next-to-useless as they’re all hungover – or general productivity,” said Morton. “There’s a big financial incentive for businesses and HR to get people into work and for them to be productive.”
The project visits banks, fund managers and law firms and promotes wellbeing and healthy living, rather than poking an accusative finger.
Morton said WDP avoids “comparing workers to a rough sleeper on the corner. A problem is very subjective”. She added that many City workers are so “high-functioning” while drunk, high or hungover, that they do not acknowledge that they have issues.
“We work with people where they are, find out what they need, tailoring sessions around what they want. A conversation can signpost to another service. People often then phone us asking for advice and we then can help them find what they need.”
The next step is to access services in workers’ local areas. These services can only be provided by authorities where someone lives, therefore the City, which hosts a much larger working than residential population, cannot support workers directly. However, convincing the typical City worker to use their local services can prove a challenge.


‘People think: I’m not there. That’s not me. It’s what helps people justify their behaviour’


“There’s still stigma around it,” said Dr Arun Dhandayudham, joint chief executive officer and medical director at WDP. “It’s not something you would tell your friends or colleagues.” He added that some City workers – used to a high-achieving, middle-class office environment – found the prospect of attending a local, community substance abuse service off-putting.
The WDP aims to meet workers in their office or somewhere they feel comfortable in their working lives “so people don’t feel they have to walk into a life they don’t identify with”, said Dhandayudham.
Faced with groups of people drawn from a different sector of society, Morton said: “People think: I’m not there. That’s not me. It’s what helps people justify their behaviour. [They] think, I’ve still got a job, I’m still doing well. And some attribute their success to some of their actions – taking clients out, etc. That’s the perception and they’re not thinking about the consequences for themselves.”
Dhandayudham emphasised the programme’s confidentiality agreements with participants. The WDP does not discuss anything with participants’ employers and encouraged individuals to contact them for a chat, even if their company does not offer the service.