Alcoholism in the Workplace

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Bloodshot eyes.

Slurred words.

The smell of booze on one’s breath.

The signs of alcohol use are hard to ignore, and once they are noticed in the workplace, they can become a problem for everyone—not just for the person who is under the influence. Other workers, as well as their employer, are also affected.

Alcohol in the workplace can cause just as many problems at the office as much as it does outside the company’s doors, especially because many people who drink also are employed. According to reports, in 2015, there were 138.3 million Americans aged 12 or older who reported current use of alcohol, including 66.7 million who reported binge alcohol use in the past month and 17.3 million who reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

Many of these people had jobs, and it’s safe to say that it’s possible the effects of their heavy drinking followed them to work.

An inability to handle job-related stress or manage mental, emotional and physical health issues lead some people to drink before or after work. What employees do in their leisure time is their business, but it becomes an issue when what they do off the clock starts to interfere and affect what they do on the clock.

Those who drink heavily off-site may stumble into work the next day with a hangover from the night before, putting themselves at risk of falling or causing other problems. This now becomes a problem for the employer. With a high concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream, the person may not physically feel well, which can lead to health issues and risks, on-the-job injuries being among them.

Alcohol and drug use is common in workplaces across the U.S., and according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, drug and alcohol overdoses at work killed 32 percent more Americans in 2016 than they did in 2015.

The world’s most widely accessible and widely abused drug can invade almost any space. Workplaces are not immune or safe from alcohol users. Signs that someone in the workplace is struggling with alcoholism include:

  • Attendance issues. Unexplained and unauthorized absences from the job or excessively calling out could be a sign that an employee is struggling with alcohol use disorder or some other substance abuse disorder. The person also could have issues showing up to work on time or exhibit a pattern of absence, such as being out on Mondays and Fridays.
  • Behavioral changes. A person who has alcohol use disorder may exhibit irritability, depression, or nervousness. They may have high-energy, particularly after a small break or lunch break, or they may appear withdrawn and detached.
  • Changes in appearance. Noticeable changes in a person’s appearance could be a sign that alcohol use has gotten out of control. A person could appear unkempt or appear skinnier or heavier than usual.
  • On-the-job conflicts. A person who gets into physical confrontations or is argumentative, combative, or uncooperative with coworkers may have an alcohol use disorder.

Workers who have alcohol use disorder may also miss deadlines or turn in sloppy or incomplete work. They also may offer excuses for the quality of their assignments or work performances.

Your Co-Worker Has Had Too Much Alcohol to Drink: What to Do Now?

A person with an alcohol use disorder may struggle with being in a workplace culture where alcohol is available, especially in situations such as the company holiday party, a business trip, or a work event where drinking is acceptable.

This is yet another scenario when someone’s irresponsible alcohol use can put their work colleagues and employer in a difficult position.

So, what should you do, if you do anything at all? Well, the answer is different depending on what role you or someone you know has in this situation.

If you’re the coworker:

First, be assured that it is OK to be concerned about your coworker. Alcoholism causes serious health issues and consequences. Also, the possibility of the inebriated person operating a vehicle on the roads or machinery is no longer just about that person; everyone’s safety is at risk. Taking note of their appearance and behavior could be what’s needed to help them address a possible substance abuse problem. You may be wondering if you should say something to your coworker or talk with your boss about the problem.

It is up to you on how to handle it, but consider that alcoholism is a financial issue, too. If the person loses their job, the financial setback can send them further down the path of addiction. While it is not your responsibility to take on their troubles, it is important to remain aware of what’s at stake and consider how to best help that person.

If you choose to address your coworker’s drinking, reach out at a time when the person is sober. Hazelden’s counselors offer tips on how to approach this sensitive subject. They recommend writing down what you want to say and practice your answers based on how your work colleague could respond. This will make the talk easier to have.

Other tips Hazelden counselors share are:

  • Express your concern in an honest and caring way. Be sure to use “I” phrases such as “I’m worried.” This way, your colleague can’t argue with your feelings.
  • Talk to your co-worker about the effect of alcohol or drugs on whatever they care about most: career, family, etc. Even if your co-worker doesn’t care for themselves, they may get help for the sake of their family.
  • Don’t blame or criticize your colleague for their behavior. Addiction is a medically proven disease and often causes individuals to act in ways that are not normal for them.

If you’re the person who’s drinking:

You are responsible for your actions and should expect others to hold you accountable for them. If you think you have an alcohol use disorder, or AUD, seek help immediately at a professional treatment center that can help you achieve sobriety. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or coworker for support.

You have the right to expect confidentiality as you seek counseling for AUD. Employees who have a drinking problem may want to consider looking into services offered by an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs provide short-term counseling and assessment for people with substance abuse issues.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management’s website, “Employees may voluntarily seek EAP assistance, or they may be referred to the EAP through constructive confrontation. Job security will not be jeopardized as a consequence of seeking or using EAP services, except where mandated by law. However, employees who use an EAP are expected to adhere to the job performance requirements of the organization.”

You can also seek help on your own. Entering an alcohol treatment center before disciplinary action is taken is best.

If you’re the employer:

You have an obligation to keep everyone safe in the office and at company events and activities. That includes employees, clients, customers, and visitors to the workplace. That also includes anyone involved with work-related events and activities that are held away from the office.

Alcohol-related accidents in the workplace do happen and they are a liability. Alcohol is a depressant and slows down the brain and how the body responds. It also lowers inhibitions, which means those under the influence feel like they can take risks.

According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, studies and reports have found that workplace costs stemming from alcohol use range from $33 billion to $68 billion per year.

There are steps employers can take to ensure the dangers of job-related alcohol don’t affect their office.

First, they should make employers aware of company policies about alcohol and drug use. A written document that is accessible online and offline is ideal. Workers can refer to it anytime when available in digital and paper formats. Employers might also want to address drinking during work events, such as the office picnic or the company holiday party, and include guidance about that in the company’s code of conduct.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the role of a supervisor is to monitor the daily work and conduct of employees on the job.

When it comes to alcoholism in the workplace, it says, “Your role is not to diagnose the alcohol problem but to exercise responsibility in dealing with the performance or conduct problem, hold the employee accountable, refer the employee to the EAP, and take any appropriate disciplinary action. Your role in dealing with alcoholism in the workplace is crucial.”

An employer can pursue several options to address an employee’s substance abuse. They can document the person’s work performance and note any changes. If unsatisfactory work performance continues to be an issue, employers can choose to address it informally or go on record and document it.

Referring the employee to an Employee Assistance Program or a healthcare professional who is trained to handle substance abuse disorders is also an option.

When it comes to an EAP referral, it is typically a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee,” says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Employers generally focus on an employee’s job performance when issuing an EAP.

“Employers often provide information on EAP services to employees when there are performance issues or when the employee has disclosed to the employer that they are having difficulty dealing with personal issues,” writes SHRM.

Are You Struggling with Alcohol Abuse?

If you or someone you love is having trouble controlling their drinking or is abusing alcohol, call Arete Detox at 844-318-7500 today or contact us online to learn about recovery options from one of our specialists who can guide you to a new life of health, sobriety, and happiness.

Author

Author

Elysia Richardson
Content Writer

Elysia L. Richardson is a content writer and editor who covers addiction and substance abuse for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Previously a writer and editor for various digital and print publications, she enjoys researching news in the recovery field and finding engaging ways to share information that helps improve people’s lives.

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