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Alcoholism in the Workplace: Identifying Supporting & Addressing Co-worker Drinking Problems

Alcoholism in the workplace is a significant concern for employers and employees alike. It can lead to decreased employee morale, loss of productivity, low job performance, and even workplace injuries.

Additionally, employers must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees with alcohol use disorder (AUD) from discrimination. This article will discuss the signs of an alcoholic co-worker, why people drink at work, the effects of alcoholism in the workplace, and how to support a co-worker with an alcohol problem.

We will also explore the legal implications of terminating an employee with AUD and how to approach an employee with a drinking problem.

Signs of an Alcoholic Co-worker

It can be challenging to identify an alcoholic coworker, but there are signs to look out for. Poor coordination, slurred speech, memory impairment, risky behavior, and non-stop drinking are all signs of alcoholism.

Denial and distress in response to concerns about drinking are also common. An alcoholic coworker may also exhibit mood swings and increased irritability.

Why Do People Drink Alcohol at Work? People drink at work for several reasons, including work and life stressors, heavy workloads, poor work environments, mental health issues, and genetics.

They may also use alcohol as a coping mechanism or to escape reality and avoid their problems. Additionally, alcohol can be heavily ingrained in workplace culture, making it challenging to avoid.

Effects of Alcoholism in the Workplace

Alcoholism in the workplace can have severe consequences. Decreased employee morale, loss of productivity, low job performance, and workplace injuries are common effects.

The increased healthcare costs associated with treating alcohol-related health issues, along with high employee turnover rates and theft among employees, are also concerns. Additionally, absenteeism can occur due to an alcohol-related illness or attendance issues.

How to Support a Co-worker with an Alcohol Problem

When an employee is struggling with alcoholism, it is essential to approach the situation with empathy and support. You can start by opening doors to outpatient treatment and providing resources.

Creating a supportive workplace environment by including information about AUD statistics in the employee handbook, holding support groups, and providing further education may also help. Its essential to encourage honest and confidential discussions to offer support and resources for employees who need help.

Can I Fire Someone for Drinking on the Job? Under the ADA, alcoholism is classified as a disability that entitles employees to protection from discrimination.

Employers who terminate an employee with AUD without making accommodations risk liability in court. If an employee drinking on the job is a danger to themselves, other staff, or the public, employers can take disciplinary action against them, including termination.

How Do I Approach an Employee With a Drinking Problem? When approaching an employee with a drinking problem, it’s crucial to take a non-judgmental approach.

As an employer, you can create a supportive workplace environment that values the health and well-being of all staff. You can schedule a meeting to discuss the employee’s struggles with compassion and empathy.

This conversation should focus on providing support and options for care, including time off or outpatient treatment if necessary.


Alcoholism in the workplace is a significant concern for employers and employees. It can lead to decreased productivity, low job performance, and even workplace injuries.

Employers must understand the legal implications of terminating employees with alcohol use disorder and take a supportive approach when addressing AUD in the workplace. By providing resources, creating a supportive workplace environment, and focusing on compassionate discussions, employers can support the health and well-being of all their staff.

Statistics on AUD in the U.S.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects millions of Americans every year. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 6% of people over 18 in the U.S. struggle with AUD.

Men are more likely to have AUD than women, with 1 in 12 men and 1 in 25 women suffering from it. These numbers may seem low, but they still indicate a staggering 15 million adults with AUD in the U.S. alone.

The impact of AUD in the workplace is also significant. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 11% of workplace-related injuries are due to alcohol.

These injuries can lead to decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, and even cause life-threatening accidents. AUD can cost employers between $33 billion and $68 billion each year on healthcare alone.

By investing in resources to support employees with AUD, employers can reduce healthcare costs while creating a more productive and sustainable workplace.

Common Signs of an AUD

AUD can manifest in different ways, but certain common signs can indicate a potential problem. Those experiencing AUD may have poor coordination, slurred speech, memory impairment, and engage in risky behavior.

