Lying was becoming a habit for Montgomery County elementary school principal Brian Carson. When he arrived home at night from a local bar, he would lie to his wife about where he had been and why he was late.

At school, he would lie to his fellow administrators about why he had left reports unfinished. "I lied and covered up all the time because I was hung over and unable to cope," said Carson, a reformed alcoholic.

In part, Carson -- not his real name -- felt unable to deal with the changing nature of his job, with the new rules and new standards that governed his work. With each innovation by the system's central office there were new forms to complete, new questions to be answered, and diminished feelings of creativity, Carson said.

The principal found himself drinking more and more in local bars "after meetings that seemed to come up every day and go on endlessly into the night."

Carson is one of more than 400 county school employes who have sought counseling from the system's Employe Assistance Program, a three-year-old $95,000-a-year project whose value is being questioned by the conservative majority of the county school board.

According to Miriam K. Cameron, the program's director, more than 2,500 of the schools' 12,000 employes suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse or other emotional disorders that arise from the "pressures of coping" with school work and family and marital difficulties.

The board's majority last week decided to cut a $25,000 increase in the program, citing fiscal restraint. It was one of many administrative cuts made the majority in an effort to redistribute the budget to the classroom.

Board member Joseph Barse said later that the program "is one of a number of things in the administration I'm not sure the system should be involved in."

The idea of employe assistance programs was first tried in private industry in the late 1940s, and later was picked up by such government agencies as the military and local police departments. But it hasn't been until recently that public education officials began recognizing the peculiar problems of school workers.

Montgomery County was the first school system in the nation to set up such a program, which offers counseling and referral services. According to Cameron, the system next year will lose as much as $8 million in terms of excessive sick leave, reduced job performance and other "hidden costs" from "mentally impaired" employes.

Carson and elementry school teacher Helen Wile also a pseudonym, offered contrasting reasons for why they became alcoholics, and why they turned to the program for help.

Wile, 42, began drinking heavily when she quit teaching for 10 years to care for her children at home.

"I loved work and wanted to get back into it," she said. She said she came from an "upper middle class black background" where everyone "drank sherry out of beautiful crystal glasses."

Wile remained active in black women's clubs in the district, but, when the family moved to Montgomery County in the early 1970's she was "cut off from all that and had to take up the life of a happy suburban housewife."

"I was really isolated," she said. "I didn't have a job and my friends seemed light years away."

She said she made increasingly frequent trips to a corner liquor store, picking up bottles of sherry. Finally, she returned to work in 1974 in the school system.

"My job was a real release, she said, "I poured all kinds of energy into it and all of my supervisors said I was doing excellent work."

But still she returned to the liquor store every day after work.

"I always equated alcoholism with the Bowery," she said. "But the first thing I did coming home from work every day was stop at that corner store and get some more sherry."

Eventually, Wile's drinking caused a break-up of her marriage. She said she would call in sick at least once or twice a week during the 1976-77 school year because she was too hung over to work.

"My brain felt swollen and I'd get up in the morning and see my face in the mirror. I knew I couldn't go out," she said. The "bottom" came in November 1977 when a county judge gave custody of her children to her husband.

"I drank a bathtub of sherry after that," she said.

Wile went on a one-year sick leave from her $22,000 job after spending a week in a county-run detoxification center. After receiving counseling from the schools' program, she enrolled in a $2,800 private rehabilitation clinic in Olney, where she took classes and joined group therapy with "lawyers, an airline pilot, writers and lots of other very professional people who just happened to have the same problem I had."

Wile is teaching again, has regained custody of her children, and is active in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Carson, the school principal also enrolled in the Olney clinic, but only after he was urged to by Cameron, the schools' program director.

"I never drank at home and never drank during school time," he said. "But after school, boy..."

"The problem is that this community is filled with sophisticates and professionals who all grab your ear and think they know your job better than you do," he said."They care about their children to the point of hysteria."

With each school program from the instructional system in basic skills to the special education program for handicapped children, there are forms to keep track of and guidelines to be met, he said. "This is the age of accountability. The pressure is over-whelming."

The result, he said, was that he lost track "of what my job is supposed to be about."

"I'm supposed to motivate people and use imagination to create better programs," he said. "But with the drinking and the forms and the meetings and all, I became pretty ineffective."

Carson enrolled in the Olney clinic three years ago, taking a month-long leave from his $30,000 a year job. He hasn't had a drink since.

"When I returned I told everyone (at school) where I'd been and why," he said. "There were some bad feelings for a while with some teachers, I think, but it's all worked out.

"I'm a better principal because I know my limitations better," he said. "Nothing is worth all the trauma I went through."