Drinking problems: Alcohol abuse effects workplace

Misty Aaberg
Misty Aaberg

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. By one estimate, 15 million full-time employees in the U.S. are heavy drinkers.

Employees who misuse or abuse alcohol are more likely to miss work, suffer from health problems and pose a greater risk of harming themselves and others.

Two particular kinds of drinking behavior contribute considerably to work-performance problems: drinking right before or during working hours (including drinking at lunch and at company functions) and heavy drinking the night before that causes hangovers at work the next day.

It isn’t just those with substance use disorders who can generate problems in the workplace. Research has shown the majority of alcohol-related work performance problems are associated with nondependent drinkers who occasionally drink too much. In addition, family members living with someone’s alcohol misuse and abuse also suffer problems at work, including poor job performance, lack of focus, absenteeism, increased health-related problems and increased use of health insurance.

Some facts about alcohol in the workplace:

Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16 percent of emergency room patients injured at work.

Analysis of workplace fatalities showed that at least 11 percent of the victims had been drinking.

Federal surveys show 24 percent of workers reported drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.

The highest rates of current and past year heavy alcohol use were reported by workers in construction and food preparation as well as auto mechanics, laborers, truck drivers waiters and waitresses.

Work is an important and effective place to address substance use in working-age adults. Workplaces not only have access to those who might drink too much, but also offer resources to support employees through employee assistance programs. Using your EAP is an effective way to address alcohol and drug problems in the workplace. Often times, family members also have access to these free and confidential services.

Many individuals and families face a number of difficulties closely associated with problem drinking, and these problems often spill into the workplace.  When employees receive necessary support, the effects of alcohol misuse and abuse in the workplace and its related costs can be dramatically reduced.

Information about how to drink alcohol responsibly is no less important than conversations about how to keep blood pressure in check or lose weight. What are the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder? Consider these questions:

In the past year, have you had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?

Have you had to drink more than you once did to obtain the effect you want or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

Have you continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem?

Have you ever experienced a memory blackout?

If you don’t experience symptoms, staying within low-risk drinking limits will reduce your chances of encountering problems in the future. If you do experience symptoms, alcohol already could be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change.

A health professional can look at the number, pattern and severity of symptoms to determine if alcohol use disorder is present and help you decide the best course of action.