Working with an Alcoholic

Estimated reading time: 26 minute(s)

Statistics suggest that alcohol is the most commonly consumed addictive substance in America. One in every 12 American adults gets a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder at some point in life, and millions more continue to engage in risky behaviors like binge alcohol use that potentially makes them vulnerable to acquiring an addiction. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol abuse never discriminates and may hit people from all walks of life, even those in the workforce.

Regardless of whether you are in a corporate job, customer service job, or even a labor job, you can find alcohol in the workplace at any point. Research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that up to 9 percent of U.S. citizens drink heavily during work hours at least once a month. So is there any way to find out if you are working with an alcoholic, be it your employee, colleague, or boss?

Which Jobs are Affected by Alcoholism the Most?

The habit of drinking at work seems to be more common in some industries than others. Many times, the type of jobs that experience higher rates of drinking problems in their employees are the ones associated with higher risks and dangers. That said, some occupations most affected by alcohol use include the following:

  • Bartenders: Up to 2.33 times more likely to die from alcohol-associated mortality
  • Shoe machine operators: 2 times
  • Painters: 1.185 times
  • Roofers: 1.87 times
  • Sailors: 1.75 times
  • Cooks: 1.77 times
  • Construction laborers: 1.72 times

Signs of Alcoholism at Work

If you suspect to have an employee is drinking at work, keep an eye out for the following signs:

Frequent absences or tardiness

This is the first and often a sign that someone around you is battling alcohol addiction. An alcoholic is very likely to drink heavily the night before a workday and pass out at the end. Because heavy drinking often leads to hangovers, these hangovers force the alcoholic to stay in bed and even miss work. If your colleague has been calling in sick or coming in late most of the time, you might be working with an alcoholic.

Drinking at work

Most companies now have a strict no-drinking policy at work. However, if you see someone keeping a bottle under their desk or sneaking drinks in the bathroom, they may abuse alcohol.

Loss of motor skills and coordination

Alcohol can mess with different parts of a person’s functioning. It can cause them to stumble on their walk, slur their speech, make it incoherent, and negatively affect their balance. So if you find these symptoms in any of your coworkers or employee, you have a good reason to doubt that they are drinking at work. However, make sure to double-check as certain legitimate medications may also produce similar effects on coordination and motor skills as alcohol.

Smelling alcohol on the breath

This symptom is a no-brainer, and a confirmed way to know you have an alcoholic at work. Liquor, wine, and beer have a characteristic smell that often stays in the mouth and can be smelled by others. If you feel that someone at work has hints of alcohol on their breath, they might be drinking too much.

Poor work performance

If someone has been struggling with their work responsibilities and duties for some time, alcohol can be blamed. This is particularly true for a person who otherwise used to give stellar performances but suddenly seems to have hit rock bottom with an inability to manage their workload let alone excel in their performance. Foolish mistakes, disorganization, a loss of creativity and productivity, and sloppy work can all be signs of alcohol.

How Alcoholism Negatively Affects the Workplace

The drinking habits of an employee can easily affect their company, regardless of how small or large it may be. Another factor to keep in mind is how their alcohol use impacts their friends and close family members. People who do not use alcohol but live with some who abuse it may also end up suffering from problems at the workplace. For instance, a person may find it difficult to concentrate at work or consistently take leaves from work because of the stress they are experiencing as they take care of someone with an alcohol use disorder.

Read Also About Under Age Drinking

Alcoholism in the workplace can also be too expensive for an employer. A drunk employee can increase the risk of causing injury and onsite accidents. Additionally, as alcohol messes with their concentration and coordination, their work performance may also take a hit. This, in turn, reduces overall productivity and may even negatively affect the business objectives and goals.

