How to Help a Work Alcoholic as a Supervisor or Co-Worker

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Many drink alcohol to relax after a long day or have fun during the weekend. But when people consume more than they can handle and work while intoxicated or hungover, it’s a sign of a bad drinking habit and possible problems in the workplace.

If you’re a co-worker or employer who suspects a colleague or employee to have drinking problems, this article provides insights on dealing with alcoholism in the workplace.

Learn more about the effects of alcohol abuse at work, how to spot a person struggling with alcoholism, and the different treatment options they can receive.

Alcoholism in the Workplace

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) determines alcoholism as a disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that makes it difficult to stop or control alcohol consumption despite experiencing negative consequences in one’s job, relationships, and health.

Unfortunately, it’s the most used and abused substance in the U.S., with 60.3 million adults aged 18 and above reported to partake in binge drinking or other unhealthy alcohol consumption patterns.

While alcoholism isn’t common in most workplaces, it’s still an uncomfortable reality, especially in certain industries and professions. A U.S. national survey records that 15% of the workforce (19.2 million workers) experience alcohol use and impairment.

According to a 2015 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the top five industries with high rates of alcohol abuse include:

  • Mining (17.5%)
  • Construction (16.5%)
  • Accommodations and food services (11.8%)
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation (11.5%)
  • Utilities (10.3%)

The Effects of Workplace Alcoholism

Alcoholism in the workplace not only affects the person dealing with alcohol abuse but also other employees and the company at large. These effects include:

  • Frequent Absenteeism: Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to several health problems, such as liver and heart diseases, which can affect the employee’s attendance.
  • Poor Productivity: People struggling with alcoholism demonstrate poor decision-making, tardiness, and tiredness, which can affect overall productivity and performance.
  • Safety Concerns: People struggling with alcohol problems often lack focus and show impaired motor skills, which can lead to on-the-job injuries and accidents, especially in labor-intensive industries like construction and mining.
  • Possible Conflict: Alcohol can amplify emotions like anger, which can lead to confrontational behavior in the workplace.
  • More Cost: For employers, lost productivity, increased accidents, extra health care expenses, and high turnover mean a higher cost of operation, since the workforce’s overall performance impacts business goals and objectives.

Your Role as a Supervisor or Co-worker

Supervisors and colleagues have no say or control over an employee’s decision to drink since it’s a personal matter. However, they can have legitimate concerns when alcohol interferes with the employee’s ability to work or when the employee demonstrates signs of alcohol addiction.

If you’re an employer or supervisor, your role is crucial to helping employees with drinking problems. Exercise responsibility by making employees aware of their performance problems, holding them accountable for misconduct or poor work quality, and referring them to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Meanwhile, as a co-worker, you should never ignore the issue. Let your colleagues know the negative effects of their alcohol misuse on their jobs, health, and relationships.

Regardless of your position, you shouldn’t become an enabler to your employee or co-worker with bad drinking behavior. If you want to help, you can learn how to approach a person struggling with alcohol addiction below. But first, here’s how to identify the problem:

5 Warning Signs Someone Has Alcohol Addiction

If someone is going through one of the stages of alcohol addiction, they’ll likely demonstrate several signs of alcohol dependency. If you see the following signs frequently with an employee or co-worker, they may be dealing with alcohol use disorder.

1. Physical Signs

If you’re worried about an employee or co-worker, observe their physical condition.

Employees struggling with alcoholism show a poor overall appearance, as they may overlook caring for themselves due to being tired or hungover.

However, notable physical signs you should watch out for include glossy-looking or bloodshot eyes, slow pupil response, pale-looking skin, and heavy sweating. Some of them might also smell strongly of alcohol.

2. Poor Attendance and Performance

It’s normal to make a mistake at work, be late, or file for sick leave. However, if an employee demonstrates frequent unexplained tardiness, absences, and sloppy work, it could be a sign of alcohol use disorder if paired with other signs.

Alcohol affects one’s health and cognitive function. Here are some circumstances and behaviors that hint at alcohol misuse:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Incomplete assignments
  • Excessive use of leaves
  • Patterned absences
  • Unexplained absences
  • Faulty analysis
  • Forgetfulness on important matters
  • Slowly completes tasks
  • Gives excuses for poor performance
  • Sleeping on duty

Overall, observe an employee’s work performance and attendance. If their productivity has been steadily declining and you notice other warning signs, this can be grounds for alcoholism in the workplace.

