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Updated on December 8, 2022
6 min read

Alcoholism at Work

More than 6% of Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is about one in 12 men and one in 25 women with AUDs in the United States.1 With so many adults struggling with alcoholism, the chances of working with someone with an AUD are high.

Alcohol use can cause several problems for the company and the workforce. Alcohol abuse in work environments can result in increased absenteeism, injury, additional costs, loss of productivity, and more unwanted consequences.1 

Signs of an Alcoholic Coworker

If you think someone you work with is an alcoholic, there are some signs you can look for. Signs of an AUD include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory impairment
  • Risky behavior
  • Nonstop drinking
  • Denial
  • Distress when alcohol isn’t available

Signs of alcoholism may be slightly different when at your place of work. Some common signs of an AUD to look for at the workplace include someone:

  • Repeatedly using mints or mouthwash
  • Having glossy or bloodshot eyes
  • Sneaking alcohol into work
  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Disappearing for no apparent reason
  • Exhibiting unusual difficulty completing everyday tasks 
  • Falling asleep
  • Not meeting deadlines
  • Frequently calling out sick or coming in late
  • Acting belligerent

It’s important to note that all alcoholics show signs of their AUD differently. Similarly, not all people who struggle with alcohol use will exhibit the same symptoms. These behavioral and physical signs aren’t always connected to alcohol.

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Why Do People Drink Alcohol at Work?

The reasons why people may drink at work are often similar to the reasons why people drink in general. Often, people become alcoholics in response to life stressors or biological factors. 

Reasons why people drink alcohol at work include:

  • Work stressors, such as job insecurity, unfair pay, and unfair treatment
  • Life stressors, such as finances or family
  • Heavy workloads
  • Poor work environments
  • Work conflicts between coworkers or supervisors
  • To enhance sociability
  • Genetics
  • Mental health
  • Escapism

Effects of Alcoholism in the Workplace

If someone drinks at work, it affects them, the company, and the workplace. A staggering 15% of people in the U.S. say they drink alcohol before or during their shifts.2  These numbers significantly affect the individuals drinking and the businesses they work for. 

Besides the adverse effects AUDs have on the addicted person, other negative results of alcohol use in the workplace include:

  • Decreased employee morale
  • Loss of productivity 
  • Low job performance
  • Workplace injuries and accidents
  • Increased healthcare costs
  • High employee turnover rates
  • Theft among employees or from the company
  • Conflict between employees
  • Employee absenteeism 

Alcoholism contributed to about 11% of workplace-related injuries last year.2 Additionally, companies spend between $33 billion and $68 billion each year on healthcare due to alcohol misuse by employees.2  

AUDs and drinking on the job have severe effects on both the alcoholic and the workforce as a whole.

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How to Support a Coworker With an Alcohol Problem

If you have a coworker with an AUD, there are ways for you to support them and help them recover. 

Having an AUD doesn’t always mean a person can’t get help and continue being a good employee. The most beneficial way to help an alcoholic is to provide support and guidance on their recovery.

Some ways to support a coworker with an alcohol use problem include:

1. Opening Doors to Outpatient Treatment

Alcohol use can lead to your coworker failing at work or losing their job. However, there are options for an employee dedicated to their job and recovery. 

If your coworker has an AUD, consider sharing information about outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment supports alcoholics while allowing them to keep up with their work schedules and other obligations. 

Sometimes, a person struggling with alcoholism needs help finding the right resources. Opening their minds to outpatient rehabilitation could be the push they need to get sober and continue their career. 

2. Creating a Supportive Workplace Environment

Encouraging your coworker to work on their recovery can benefit their future in and out of the workplace. Some things you can do to help foster a healthy and supportive work environment include:

  • Reviewing your employee handbook: There may be options for medical leave. This may allow the employee to get help while still maintaining their job.
  • Informing coworkers about workplace AUD statistics: Leaving resources for counseling, treatment, detox, and support groups.
  • Being trustworthy and open: Being the kind of person others feel they can trust and feel confident confiding in.

3. Having Honest and Confidential Discussions

If you believe your coworker is struggling with an AUD, keep this information private. The last thing you want to do is make their alcoholism a workplace discussion amongst other employees. 

Consider taking your coworker aside and calmly discussing what you may have noticed. Then, go about the conversation in a caring and nonjudgmental manner. 

Understand that this person may deny their AUD. This is a common reaction. Inform this person that you’re only there to help and all conversations can be kept confidential. Offer support and resources to help them recover.

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Tips for Employers

Ways to approach someone with an AUD differ if you’re an employer or coworker. If you’re an employer and you think someone that works for you is drinking on the job, you have options to consider. These include:

Can I Fire Someone for Drinking on the Job?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer can’t fire an employee just because they have a disease, disability, or medical condition.3 Technically, alcohol use disorder falls in this category. That means an employer can’t just fire someone because of their AUD.

However, you can fire someone who cannot do their job because of their AUD. So, if an employee is constantly late, absent, making the workplace unsafe, or unable to do their job, they can be fired.

The ADA states that an employer must make specific accommodations for someone battling alcoholism before termination. 

The ADA also says you must make “reasonable” accommodations for them to get help before firing them. This includes:3

  1. They must make you aware that they have a drinking problem before you notice negative results 
  2. They must ask for help and an opportunity to allow them to recover
  3. They must prove their AUD makes it near impossible for them to do their job correctly

If your employee doesn’t confide in you about their alcoholism or the treatment you provide doesn’t resolve the issue, you can terminate them. Additionally, if their conduct is such that it puts others at risk, the ADA says you can legally let them go.

How Do I Approach an Employee With a Drinking Problem?

The best way to approach an employee with a drinking problem is to do so nonjudgmentally and calmly. Try not to make accusations. Instead, mention how the employee’s behavior has been strange or concerning to you.

If you believe the employee is under the influence, wait to address issues on performance or production. Instead, take an empathetic approach to their situation. First, emphasize your concern for their well-being and offer your support. Then, schedule a near future meeting to discuss what’s next.

Summary

  • Statistically speaking, you probably have or will work with someone with an AUD.
  • Alcohol use in the workplace can cause many problems for the company and the workforce, such as absenteeism, injury, additional costs, loss of productivity, and more.
  • Work stress, such as heavy workloads, insufficient pay, and unsafe work environments, may increase workplace drinking.
  • The best way to support a coworker or employee who has an AUD is by offering your support and other resources to help them on the road to recovery.
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Updated on December 8, 2022
7 sources cited
Updated on December 8, 2022
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.
  2. Galov, Nick. “14 Head Spinning Drinking At Work Statistics For 2022.” Webtribunal, 2022.
  3. Firing Employees With Drinking Problems.” Employment Law Handbook.
  4. Roman PM, et al. “The workplace and alcohol problem prevention.” Alcohol Res Health, 2002.
  5. Thørrisen MM, et al. “Association between alcohol consumption and impaired work performance (presenteeism): a systematic review.” BMJ Open, 2019. 
  6. Marchand, Alain. “Alcohol use and misuse: What are the contributions of occupation and work organization conditions?” BMC Public Health, 2008.
  7. Dryden, Jim. “In U.S., alcohol use disorder linked to 232 million missed workdays annually.” Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, 2022.

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