Alcohol use disorder can have both long- and short-term effects on an employee. Some problems that may arise due to the use of alcohol at work include:

  • Sleeping while working
  • Poor decision making
  • Being tardy or not showing up
  • Confrontational behavior with others at work
  • Unintentional injuries to oneself or others

How to Approach Someone at Work with a Suspected Alcohol Problem

If you have successfully spotted the signs of alcoholism in a coworker or employee, you may feel scared of approaching them. It is natural to fear that you may offend them in case your assumption regarding their alcohol abuse is wrong. In ideal circumstances, you must speak to your supervisor or a representative from the human resources department regarding your concerns before directly approaching the person on your own. If the person in question confirms an underlying alcohol use disorder, the issue could be much larger than you can handle alone. Hence, it is imperative to keep your employer updated about your moves.

In most cases, an HR representative or manager may meet with the suspected person, discuss their concerning behaviors, and help them seek treatment if they wish for it. If you as an employer suspect one of your employees to have an alcohol addiction, you must:

  • Maintain clear and concise documentation of your concerns with relevant examples
  • Point out patterns of tardiness or poor performance by meeting with the employee in person
  • Adopt a questioning tone instead of an accusatory one
  • Give the employee a chance to speak about what’s going on at their end. Sometimes, they may admit their issues or may even reveal an underlying mental or medical problem that is contributing to their drinking behavior.
  • Assist them in seeking help and support, beginning with a referral to the company’s employee assistance program (EAP)

If the employee in question denies experiencing alcoholism, focus on their performance issues and have them improve their performance and attendance at work. Follow through to make sure they are working on it and take action if the issues do not resolve.

Keep in mind that sometimes, it may even become essential to remove a suspected alcoholic from their workplace, especially if their behavior becomes exceptionally disruptive. Additionally, you must address the situation immediately if an employee is visibly intoxicated or a threat to other employees’ safety.


How does an alcoholic develop Monday blues?

Coming to work on a Monday morning with a hangover from heavy alcohol consumption the night before is easily noticeable. Sensitivity to light, headache, and irritability are the obvious signs that can make anyone know that their coworker had a recent heavy alcohol binge session. Many of these people feel too unmotivated and lazy to even come on a Monday. However, those who do show up are usually not on top of their work game and struggle to manage their workload. Some people are said to be suffering from Monday blues.

Are there any risk factors for alcoholism in the workplace?

A growing body of evidence reveals multiple job-related stressors that potentially pave the way for heavy alcohol use, both inside and outside of work. Some of these common stressors include the following:

  • A heavy workload
  • A work environment where interpersonal conflicts between coworkers and supervisors are too common
  • Working in a cold, dirty, or hot work environment
  • Working in an overly noisy office
  • Job insecurity
  • Unfair treatment regarding promotions, benefits, and pay

How can I support an alcoholic at work who has been struggling with alcohol use disorder?

If you find that your coworker is constantly struggling with alcohol use disorder, the most important thing you can do is not ignore the issue. Approach the coworker with a welcoming attitude and offer them an ear to listen to their issues. If they directly ask for help, take them to an HR representative and let them sort things out.

On the other hand, if your coworker does not admit while you still have clear proof of their addiction, you may consider taking the matter to HR yourself. This is especially feasible if you believe your colleague’s addiction negatively impacts the workplace environment and success. Keep in mind never to cover for them by clocking in for them or loaning them money as these practices may enable them to continue their addiction-related behaviors in the future.

Can my employer fire me for drinking at work?

In the modern world, employers hold the right to demand their employees meet certain expectations regarding their conduct and performance at work. If your office has a strict policy against alcohol use or showing up under the alcohol influence, the offense can be severe enough to get you fired. However, if you have been diagnosed as an alcoholic but do not drink at work and are qualified enough to carry out your job, there are many laws in place to protect your job. You may even qualify for attending counseling and rehab sessions in the middle of your job by taking temporary leave without any fear of losing the job.

If you go down this road, you will receive protection under the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA. If your employer meets the set standards for FMLA application, such as the right size of the company, they may be legally bound to offer all employees 12 weeks of approved leaves for treatment. Keep in mind that laws may vary from one state to another; hence, always confirm your options with a knowledgeable person so that you can use them in the right way.

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