3. Awkward or Unpredictable Behavior

Besides the workers’ performance at work, look at their condition and behavior inside and outside the workplace. Those with alcohol use disorder may exhibit:

  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady manner of walking
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Changes in mood and behavior, like excessive laughter and loud talking
  • Excessive use of breath mints or mouthwash to mask the odor of alcohol
  • Avoiding supervisory contact

People struggling with alcoholism may also have a significant change in behavior when they drink. For example, they can become flirty, mean-spirited, or withdrawn for no reason.

4. Strained Relationships

Employees or co-workers with alcohol dependency may develop strained relationships with their colleagues due to their short temper, underperformance, or withdrawal.

As a result, other workers tend not to trust and communicate with them. Some may even fear them or walk on eggshells to avoid conflict.

5. Lack of Self Control with Alcohol

Those with alcohol use disorder will exhibit or experience critical signs of alcohol dependency, even while inside the workplace or during work hours. These include:

  • Bringing alcoholic drinks in a concealed container at their job
  • Drinking liquor more than intended
  • Drinking in risky situations, like driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Preferring liquor over hobbies or things they enjoy
  • Spending time and resources to find, drink, and recover from alcohol
  • Drinking even if they know it’ll worsen their physical or mental health
  • Developing increased tolerance, making them drink more
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking

If you notice at least two of these behaviors in an employee or co-worker, they meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder.

How to Approach Someone With a Suspected Drinking Problem

Whether you’re a co-worker, a representative from the human resources department, or an employer, these steps will help you approach or confront an employee with drinking problems.

1. Meet with the Person Privately

Set a private meeting with the employee, ideally away from co-workers. Choose the right day and time to have the conversation. More importantly, make sure the person is sober.

Feel free to bring the person outside the workplace to make them more comfortable; it’s best to talk in a quiet and private location.

Throughout any conversation from this point forward, remember to be non-judgmental, calm, and supportive.

2. Express Your Concerns

When you meet them, share your concerns over the person’s health and safety. Let them know your observations and point out patterns of tardiness or poor job performance. It’s best to give specific examples to support your claims.

However, remember not to accuse them. Only state facts and share them in a questioning but caring manner.

3. Listen to Their Side

Give the person a chance to share their side. They may admit their drinking problem and ask for help. However, you should know this isn’t the case for most.

Many who struggle with addiction deny and defend their behaviors. If the person refuses to acknowledge the problem, you can focus on their job performance issues and how they can improve.

4. Help Them Seek Treatment

If the person asks for help, you can refer them to an HR representative or the company’s EAP. If you’re unsure how to help, check out the alcohol addiction treatment options below.

Remember that you can’t force the person to accept their substance misuse or make them quit drinking. If they refuse to seek treatment, continue to offer your support and ensure you’re not enabling their drinking.

Ways to Help Co-Workers or Employees Stop Drinking Alcohol

Here are some alcohol addiction intervention treatments, methods, and support you can share with an employee or colleague with an alcohol problem.

Refer Them to the Employee Assistance Program

An Employee Assistance Program offers free and confidential assessments, counseling, and services to help employees deal with stress, grief, mental health issues, substance abuse, and other personal and work-related problems.

Refer your co-worker or employee to your company’s EAP if it has one.

Find a Primary Care Doctor

If the employee seeks treatment, it’s best to talk to a primary care physician first. The healthcare professional can evaluate the employee’s drinking pattern, craft or recommend treatment programs, and prescribe medications if needed.

Help Them Seek Treatment Online

You can also refer them to telemedicine or online alcohol addiction treatment options, like Curednation.

You can book an appointment through the website and get consultations, prescriptions, and treatments at home.

Recommend Mutual-Support Groups

Along with treatments by medical professionals, encourage your co-worker or employee to join a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or a 12-step program with peer support like Dual Recovery Anonymous.

Final Thoughts

Anyone struggling with alcoholism and drug dependence needs understanding and compassion.

However, you should communicate the matter with care and firmness to make them realize the impact of their actions.

Since you can’t force a person to receive treatment, you can instead care for them, hold them accountable for their conduct or performance, and push for workplace policies that prevent and treat employee alcohol use.

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