Skip to main content

Alcohol and substance abuse is an increasing threat to workplace success. Not only does addiction ruin lives, but it also wreaks havoc for employers and employees. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 14 million Americans (1 in 13 adults) abuse alcohol.1Alcoholism In The Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/alcoholism-in-the-workplace-a-handbook-for-supervisors/ And most of those binge-drink (roughly 79%) are full-time or part-time employees.1 With the majority of these unhealthy alcohol users being employees, it is easy to understand the paramount need to address addiction in the workplace. In order to avoid costly turnover rates, which can cost employers up to 50% of the worker’s annual salary, and to ensure employee health, it is critical to understand the signs and symptoms of addiction.2Implications of Drug Use for Employers – National Safety Council. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/drugs-at-work/substances Spotting and addressing employees with alcohol and drug abuse successfully allows for workplaces and their employees to flourish. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism 

The first step in helping many of our working citizens who are sufferign from addiction is simple—education. 

Knowing signs and symptoms of alcoholism is crucial to identify and treat the disease. And yes, it is a disease, not a choice. This is because alcoholism affects how the brain operates, causing compulsive behavior and intense cravings.3Is Alcoholism a Disease or a Choice?. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.drugrehab.com/addiction/alcohol/alcoholism-disease-choice/ Signs and symptoms of this brain disease are both behavioral and physical. 

Behavior symptoms to look for from alcoholism include:4Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.drugrehab.com/addiction/alcohol/alcoholism/signs-and-symptoms/

  • Loss of control – unable to quit or cut down on drinking 
  • Risk-taking- partaking in dangerous activities that could result in severe injury to oneself or others
  • Prioritizing drinking – dedicating time to drink and recover from it
  • Neglecting responsibility – allowing drinking to interfere with work, school, or family obligations
  • Overlooking negative consequences- not stopping drinking after negative impact of health and life

Physical symptoms of alcoholism include:4 

  • Repeated blackouts – recurring periods of drinking-induced memory loss 
  • Sleeping problems
  • Mental health deterioration – depression, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Gastrointestinal problems 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Itching – as part of alcohol-induced liver damage

Along with the range of troublesome behavioral and physiological effects of alcohol abuse, individuals also may have problems managing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and be more susceptible to develop cancer and diseases of the heart and liver.5Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2022). Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics#:~:text=An%20estimated%2088%2C000%205%20people%20%28approximately%2062%2C000%20men,second%20is%20poor%20diet%20and%20physical%20inactivity.%206 

The Effects of Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace

A prominent result of employees struggling with alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace is financial strain on the company. Companies across the nation spend anywhere between $33 billion to $66 billion annually due to employee alcohol abuse.6Alcoholism In The Workplace. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/resources/alcoholism-workplace/ These negative economic implications are just part of the full scope of harm alcohol addiction has for work environments, though. 

One list can never depict the full scale of harm from substance abuse on employers and their employees. But this list does give an overview of what treatment could reduce and eradicate. Effects of addiction include, but are not limited to:7Drinking At Workplace: Work Alcoholism Signs, Dangers, And Prevention. (2022). Retrieved from https://alcorehab.org/the-effects-of-alcohol/drinking-at-work/

  •  Increased rate of absenteeism – long-term effects of alcoholism cause the health of employees to worsen. The onset of diseases and hangovers result in unsustainable levels of missed work. 
  • Injuries – Someone who is intoxicated at work is at a higher risk of hurting themselves and others. Alcohol-related fatalities accounted for 11% of workplace-related deaths. 
  • Work environment destruction – isolation, aggressive behavior, and drinking at work cause problems for all employees working with and around an addicted individual. 
  • Negative company sentiment – risk of hurting the goodwill of the company, as employees with alcohol addiction are more likely to treat clients and co-workers inappropriately. 

Stressors That May Contribute to Alcoholism in The Workplace 

Studies show that rates of alcohol and drug abuse actually rise with increased levels of income and education.8Galea, S., Ahern, J., Tracy, M., & Vlahov, D. (2007). Neighborhood Income and Income Distribution and the Use of Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Marijuana. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine32(6), S195-S202. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2007.04.003 Even with this fact, there is no debate that employees of all industries and income levels battle stress. Any employee struggling from common or nontypical stressors should reach out to supervisors and family for help. 

A common stressor resulting in alcohol misuse is job dissatisfaction.9(2022). Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh23-4/284-291.pdf This can apply to a variety of work-related issues, but often salary complaints or lack of meaningfulness in work being done comprises this worrisome dissatisfaction.

Other stressors that might increase an employees chance of developing a substance abuse disorder are constant conflicts with colleagues, repetitive or boring work, job insecurity, long hours, and lack of advancement opportunities

Signs Your Coworkers or Employees May Be Intoxicated at Work

As a manager or concerned colleague of someone who appears to have an alcohol problem, it is necessary to know signs of intoxication at work. This can help prevent the intoxicated person from causing injury or doing further harm to themselves and others. Three categories of signs to look for when determining if someone is intoxicated at work involve their performance, work relationships, and behavior.10Alcoholism In The Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/alcoholism-in-the-workplace-a-handbook-for-supervisors/

Performance Problems

Is an employee struggling to meet deadlines or producing careless, incomplete assignments? If so, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol could be the cause. Other performance related issues of intoxication are frequent tardiness, constant excuses of poor work quality, and frequent unplanned absences. 

It is estimated that 21 percent of American workers have been put in danger, injured, or had to redo a project, along with working extra, unnecessary hours because of a colleague’s drinking.11Alcoholism In The Workplace. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/resources/alcoholism-workplace/ 

Relationships at Work

As a result of drinking, relationships with co-workers may become strained. Employees who are struggling with addiction are harder to work with often. This is because the addiction disease takes over their ability to interact productively with others. An alcoholic or substance abuser might especially be difficult to work with after weekends or in the mornings.

Behavior at Work 

Employees who were recently inebriated may smell like alcohol and have bloodshot eyes. They may not want to speak with supervisors and can even sleep while working. Alcoholic’s behavior at work can be unusual, and loud talking or excessive laughing is not uncommon. 

Best Ways to Support a Coworker Struggling with a Substance Use Disorder

Supporting a coworker with a problem is not about ridiculing, judging, or diagnosing. Instead, successful support is encouragement and helping them find the resources they need to do better. 

As a coworker, the most important thing is not to avoid the problem. If you are close with a person struggling with addiction, then it is okay to ask if they would like to talk. If they ask for help, then suggest they speak to human resources or mention an (EAP). 

If you notice an issue and don’t think talking to them is appropriate or beneficial, then notify a supervisor. They can proceed with more effective steps in holding them responsible and finding necessary help. 

It is critical employees do not cover, loan money, or enable someone with addiction. 

Contact The Commitment House To Get The Help You Need

The Commitment House is where treatment meets recovery. As a dedicated substance abuse treatment center, our mission is to provide a person-centered program that instills the tools to maintain life-long sobriety. 

If you or someone you know is battling an alcohol or substance abuse disorder, we are prepared to offer the best path towards recovery. Contact us or call us at (270) 900-0373 today. 

References