Alcoholism in the Workplace


Alcoholism in the workplace has a profound impact on safety and productivity. Most heavy and binge drinkers have jobs, with more than sixty percent employed as full-time workers.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the cost of alcoholism at work ranges from $33 billion to $68 billion a year with absenteeism estimated to be four to eight times greater among alcoholics and alcohol abusers.

Alcohol does not just affect the user: One in five employees have reported injuries or exposure to dangerous conditions because of a co-worker’s drinking, or have had to go beyond their regular work responsibilities to compensate for an employee who was alcohol-impaired.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports, however, that a place of employment can be an effective location for preventing or identifying alcohol-related problems.

Programs to Combat Alcoholism in the Workplace

To combat alcoholism in the workplace, many employers are creating comprehensive drug-free programs. Typically, these feature five components:

  • A policy that explains why the program is being implemented (such as protecting worker health and well-being); what behaviors are not allowed; and a clear explanation of what will happen if the policy is violated.
  • The training of supervisors so that they recognize and keep track of performance problems that may be the result of alcohol abuse, and can make referrals for testing. Supervisors should not take it upon themselves to diagnose or counsel employees who may have alcohol issues.
  • Providing employees with a thorough alcohol education program to include a review of the company’s policy, an explanation of alcohol addiction, how that addiction can affect work performance as well as one’s personal and family life, and how to get help if they suspect they have a problem.
  • Creating a means of support for employees who have an alcohol problem. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) have proven to be a very effective means for workers and their families to get counseling and other services and are a much more constructive option than firing the employee.
  • Drug testing can be a constructive tool for finding conclusive evidence of alcoholism at work, opening the way for confronting the employee, getting them into treatment, or bringing about some disciplinary action. Employers should check to ensure their alcohol and drug testing procedure is in compliance with local, state and federal law before that testing is instituted.

Creating an alcohol and drug-free workplace should be a collaborative effort between employers and employees where the needs of both parties are recognized, the right to privacy is protected, and mutual respect is a constant.






Other Sources: U.S. Department of Labor/Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy


Related Information

Alcoholism and the Workplace - Tips and information on handling an alcoholic employee.

Job-Site Screening for Alcohol or Alcoholism - Learn about drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. Why drug testing is so important, and information about the types of drug and alcohol tests that are available.




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