Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug in the world. As such, it is to be expected that it would have the greatest impact of all types of substance abuse on the workplace. In the US, after studies showed the damage done by ignoring this problem, private companies and government agencies began to develop effective ways to deal with the matter.
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that nearly 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are addicted to alcohol. It's estimated that alcohol in the workplaces costs between $33 billion and $68 billion per year due to lost productivity, auto accidents on the job, medical claims and similar costs. Absenteeism among people abusing alcohol runs 4 to 8 times higher than among non-abusers. And there are many more accidents and on the job injuries around alcohol abusers with some of those injuries affecting non-drinking employees. More men than women are usually involved in alcohol use on the job, and more often, younger workers rather than older ones. Companies with a greater proportion of younger workers, especially male ones, may want to be particularly alert for this problem.
Industries found to be most affected by alcohol or drug abuse in the workplace were:
- Legal occupations
- Food preparation and serving
- Building and grounds maintenance.
What Would an Employer Look for in Determining if an Employee has an Alcohol Problem?
- Employee is often late or missing from duty without adequate reason
- He or she uses excessive amounts of sick leave
- There is a tell-tale pattern of absences, such as right after payday, Mondays or Friday afternoons
- The person seems to have a remarkable number of emergencies that call him or her away from work, such as household repairs, family crises or auto repairs
- The person's work shows careless or sloppy work or assignments are incomplete.
- Deadlines are missed or quotas are not met
- Any poor performance or attendance is answered with constant excuses
- Note: Long-term projects may enable the employee to mask their poor performance for a longer period of time.
- Co-worker relationships may become difficult
- Employee may manifest argumentative, confrontational or evasive behavior, especially after absences.
- Employee may avoid contact with co-workers and particularly supervisors
- Financial problems may become evident due to creditor calls at work, employee requests for advances or reports that employee is trying to borrow money from other employees.
A supervisor can detect the use of alcohol during working hours by looking for the following:
- An odor of alcohol on the person or breath, unsteady walk, slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Too-frequent use of mouthwash or breath mints
- Shakiness or tremors
- Avoidance of meetings, co-workers or supervisors, especially after a lunch break
- Sleeping on the job
At one time, companies who found that their employees had alcohol or drug problems had limited choices or guidelines to use in dealing with the situation. They could fire the employee or try to keep him or her on the job which had liabilities if the employee created problems for clients or other personnel.
As Alcohol-Free and Drug-Free Workplaces gained importance, the US Department of Labor began to promote ways that employers could encourage safety among employees. Such steps as ensuring designated drivers or alternative transportation were provided for workplace parties and encouraging non-alcoholic alternatives at any employer-sponsored events were among the recommendations. Employers were also recommended to look into Employee Assistance Program (EAP) vendors. EAP vendors offer a variety of services to employees, such as financial advising, personal counseling and referrals to addiction services. In the case of substance abuse, EAPs are intended to help employees make wise choices if they, a coworker or a family member has a problem with alcohol, prescription or illicit drugs. EAP services are confidential and are intended to help the employee remain productive.
If an employee makes a choice to seek addiction treatment help, this matter is covered by health confidentiality laws passed by the federal government.
With the use of an EAP, a valuable employee can be retained by the company, but problems can be referred out of the workplace before there is a serious impact on the company or the employee. More employees have a way to find someone who can advise them, rather than not knowing where to start to eliminate the alcohol problem.
All that is wanted by an employer or an EAP is that an employee can go back to work and do his or her best. So some employers who want the best for their employees have turned to Narconon alcohol and drug recovery and addiction prevention centers, located in 45 countries around the world. Narconon specialists enable those who have a problem or are faced with decisions about alcohol abuse or use of illicit drugs to find the help and information they need. In their long-term, residential alcohol treatment programs, Narconon enables those who have lost control of their drinking to take control of their lives and their careers once again. With productive employees back on the job, sober again after graduation from the Narconon rehab program, everyone wins.