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Written by Amethyst Recovery

Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.

What Are the Effects of Alcoholism in the Workplace?

When we think about alcoholism and its effects, we often think about how close family members and loved ones are affected. There are other areas where alcoholism can take its toll, however. This includes the workplace. If there are signs of alcoholic tendencies in someone you work with, it can be difficult to function at a productive level. It can create an uncomfortable and toxic environment.

It’s estimated that around 17.6 million adults in the U.S. have an alcohol abuse or dependence disorder. Beyond that, there are millions more who meet the signs of binge drinking, which can lead to dangerous and risky behaviors and eventually alcohol addiction.

There are often two patterns of drinking that affect the workplace. The first refers to a situation where someone might be drinking either immediately before work or during work hours. An example could be having drinks at lunch.

Then, there are other situations where someone with an alcohol abuse problem might drink heavily the night before and then come to work late, sick or both, or may miss work altogether.

The effects of alcohol abuse on the entire workplace can include:

  • Lost productivity
  • A higher likelihood of accidents and injuries occurring in the workplace
  • High levels of employee absenteeism
  • Low morale
  • Increased sickness

Drinking heavily can also be linked to certain behaviors such as harassment, aggression, and disrespect toward coworkers.

People often wonder if there are, for example, 10 classic telltale signs of an alcoholic at work. The truth is, every alcoholic and particularly functioning alcoholics are going to have different ways of acting, and of hiding their drinking.

Rather than 10 specific signs of an alcoholic at work, there are usually a set of patterns and behaviors that you can see outwardly that could indicate alcohol abuse is a problem for a coworker.

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Alcohol Abuse and the Effects on the Workplace—Statistics

Consider the following statistics regarding the signs of an alcoholic coworker and the effects this can have on everyone in the workplace:

  • 20 percent of surveyed employees and managers across many different industries said that drinking excessively whether on or off the job threatens safety and productivity
  • Mining and construction tend to have the highest drinking rates
  • The cost of excessive alcohol use was $249 billion in 2010
  • Of the costs related to excessive alcohol use, the highest costs were related to lost workplace productivity
  • Alcohol is estimated to be a factor in at least 11 percent of all workplace deaths
  • Alcohol abuse is one of the top reasons employees get fired from their job

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic and What Are the Signs of a Functioning Alcoholic at Work?

With the discussion of alcoholism and its role in the workplace, what’s often being referred to is functional alcoholism. Functional alcoholics can appear for the most part as if everything’s okay. Many functioning alcoholics are even high performers at work and can hold positions of power in the workplace.

Often because of success at work, people will overlook the problematic drinking of a person. However, over time that untreated functional alcoholism can lead to increasing problems throughout one’s life, including at work.

Signs of a functioning alcoholic can include:

  • Making jokes about alcoholism or jokes about drinking
  • Loss of friendships or relationships because of drinking
  • Blacking out or forgetting what you did because of drinking
  • Drinking when you’re alone
  • Getting unintentionally drunk
  • Feeling like you need alcohol to relax
  • Having legal problems related to drinking

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Identifying the Signs of An Alcoholic Colleague or the Signs of An Alcoholic Boss

It can be somewhat challenging to identify the signs of an alcoholic colleague or the signs of an alcoholic coworker at first. Something might seem “off,” but it may be tough to identify exactly what that is, especially when you’re considering the fact that a person might be in the earlier stages of alcohol abuse.

However, the signs of an alcoholic coworker can often be broken down into specific categories. These include attendance, performance, work relationships and behavior according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Signs of An Alcoholic Colleague—Attendance

  • Frequent absences from work especially ones that aren’t authorized
  • Tardiness
  • Excessive use of sick leave time
  • Frequently being absent the day following payday or on Mondays
  • Unplanned absences often attributed to emergencies

Signs of An Alcoholic Colleague—Performance

  • Frequent missed deadlines
  • General sloppy work or a lack of attention
  • Not meeting production quotas
  • Incomplete work submitted
  • Incorrect analysis on projects

Signs of an Alcoholic Colleague—Relationships

  • Difficulties with co-workers
  • Belligerence
  • Short-tempered
  • Argumentative
  • The employee might seem like a loner

Signs of An Alcoholic Colleague—Behavior

  • Frequently smells of alcohol
  • Staggering or unsteady walking
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in mood and behavior or frequent mood swings
  • Frequently uses breath mints
  • Avoiding supervisors or other coworkers especially after lunch
  • Seeming drowsy or sleeping at work
  • Tremors

Laws and Regulations Regarding Alcohol Use and the Workplace

There are certain laws and regulations that relate to the use of alcohol as well as drugs in the workplace or in a way that affects the workplace. For example, employers do have the right to prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace, and employers can deny employment to someone who is using illegal drugs. Since alcohol use is legal for people of a certain age, this can often be a more challenging situation to deal with than drugs.

