Effects of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

There are currently more than 159 millions full-time American workers, and about 65% of them drink. About half of them are social drinkers, but some people are unable to control how often they drink.

Alcoholism in the workplace is expensive. Companies spend billions of dollars each year trying to deal with employees who drink too much. Employees’ absences, injuries and lost productivity cost companies money. Supervisors, coworkers and project teams suffer when employees struggle with alcoholism.

Quitting drinking is hard but it’s possible. You need help and support to get there. There’s lots of people out there who want to help you. Here’s what you need to know about the Effects of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace.

Alcohol Use Disorder: Signs and Symptoms

Employees or coworkers exhibiting signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder should be encouraged to seek help. Alcoholism is a disease that affects people’s lives. People suffering from this condition need treatment and support.

Drinking too much alcohol is a bad thing. You need to be careful about how much you drink. Alcohol affects your brain, and it makes you act “off” to others. You also might get into trouble because of your drinking. Your friends and family may think less of you if you’re drunk.

Alcoholics should never use alcohol when they’re driving, operating heavy machinery, or doing anything else dangerous. They should also avoid alcohol if they know it could make any medical condition worse. And finally, they shouldn’t drink alcohol if they know it might make a mental health problem, like depression, worse.

  • People who drink too much alcohol experience withdrawals if they stop drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five drinks per occasion for women and ten for men. Heavy drinking is defined as having six or more drinks per day for women and eight or more for men.
  • Alcoholics tend to miss deadlines and make careless mistakes. They also frequently drink too much alcohol. Their coworkers may notice this smell of alcohol coming from them.
  • Alcoholics often suffer from unsteadiness, bloodshot eyes, body shaking, falling asleep on the job, changes in moods and behaviors, and more. These are some of the most common symptoms of alcoholism.

Approaching Coworkers with an Alcohol Problem

Alcoholism is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by a professional. Your supervisor or HR rep should be informed about your concern. Don’t approach your coworker alone.

If this person does have an alcoholism problem, this is a much bigger issue than you alone can deal with. Your employer needs to be aware of your concerns. You need to talk to them about it.

Employees should be given a chance to explain why they’re late or absent without being accused of lying. They should be told that they need to go see a doctor if there is something wrong with them.

Employees should be assisted by HR when they need help. Human Resources employees should try to get the employee help first before focusing on performance issues.

Of course, if someone’s behavior is disruptive, they may require removal from the workplace for their own safety and the safety of other employees. Furthermore, if an individual is visibly intoxicated, an employer’s managers, or HR representative should address the situation as soon as possible.

Supporting a Coworker Struggling with an AUD

Your coworker may be struggling with alcoholism. You should try to get him/her to seek help. Don’t ignore signs of abuse. Talk to your supervisor or human resource representative if you think there’s a problem.

The best type of support for a coworker with an addiction problem is one where he/she feels comfortable talking about his/her problems. This helps the addict feel better about himself/herself. It also helps the addict learn coping skills.

You should also encourage your coworker to take time off to receive treatment. The longer he/she stays away from work, the easier it will be for him/her to recover.

Alcohol in the Workplace: Laws

Alcoholism is a disease that affects many people. People who suffer from this disease should get help. There are some laws that protect them. For example, there are laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability, i.e., Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are also laws in place to protect those getting help under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

An employer must make reasonable accommodations for disabled people and those seeking help for addiction under the FMLA.

Can You be Fired for Being an Alcoholic Employee?

Employers have the right to fire people who show up drunk at work. But employers must also provide reasonable accommodations for alcoholics. Extreme alcoholism is a disease protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Once given the chance to get help, if refused, then an employer may fire an employee at their discretion.

Employees who relapse and continue to come to work impaired, unable to do the job, may also be let go at the employer’s discretion.

Alcohol in the Workplace Statistics

Construction and Mining Industries have the highest rate of heavy drinking. Workers in these industries have the highest absenteeism.

Alcoholism is very high amongst food service workers. Food service workers are more likely to drink heavily as they work around bars and alcohol more frequently than other professions.

Workers in retail stores are most likely to report having been injured while working due to intoxication.

Alcohol abuse is a major problem in the transportation industry. According to a 1990 study, about 15% of fatal truck crashes involve the use of alcohol. About 27% of fatal railroad accidents involve the use of alcohol or other substances. The odds of on the job injury increase with the frequency of heavy drinking.

There are several ways to prevent alcohol-related accidents in the workplace. These include:

  • Creating policies that limit access to alcohol during working hours.
  • Providing training on the dangers of alcohol consumption.
  • Using breathalyzers to test employees before starting shifts.

Alcoholism in the Workplace: Stressors

Stressful work environments lead to alcohol abuse. People who work in overly loud environments drink more than those who work in quiet environments. Those who work in cold or hot environments drink more than those working in comfortable temperatures. Those who work in environments full of conflict between supervisors and coworkers drink more than those who do not.

Here is a list of other contributors to alcohol in the workplace:

  • Unfair treatment regarding pay, benefits, and promotions.
  • Job insecurity.
  • Heavy workload.

Alcohol Treatment Birmingham, AL

You should start by talking to your HR department about your options. They may be able to point you towards treatment options or suggest a counselor who can help you. Or, you could go to a formal program such as AA/NA. Contact Birmingham Recovery 24/7 for help or call: (205) 813-7400


  • Ian Henyon, LPC

    Having worked in a variety of clinical settings since 2008, Ian brings well over a decade of treatment center experience to the leadership role at Birmingham Recovery Center. As Executive Director, he is responsible for all aspects of BRC’s operations and provision of services. Being firmly grounded in the notion of servant leadership, Ian is focused on establishing a supportive work environment as a foundation for providing superior clinical services to BRC’s clients. Ian combines his extensive knowledge of treating addiction and psychiatric illness with the recognition that addiction is a disorder of the brain, to ensure that all clients are treated with the highest levels of respect and compassion. Ian is a licensed professional counselor. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and he received a Master of Science degree from Prescott College.


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