Alcohol Abuse In The Workplace | Effects, Detection, & Prevention
Alcohol use disorder is a major risk factor for serious workplace problems ranging from poor employee performance to absenteeism, injury, discipline, and termination. However, employers have tools available to help employees who are struggling with alcohol abuse.
Provided that a U.S. resident is over the legal drinking age of 21, alcohol is a fully legal, popular, and accessible substance of abuse. However, the effects of excessive alcohol consumption can be severe.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics:
- over 140,000 Americans die from the effects of alcohol each year
- over 1 in 10 American adults have some form of AUD (alcohol use disorder)
- 1/4 of American adults binge drink in a 30-day period (consuming more than 4 or 5 standard drinks in a single occasion)
Alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction can also create serious problems in American workplaces, contributing to a wide variety of negative outcomes for those employees, their co-workers, and companies or organizations as a whole.
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Effects Of Alcohol Abuse In The Workplace
Studies have placed the total cost of alcoholism and alcohol abuse for US employers at between $33 billion and $68 billion annually.
Alcohol addiction will likely also negatively impact employees whether they drink on their own time, immediately before work hours, or while they are at work.
Potential issues related to employee alcohol addiction include:
- poor work performance and reduced productivity due to impaired judgment, concentration, memory, motivation, and coordination
- increased absenteeism and frequent tardiness (estimated at 4-8 times the rates for other employees) due to intoxication, hangovers, chronic physical and mental health problems, legal issues, and more
- increased risk of personal injury, including on-the-job injuries impacting either the employee or those around them
- compromised work environment due to behavioral issues like aggression, arguing, and volatile mood changes
- an increase in chronic health issues like heart disease, liver disease, cancer, anxiety, and depression, contributing to increased healthcare costs
- increased risk of employee termination and high turnover
Detecting Alcohol Abuse In The Workplace
Workplace alcohol abuse isn’t always obvious, but there are some warning signs managers and other employers may notice over time:
- a scent of alcohol on a person’s breath or clothes, sometimes masked by mouthwash or mints
- slurred speech
- balance or coordination problems
- unfocused, glassy, or bloodshot eyes
- unstable moods or behavior
- tremors in the hands
- nodding off or sleeping on the clock
- experiencing major life difficulties or problems with family members outside of work
- periods of unusually poor work performance or productivity
- patterns of impairment or absence that may correspond with paydays, weekends, or holidays
- excessive use of sick leave or personal emergencies
Preventing & Dealing With Workplace Alcohol Abuse
Employers and managers are not qualified to diagnose an employee’s alcohol problem or provide alcohol treatment.
However, they are required to hold all employees to certain standards of conduct and job performance and take any appropriate disciplinary action if needed, in compliance with all state and federal laws.
This may mean coordinating with human resources, following company procedure, and formally letting an employee suspected of alcohol misuse (or a drug use problem) know that their job is on the line.
This alone can often motivate employees to confront their drinking problem and explore treatment options.
Alcohol Addiction & The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
Whether they occurred in the past or present, alcohol use disorders are generally considered a disability under the ADA, providing employees with certain rights and protections.
In particular, the ADA mandates that employers may not discriminate against employees with AUDs and must make reasonable accommodations for their condition.
For example, this may include making adjustments to an employee’s schedule to allow an employee to attend treatment programs or peer support groups while still fulfilling their job responsibilities.
Educational Programming & Mandatory Testing
Employers may also focus time and attention on preventing drug and alcohol misuse from developing in their workforce or impacting employee job performance through educational programming or mandatory alcohol testing/drug testing programs.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employees who do struggle with substance misuse will often be encouraged to self-refer to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if one is available.
Otherwise, they may wish to explore other inpatient or outpatient treatment programs or peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
The Value Of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
EAPs are voluntary, work-based programs that offer free and confidential assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees with work-related problems, including alcohol and drug problems.
Since they were first developed in the late 1940s, millions of individuals who struggle with substance abuse problems have participated in EAPs and benefited from it.
This form of support can help companies keep valued but struggling employees in their positions, support their emotional and behavioral health and wellbeing, improve their productivity, and proactively reduce insurance and healthcare costs.
If you struggle with alcohol abuse or some other form of substance use disorder, contact us today to learn how we can help.
- Alcohol Research & Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683807/
- National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) https://drugabusestatistics.org/alcohol-abuse-statistics/
- U.S. Office Of Personnel Management (OPM) https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/alcoholism-in-the-workplace-a-handbook-for-supervisors/
- U.S. Commission on Civil Rights https://www.usccr.gov/files/pubs/ada/ch4.htm