Alcoholism in the workplace costs American employers upwards of $30 billion each year in absenteeism, injuries, health issues and impaired productivity.
Whether you’re working alongside someone you suspect of drinking on the job or it’s your own company and you feel an employee could be dependent on alcohol, you’re not alone. Of those surveyed by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, almost 25% reported drinking at work. A staggering 35% of all injuries at work are incurred by those engaging in risky drinking behavior.
The thing is, if you’re drinking at work and think you’re concealing it, you might end up with a nasty surprise. In the same survey by the NCADD, 20% of workers and managers claimed a drinking co-worker had compromised productivity and sometimes even safety.
Before we double down on the sensitive issue of alcoholism in the workplace, we’ll take a quick glimpse first at the harmful effects of alcohol, both in the short-term and over time.
Alcohol: Short-Term Harm
Alcohol is a depressant that dramatically slows down messages relayed to and from your brain and body.
The effects of alcohol are felt in the following areas:
- Reaction times
All of these can have potentially damaging consequences in the workplace.
Beyond this, alcohol makes its presence felt in terms of day-to-health and general fitness for work.
Short-term effects are not limited to the drinker. Inappropriate use of alcohol in the workplace or arriving at work impaired from the previous night can also harm co-workers, customers and clients.
If someone is drinking in the workplace, there’s an increased chance of the following:
- Conflict that could even escalate into violence
- General incidences of anti-social behavior
- Problems for co-workers
- Workplace injuries including car crashes, pedestrian injury, falls, drownings, burns, poisoning and assault
As mentioned above, it’s not just actively drinking during the working day that can cause havoc. A night of heavy drinking can leave you over the legal limit and at risk of a DUI. Beyond that, when you arrive at work, you’ll be just as surely impaired as if you sucked down a couple beers at lunchtime. From feelings of intense irritability and nausea through to problems concentrating and fatigue kicking in, there’s little to benefit the employer if you turn up in this state.
The combination of these effects can impact attendance, working relationships, performance on the job and resultant professional development.
How about when things get more entrenched? What does heavy drinking in the workplace do in the long haul?
Alcohol: Long-Term Harm
The more you become dependent on alcohol, the more serious and severe the health consequences.
Just some of the issues that can manifest over time include:
- Dependence leading to possible addiction
- Liver disease
- Mental health problems
If you continue to drink to the stage dependence sets in, maintaining any kind of regular work schedule can be problematic bordering impossible. If you work for yourself, you’re highly likely to find your business suffering by this stage.
That brief glance is enough to see that alcoholism in the workplace is more common than you might imagine and has effects that ripple far beyond the individual concerned socially, professionally and financially.
We’ll look now at what groups are most at risk.
Jobs Most Affected By Alcoholism In The Workplace
Not all industries or occupational groups are equal when it comes to problematic drinking in the workplace.
These are the groups at heightened risk:
- Young people aged 14 to 29
- Hospitality workers
- Financial services sector workers
Whether it’s a construction worker sucking down a few lunchtime beers or a bond trader taking clients out for a champagne lunch, some professions have a greater tendency to tolerate drinking on the job.
Many other workplace factors come into play beyond the acceptance or otherwise of a few quick drinks.
Workers putting in long hours or working shifts are more at risk of heavy drinking.
Any time working conditions are poor, perhaps in hot or dangerous environments, there’s more chance of workers picking up a drink as some form of temporary respite.
Inadequate supervision can often lead to problems with drinking in the workplace. If it soon becomes clear you can slip in a few beers as you eat then return to the office unmolested, it’s more likely to become a habit. This is especially true for anyone already struggling with a tendency to drink too much.
Isolated workers based a long way from friends and family often and perhaps understandably drink as a means of blurring the loneliness they’re feeling.
Consequences of Alcoholism In The Workplace
Drinking at work has a raft of consequences depending on how it unfolds.
