Research shows that nearly 15 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for an alcohol addiction or alcoholism, meaning most employers will someday encounter alcoholism in the workplace. Employee alcoholism can have a negative effect on productivity and workplace safety, but there are ways to help employees who are battling alcohol addiction so they can return to productivity.
employee, hand grasping glass of alcohol with head down on work desk
Identifying Signs of Alcoholism
There are some common signs of substance abuse, as well as specific signs associated with alcohol addiction. Consider these signals if you are concerned about employee alcoholism:
Signs of Hangover: According to experts, some signs of a hangover include irritability, anxiety, tiredness, slurred speech, weakness, thirst, headache, achy muscles, sweating, upset stomach and sensitivity to light and sound. An employee who frequently reports to work with some of these symptoms may be experiencing alcoholism.
Smell of Alcohol: One of the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder is being unable to give up drinking, so someone with alcoholism may be unable to stop drinking in time to get rid of the scent of alcohol on their breath or clothing before work.
Frequent Gum-Chewing or Use of Mints: Because people with an alcohol use disorder may come to work smelling like alcohol, they may use gum or mints to try to mask the scent of alcohol on their breath. If someone uses these products excessively or disappears to the bathroom or car to use them throughout the workday, this can be a cause for concern, especially if you notice other signs of alcohol abuse.
Caught Drinking During Lunch Break: An employee struggling with alcoholism may drink during the workday because of strong cravings or alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms after several hours without alcohol.
Prone to Workplace Accidents/Clumsiness: Someone living with an alcohol use disorder may come to work under the influence or drink during the workday, which can lead to accidents or clumsiness if they are intoxicated while on the job.
Aggressive Behavior and Memory Lapse: Some people may become aggressive while intoxicated. They may experience blackouts from heavy alcohol use, which can lead to memory lapses.
Remote Work, COVID-19 and Alcoholism
Working remotely can bring unique challenges around alcoholism at work. Employees coping with isolation and loneliness while working remotely may turn to alcohol to cope. A recent study found that 55% of American adults increased their alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 53% reporting they did so to cope with stress. Working from home can create additional anxiety during an already difficult time.
Employees working remotely may also escalate their alcohol use because of the privacy of working from home. They may be more likely to drink in the evenings since they don"t report to the office. They may consume alcohol during the workday with less chance of being caught drinking on the clock.
This can be a complex issue for employers to address, but remote workers can be held accountable for substance abuse, even if they are not physically in the office. An employee being paid for work who does not complete it violates company policy, even if they are drinking from the privacy of home. It is essential that this fact is clearly communicated to remote employees. It may be helpful to delineate specific substance abuse policies that pertain to remote work.
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