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Is it Normal to Drink Before Work?

Most people do not consider it normal to drink before work. However, it’s important to consider what “before” means, as well as other factors.

For example, if you work second-shift on Sunday and you drink a mimosa at brunch at 10 am, most people would not consider that problematic. It’s drinking before work, but for you, it’s at the end of the day. Alone, it’s not an indication that you have a drinking problem.

However, if you regularly consume alcohol before work, especially if you work first-shift and you’re drinking first thing in the morning, most people would consider your behavior not only a bad idea, but also alcohol abuse.

What is Considered a “Normal Drinking Habit?”

“Normal” drinking varies from person to person. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture define “moderate” drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This equals a glass of wine or bottle of beer.

Health experts define heavy alcohol use as more than three drinks per day for women and four drinks per day for men. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol consumption as drinking five or more days a month.

For some people, any consumption of alcohol is abnormal. This includes people who are:

  • Under the age of 21
  • Pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • Planning to drive or operate machinery
  • Participating in activities that require alertness, coordination, or skill
  • Taking OTC or prescription medications that do not mix well with alcohol
  • Inflicted by certain medical conditions
  • Are in recovery for alcohol use or unable to control their consumption

The important thing to remember is that what might be normal for one person isn’t normal for another. One drink is safe for some people, while others cannot even consume that much. 

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Does Alcohol Make You Work Better?

For most people, no. Alcohol does not enhance work productivity. It actually makes them less productive and causes struggles with fulfilling responsibilities. Drinking or being drunk on the job can also harm your reputation.

Some people might argue that if your job requires a lot of social interaction, a drink helps them feel more relaxed and at ease. If your job requires socializing in settings in which you might normally drink, it’s important to clear with your employer whether or not this is acceptable. 

As long as drinking does not violate your employer’s alcohol policy, an alcoholic beverage might be beneficial in some circumstances.

Effects & Dangers of Drinking Alcohol Before Work

Drinking alcohol before work produces a variety of effects and poses dangers such as:

  • Puts you at risk of developing or already having a physical and/or psychological dependence on alcohol
  • Poses a higher risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not consuming alcohol
  • Makes someone more likely to drink throughout the day
  • Creates a higher risk of accidents, especially for those operating machinery or performing work that requires extreme focus and control
  • Increases the likelihood of liver disease, dementia, and other physical complications linked to drinking
  • Presents a high risk of developing alcohol use disorder if it isn’t already present
  • Increases the risk of DUI and other risks of inebriation because you’re more likely to get drunk when drinking on an empty stomach

In many cases, people who consume an alcoholic drink before work drink alone. This indicates their drinking is not for social reasons, but instead because they want to alter their physical condition.

Can You Get Fired for Drinking on the Job?

Yes. However, it might surprise many people to know there are laws governing drinking habits and termination. These laws affect how an employer can respond to an employee with a drinking problem. 

Employers have the legal right to discipline workers for performance issues related or unrelated to drinking. 

For example, if someone is habitually late for work, they can be terminated. It doesn’t matter if they’re late because their alarm clock doesn’t work or because they were drinking. Lateness is the reason for termination, not the reason causing the lateness.

Likewise, there are no laws protecting employees who commit crimes at work (whether or not those crimes are linked to addiction). Employees can also be terminated for insubordination, destruction of employer property, or violate company policies in any other way. 

Employers can terminate someone if their actions stemmed from drinking. However, it is illegal to terminate someone for being an alcoholic. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism is a disease. Employers cannot fire someone for having the disease of AUD any more than they can be fired for having cancer or depression or any other disease or disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers protection to those with disabilities, including AUD, but applies differently to alcohol addiction and the illegal use of drugs. Alcoholism is generally considered a disability because it is an impairment that affects the brain and neurological functions. 

Under the ADA, employers can require employees with addictions to meet the same standards of performance and behavior as other employees. But they must also grant requests to take leave to enter a rehab program. Except in cases in which the employer can prove that the absence would cause a great difficulty or expense (undue hardship).

Regarding the initial question, yes, someone can be fired for drinking on the job. Employment laws protecting those with AUD do not protect you when you drink at work.

The protection provided by the law covers needing treatment or being fired just because you’ve been diagnosed with AUD. Your employer cannot terminate you if they find out you’re in treatment or you’ve sought treatment in the past. Nor can they terminate you if you seek treatment to help you with recovery from alcoholism.

Is Drinking in the Morning a Sign of Alcoholism?

In some cases. People who choose to have a bloody Mary or mimosa with brunch aren’t alcoholics because of that choice. Third-shift workers who end their workday early in the morning with a drink might not be either. A drink in these circumstances is no different than a drink at happy hour after working 9 to 5.

However, someone who regularly drinks in the morning, especially before their workday, might need treatment for their alcohol use. If you are drinking in the morning to deal with stress, anxiety, or self-medicating, it’s a sign of alcoholism.

Many alcoholics wake up and begin drinking as soon as possible. If they don’t drink, they’ll think about where they will get the first drink of the day.

This obsession with and inability to control drinking is the problem. Many describe alcoholism as a thinking disorder. People with alcoholism never stop thinking about where, when, and how they can drink. They’re physically and mentally addicted to alcohol. Some describe it as being “in love” with drinking.

In these cases, when someone is drinking or thinking about drinking first thing in the morning, it is likely a sign of alcoholism. 

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction include:

  • Residential care (inpatient treatment) — provides round-the-clock support and lets you focus entirely on recovery and sober living.
  • Intensive outpatient care — provides access to individual and group therapy for several hours each day without removing you from your normal life.
  • Outpatient treatment — provides access to therapy approximately once a week.
  • 12-step programs — provides camaraderie and support in a group setting with other recovering alcoholics.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — provides pharmaceutical support for treating addiction.

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Resources

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The ADA, Addiction and Recovery | ADA National Network.” Adata.org, https://www.adata.org/factsheet/ada-addiction-and-recovery.

“SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Samhsa.gov, 2000, https://www.samhsa.gov/.

“What Is Excessive Alcohol Use? | Infographics | Online Media | Alcohol | CDC.” www.cdc.gov, 30 Dec. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html.

“Drinking Levels Defined | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.gov, 2017, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.

“Rethinking Drinking Homepage - NIAAA.” Nih.gov, 2019, https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/.

Ph.D, Joseph Nowinski. “Drinking at Work: Not a Healthy Trend.” Harvard Health Blog, 1 Mar. 2012, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/drinking-at-work-not-a-healthy-trend-201203014437.

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