Here are just a few of the ways in which intemperate drinking during the working day can backfire…
- Absenteeism: This study showed a positive association between heavy and systematic drinking and days of absence from work. There’s no doubt about it, drinkers take more time off. The most common reason is genuinely feeling too sick to turn up after a particularly heavy night out. On other occasions, it might be possible to work but you simply can’t be bothered. Heavy drinking saps your motivation over time. In the US, employee absenteeism runs to $1685 per worker per year. Anything that can be done to reduce this is a positive step in lowering the $225 billion annual bill resulting from time off work
- Conflict: From friction between workers who are both drinking to bullying in the workplace and unpleasant exchanges with customers and clients, when someone is drinking heavily and bringing it into the workplace, all types of conflict arise. Relationships of all kinds can unravel
- Decreased Productivity: Whether it’s short-term absenteeism bringing queering deadlines and disrupting progress or impaired performance due to feeling sub-par after drinking, productivity takes an all-round nosedive. Both the quality and quantity of work suffers
- Financial Cost: The overall financial cost of drinking at work is tough to quantify. It spans so many areas from workers taking time off or returning late from boozy lunches to lost productivity and ruined relationships with clients and customers. Throw in accidents and the associated costs and you can see clearly that alcohol in the workplace results in a serious cost for employers
- Safety: From accidents in the workplace to injuries sustained by workers impaired after drinking too much, alcohol transforms a safe environment into a potentially hazardous one
Now we’ve looked at what can happen as a result of workplace drinking, how can you go about identifying it? This is where it gets a little more awkward…
Identifying Alcoholism In The Workplace
There are 2 primary forms of workplace drinking:
- Drinking alcohol before work
- Drinking alcohol at work
As a standalone category, turning up at work while impaired and hungover from the night before should also be considered.
If you suspect that someone at work could be alcohol-dependent and in need of some help, it’s tough to be sure. Diagnosing alcohol use disorder involves a set of specific symptoms using a formal diagnostic criteria used by the American Psychiatric Association. This is a summary of those symptoms:
- Continued use of alcohol in the face of all-round negative consequences
- Drinking in potentially hazardous situations
- Inability to control alcohol use
- Numerous failed attempts to control or stop drinking
- Showing signs of physical dependence
- Spending large chunks of time drinking or recovering from drinking
For a formal diagnosis, symptoms need to be in place for at least a year.
While you might infer that a co-worker is drinking in a potentially hazardous situation by doing so at work and you might even think you can notice some signs of physical dependence, you’re simply not qualified to determine whether or not a colleague is addicted to alcohol.
Beyond those broader symptoms though, there are some more immediate things to look out for that act as red flags for someone drinking in the workplace.
- Persistent lateness
- Physical symptoms like bloodshot eyes
- Poor productivity
- Regular absence
- Slow starts in the morning
- Smell of alcohol on the breath
- Unusual behavior from unsteady gait to slurred speech
If it’s you drinking in the workplace, you should seriously consider stopping abruptly. Other people will notice and it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with you. We’ll look at treatment options directly below.
If you feel someone else at work is drinking, what can you do about it?
Approaching a Co-Worker You Suspect Might Have An Alcohol Problem
First thing’s first, you should clarify the policy on drinking and drug use so you can see where you stand with regard to reporting potentially unsafe behavior. Let’s face it, the last thing you want is to face repercussions further down the track because you stood by and let this continue.
The norm is that you will be required to report any suspected drinking in the workplace but you could always consider approaching the person first. If you adopt this approach, be prepared that they might not take the suggestion they’re drinking at work kindly. They might be defensive, angry or outright hostile. There are some simple steps you can take when broaching the subject with them…
- Remain non-judgmental at all times
- Let the person know that you and the other workers are concerned and explain why
- Stick firmly to the facts. If you or someone else has smelled alcohol on their breath or noticed them looking demonstrably intoxicated, it’s OK to point this out. Do so gently but avoid completely any kind of accusation. You’re not there as judge and jury, merely to speak about a sensitive issue before it goes any further
- Let the person know that you’re concerned not just for their safety but also their job security if they continue and get caught
- Be clear that if this continues, you’ll be left with no choice but to report the matter. Be equally clear here that you’re not threatening the person but that you’ll be forced to report them or risk your own job
Depending on what happens here, you might even manage to resolve the issue.
If the person has a deep-seated problem and doesn’t manage to reign in their behavior, you’ll likely need to escalate things. Report the matter to your manager or supervisor according to whatever protocol is in place. Cover your back. Do the right thing. If you feel bad, remember that everyone’s safety is potentially on the line and that alcoholism is a serious condition that needs treatment.
So what can you do to stop drinking or to help someone else stop drinking if that’s their intention?
Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder
A range of recovery options exist and there’s a broad division between inpatient residential rehab and an intensive outpatient program. Full-time residential treatment is generally needed for severe addictions while outpatient therapy can be a flexible, effective and affordable alternative.
While alcoholism is a disease that can’t be cured, it can most certainly be managed with rehab following detox the starting point of an ongoing journey of recovery.
What can you do, then, if that sounds like the best course of action?
What To Do Next
Get in touch with us here at Landmark Recovery on 888-448-0302. We’ve got a range of rehabs in Indiana and elsewhere. If you’re at all concerned about alcoholism in the workplace and you want to explore treatment options, contact us today and one of our friendly team will be more than happy to help out.