Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace: Symptoms, Causes, Effects & Solutions
Last Updated: November 15, 2023
Alcohol addiction in the workplace is pervasive — but it can be recognized, treated and overcome.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease where people cannot control their drinking despite harmful consequences. Alcohol use disorder can affect nearly every aspect of your life, including your ability to show up to work and be productive.
People with an alcohol use disorder can show significant signs of impairment at work, even if they aren’t intoxicated during the workday. Fortunately, treating alcohol use disorder with evidence-based methods can help people recover.
Addiction in the workplace doesn’t just affect the individual. It can also affect the entire organization, leading to lost productivity, worsening morale and increased safety concerns. Employers can take steps to help their employees struggling with alcohol use disorder, saving their workforce’s mental health and their own profits.
The first step in this journey is understanding the symptoms, causes and effects of alcoholism and the solutions that can be put into place.
Alcoholism & Full-Time Workers
Alcohol addiction is the most common type of substance use disorder in the U.S., affecting over 28 million adults each year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This means that 11.3% of the population has an alcohol addiction, or more than 1 in 10 Americans. Among that group:
- 53% are full-time workers
- 13% are part-time workers
- 7% are unemployed
- 26% are not members of the workforce
This data shows that most people with alcohol use disorder still go to work and make up a substantial portion of the workforce. Many of these employees are found in certain industries, such as mining, construction and food services.
The high rate of people struggling with their alcohol use, when combined with the impaired ability to complete daily tasks, makes alcohol use in the workplace a problem for nearly every organization, causing a significant financial burden.
Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse at Work
Identifying which employees are struggling with an alcohol problem isn’t always straightforward. Many people with alcohol use disorder go to great lengths to hide their alcohol use, and some are in denial about the scope of their alcohol problem.
But key warning signs can indicate someone is struggling with alcohol, including:
- Excessive absenteeism
- Frequent tardiness
- Smelling like alcohol
- Bloodshot eyes
- Unexpected changes in mood or behavior
- Shaky hands or tremors
- Reduced productivity
While none of these signs is a guarantee that a particular employee has an alcohol use disorder, noticing several of these signs may indicate that a particular employee needs help to recover. Intervening early, when you first recognize the signs, is crucial to helping people prevent worsening their alcohol problems.
Causes of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace
There is no single cause of alcohol abuse in the workplace, but several factors may contribute to the development of an alcohol use disorder, including:
- Stress and job dissatisfaction: People overworked or dissatisfied with their jobs are more likely to experience alcohol-related problems.
- Alienation and toxic work environments: Feeling alienated from your coworkers and toxic workplace environments have been linked to problem drinking among employees.
- Workplace culture: Permissive attitudes about alcohol use in the workplace are one of the strongest effects on whether an employee develops an alcohol use disorder.
In understanding how the workplace affects employee alcohol use, it’s important to look outside individual factors. Alcohol use disorders aren’t merely a problem of individual choice or genetic factors but, instead, come about due to a myriad of external factors that lead people toward problematic alcohol use.
Employees who are happy, appreciated and socially connected are far less likely to develop unhealthy drinking patterns.
Jobs With Higher Rates of Alcoholism
Certain industries have much higher rates of employee alcohol problems than others, particularly male-dominated industries which have high levels of physical demand. Researchers have found that the industries with the highest rates of alcohol use disorders include:
- Mining and extraction
- Food services, accommodations and hospitality
- Arts, entertainment and recreation
- Wholesale trade
Blue-collar workers tend to be at higher risk than white-collar workers, and industries where alcohol is present in the workplace also face disproportionate rates of alcohol use disorders.
Negative Impact of Alcoholism at Work
In 2015, an estimate of the costs of excessive alcohol use nationwide was $249 billion. A number that has likely continued to rise. However, alcoholism affects more than just the ability of your employees to complete their tasks safely.
Alcohol use disorders also have short- and long-term effects on the personal lives of your employees, from interpersonal conflicts to volatile relationships.
How Alcoholism Hurts the Organization
The majority of the financial costs of alcoholism at work come from lost productivity. But many other problems can also come from alcohol use disorders among employees, including:
- Reputational risks
- Increased absenteeism
- Higher healthcare costs
- Greater employee turnover
- Time spent retraining new employees
- Legal issues as a result of alcohol use
The ripple effect from alcohol use disorder is hard to quantify, and certain industries may put themselves at higher risk if alcohol problems aren’t addressed immediately.
How Employers & Supervisors Can Help
Helping your employees with alcohol use disorders is more than just the right thing to do — it’s good business.
Especially in technical industries, the costs of hiring and training often far outweigh the costs of helping your employees overcome their alcohol-related problems. But the path to helping people with alcohol addiction isn’t always clear.
Thankfully, several evidence-based options are specifically designed for organizations to help their employees achieve recovery, including:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): An EAP is a human resources intervention program that provides counseling, assistance and recommendations for employees with alcohol-related problems.
- Providing Resources: Alcohol use disorder can be overwhelming, and providing instrumental support to your employees can help them find the path to recovery.
Both options offer important benefits. EAPs have been shown to save employers money, reduce absenteeism and help employees recover. Employers can also be a resource for employees who don’t know where to get help otherwise.
Employers may not be able to provide the treatment that people with an alcohol use disorder need, but they can help their struggling employees find addiction care, understand the support they have in place and be a source of compassion.
Professional Treatment Programs for Alcohol Addiction
When an employee is struggling with an addiction, professional treatment is often required to help them recover. Addiction treatment offers several levels of care to treat people with varying levels of needs, including:
One of the key criteria of an alcohol use disorder is an inability to stop drinking on your own. But with professional treatment and careful aftercare planning, anyone can recover.
Same-Day Admission for Alcohol Addiction Treatment
The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper provides effective, evidence-based treatment for people who can’t stop drinking on their own. Our comprehensive addiction treatment programs cover every level of care and incorporate a wide variety of therapies to help you get back on your feet and regain control over your life.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.