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The Heavy Burden of Alcohol Abuse In the United States

It is no secret that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States. The stuff is legal and woven into the very fabric of American culture. Think about it. Alcohol is served at ballgames, BBQs, parties, special events, and celebrations. Plus, the stuff is sold on practically every street corner from here to Maine. Nevertheless, just because alcohol is legal and socially acceptable doesn’t mean we should underestimate its potential for causing death and destruction – even in the workplace.

According to a 2015 report published by the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAA), approximately 15 million American adults have some form of alcoholism – now commonly referred to as “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” This includes about 10 million men. Plus, there are about 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. every year. These statistics are staggering.

Alcohol addiction affects everyone it comes into contact with. It destroy destroys individuals, wrecks families, and annihilates friendships. It can also negatively impact the workplace. In fact, a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that in 2010 alone, the economic burden caused by alcohol abuse in the United States was a whopping $249 billion. A large portion of this was loss of work productivity. Wowza!

How Alcoholism Affects The Workplace and What You Can Do to Make a Difference

When there is an alcoholic in the workplace, it can affect the entire organization. You would be surprised how many problems can arise if just one man has a drinking problem on the job. It causes a loss of productivity, affects safety, creates an unstable work environment, puts undue stress on team members, and causes a financial burden to the employer.

When it comes to alcoholism in the workplace, we all have a responsibility to address the problem. Unfortunately, many people will tiptoe around an alcoholic and never confront them or they will choose to ignore the obvious. OR, even worse, coworkers will gossip, complain, or make fun of the alcoholic without ever dealing with the problem. This is a mistake.

If you have a coworker, employer, or employee who is an alcoholic, you should face the problem head on. Not only are you doing the individual a disservice by not pretending like their alcoholism doesn’t exist, you are short-circuiting the success of the organization you work for.

Of course, before you take any action regarding a potential alcoholic in the workplace, you should know what signs to look for.

Five Signs of Alcoholism in the Workplace:

# 1 – Frequent tardiness or absences: This is a sure sign that someone in the workplace has an alcohol problem. Quite often, an alcoholic will drink to excess the night before a workday and pass out at night’s end. This, of course, leads to hangovers. Hangovers are a force to be reckoned with and they can cause even the most dedicated worker to stay in bed until the pain subsides – or call in sick. If someone you work with is missing a lot of work or coming in late all the time, they might be an alcoholic.

# 2 – Drinking At Work: Most companies have a strict policy against drinking at work. This rule is in place for obvious reasons. However; if you happen to know that someone you work with keeps a bottle of liquor in their desk, sneaks drinks in the bathroom, or has a lot of alcohol during lunch; this could be a red flag. People who don’t have a problem with alcohol don’t need to drink during the work day.

# 3 – Loss of Coordination or Motor Skills: We all know what someone looks like when they are drunk. They stumble, slur their speech, have poor coordination, and become incoherent. If you think someone is drunk at work, they probably are. However; you do have to be careful on this one. Some medications taken for legitimate health reasons can have this same effect. You don’t want to call someone out for being drunk if they are simply having a bad reaction to medication.

# 4 – You Smell Alcohol on their Breath: This one is a no-brainer. Beer, wine, and liquor have a distinct smell. If you can smell alcohol one someone’s breath first thing in the morning or during the workday, this is definitely a sign that there is alcoholism in the workplace.

# 5 – Poor Work Performance: If someone seems to be struggling with their work duties and responsibilities, alcohol might be to blame. This is especially true if someone used to be a stellar performer at work and suddenly it seems like they can’t manage their workload. Sloppy work, disorganization, foolish mistakes, and a loss of productivity could be caused by alcoholism in the workplace.

What To Do If You Suspect There is Alcoholism in the Workplace

Every company has a different policy when it comes to alcoholism in the workplace. And, let’s be honest – this is a touchy subject that should be handled with care. You definitely want to treat the individual with respect, dignity, and compassion.

If you consider the person a friend, it might be a good idea to have a private conversation with them to express your concerns. Explain that you don’t want to humiliate them in any way, but that their drinking is disrupting the work environment. If nothing changes, you may have to go to a superior and explain what’s going on. Tell them that you have attempted to handle the problem on your own, but nothing has changed.

If you are the supervisor or employer, you should consult with your human resources department to educate yourself on company policy. You may have to ask the person to submit to an on-the-job alcohol test or take other action.

If you are in a position of leadership, you should also find out what kind of coverage (if any) the company offers to employees with an alcohol addiction. Most plans allow for detox and substance abuse treatment. Having this information when you confront the person will show that you are compassionate about their situation and that you want to help.

Please Be Kind – Alcoholism is a Disease

While you may be annoyed, frustrated, or downright angry with an alcoholic coworker or subordinate; please try to exercise some empathy. Alcohol Use Disorder is a medically recognized disease. It does not represent a moral failing, character flaw, or sign of weakness. It is a sickness that requires treatment. Do what you can to rally support for the person in question and encourage them to get sober.