If someone is an addict, employers are expected to make reasonable accommodations for that person. For example, if someone is undergoing rehab for a drinking problem their employer should make reasonable accommodations. In some cases, a person who is diagnosed as an alcoholic may also be classified as an individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

At the same time, an employer can discipline, fire or deny employment to someone whose alcohol use is problematic to their job performance or behavior.

What Should Supervisors Do If They See the Signs of An Alcoholic Coworker?

When you’re a supervisor if you think one of your employees is an alcoholic or is abusing alcohol, what do you do and what are your responsibilities? First, even if you see the signs of a functioning alcoholic in one of your employees, it’s not up to you to make that diagnosis.

What you should do is continue your supervisory role and duties. For example, you should make sure you’re monitoring and review attendance and workplace performance. If necessary, disciplinary actions may be taken. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program or EAP, you may need to refer the employee.

Many times as a supervisor you will have to let the person know that if their behavior continues to be problematic at work, they may end up losing their job.

Dealing with a Coworker Who Shows the Signs of Alcoholism

When you’re working with someone who shows the signs of being an alcoholic coworker or who shows signs of alcoholic behaviors, it can take its toll personally and professionally.

There are different ways to handle someone who’s showcasing signs of being an alcoholic colleague.

Confronting a Colleague

If you’re considering confronting your colleague who shows signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s important to be prepared. You don’t want to come off as too aggressive, because this can lead to the person being defensive or angry.

You should approach the conversation in a way that seems caring, but also professional.

Letting your coworker or employee know what the specific problems are related to their drinking can be helpful. Also, let your coworker know that if they do decide to seek help that you’re there to support them.

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Should You Have An Intervention?

Sometimes an intervention might be one option if you see that your coworker is no longer able to fulfill their functions and their role at work.

If you’re in charge of someone who has an apparent drinking problem you can let them know how serious the consequences will be if they don’t seek help.

In any situation where an employee is going to be confronted, or there is going to be an intervention, it needs to be handled in a way that follows all relevant employment laws, and it should remain professional and procedural.

For example, the employee should be notified a meeting will be held, and this should be a time where specific issues are discussed including performance, misconduct, and attendance.

If an intervention is going to be held, it should be done by a trained professional. The employees that are present in the intervention can, under the guidance of the professional, explain how their colleague’s drinking has affected them.

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs or EAPs are another option that are available at some companies. These are confidential services that can include counseling and referrals to treatment programs.

What If You’re Seeing Signs of An Alcoholic Boss?

A lot of what’s been discussed so far is in reference to dealing with either the signs of an alcoholic co-worker or a subordinate. If you’re the supervisor of someone with a drinking problem, there may be more actions available to you include disciplinary actions, and if necessary, you might fire the person who is showing signs of being an alcoholic at work.

What if you’re the subordinate, however, and you see the signs of an alcoholic boss? This can be more difficult to deal with because it can be much harder to approach your superior about the worrying signs you may see.

Having an alcoholic boss could also be jeopardizing your own career as well. It’s difficult because if there is a problem at work, you’ll usually go to your boss, so how can you do that when your boss is the problem?

The best course of action is usually to speak with the human resources department. They will deal with what you say confidentially. However, in most cases, HR won’t directly deal with the boss, and instead, they will refer it to the EAP program if possible. There may also be a corporate psychiatrist or psychologist that the situation can be referred to.

What NOT To Do If You see the Signs of An Alcoholic Coworker

If you do believe someone you work with is an alcoholic or their drinking is becoming problematic, the first thing to avoid is being an enabler. This is something that can often happen with supervisors who feel their subordinate has a drinking problem.

They may want to help the person and in doing so, they’re not making the employee accountable. That can bring more problems for the person struggling with their drinking, and it can have a negative effect on corporate culture and employee morale as well.

Some signs of enabling a colleague or employee include covering up for them, not referring the employee to the EAP, or having other employees take on the work and duties of the employee who has a drinking problem.

Get Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

Whether your employee, your coworker or even you personally are struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, help, and resources are available. We encourage you to contact Amethyst Recovery and we can help you learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder.










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