They may also engage in non-stop drinking, denial, and distress, which can impact work and personal life. Some individuals with AUD may repeatedly use mints or mouthwash, have glossy or bloodshot eyes, sneak alcohol into work, or have a noticeable alcohol odor.

Disappearing frequently from the workplace, having difficulty completing tasks, falling asleep, not meeting deadlines, frequently calling out sick or coming in late, and being belligerent can also be signs of an AUD.

Its essential to recognize these signs in someone you work with, whether you are a co-worker or an employer, to provide support and possibly prevent things from getting worse in the future.

Employers can create a safe environment where workers health and well-being are valued and promoted. By providing employees with the necessary resources and appropriate support, they can empower them to address their alcohol use disorder and get back on track.


AUD is a problem that affects individuals in many workplaces in the United States. People often use alcohol to cope with life stressors and work-related triggers, but prolonged abuse can lead to significant physical and emotional health problems.

Recognizing the signs of AUD in coworkers, employees, or even ourselves is critical to providing the necessary support to overcome this potentially debilitating condition. Standardizing alcohol-related policies in the workplace and promoting healthy habits and practices can go a long way in preventing and treating AUD.

By creating a compassionate and supportive workplace environment, everyone can help in responding to this issue while prioritizing the health of the employees and the success of the company.

Reasons People Drink Alcohol at Work

There are several reasons why people may turn to alcohol while at work. Work stressors, life stressors, heavy workloads, poor work environments, genetics, mental health issues, and escapism are among the most common factors.

Work Stressors

The work environment can be challenging, particularly when an employee faces high-pressure demands. Work-related stress can arise from a variety of sources, including job insecurity, poor management, limited autonomy, and unmanageable workloads.

Additionally, workplace competition or conflict with supervisors, coworkers, or customers can be a significant source of stress. Alcohol consumption may be a way for employees to relax and alleviate the tension caused by these work-related stressors.

However, it is essential to recognize that alcohol can also exacerbate stress and lead to further complications.

Life Stressors

Similar to work stressors, life stressors can also prompt individuals to turn to alcohol. Problems such as financial issues, relationship troubles, and other personal concerns can be highly overwhelming.

Alcohol provides an immediate sense of emotional relief for some individuals. While drinking may provide temporary relief, it does not provide any long-term resolutions to problems.

Seeking resources and help to address the underlying issues causing stress is essential.

Heavy Workloads

Heavy workloads can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and heightened stress. Feeling overwhelmed and unsupported is often a reason why individuals drink alcohol at work.

Alcohol may provide a sense of relaxation or help employees to cope with work-related stressors. However, alcohol consumption can lead to decreased job performance and further exacerbate the stress caused by heavy workloads.

Poor Work Environments

A poor work environment can cause negative effects both physically and mentally. The work environment can include any physical or social aspect of the workplace, such as temperature, noise, lighting, social isolation, workload pace, and work-home conflict.

In an unhealthy or confusing work environment, employees may feel the need to turn to alcohol in an attempt to cope.


A family history of alcoholism can increase the likelihood of AUD. Genetic factors can make certain individuals more susceptible to alcohol abuse.

This genetic predisposition can make it challenging to control drinking behavior even in the workplace.

Mental Health Issues

Alcohol is also used to cope with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Patterns emerge when someone uses alcohol to manage their mental health issues.

For example, anxiety can be alleviated temporarily through the use of alcohol; this places individuals at risk of becoming addicted to it.


Alcohol allows employees to escape their current situation and feel detached from their work. It offers an escape from reality, a way to ignore the issues faced at work or any other challenges one is facing.

This form of escapism provides relief from day-to-day stressors, but it inhibits focus and decision-making skills.


Alcohol consumption in the workplace is a complex issue, influenced by various factors. Employers can help prevent and treat alcohol misuse by creating a supportive environment, setting clear drug and alcohol policies, providing education and training, and ensuring confidential access to substance abuse treatment.

Additionally, employees can make a conscious effort to avoid turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism, seeking help in discussing their stressors or issues with colleagues, or professional support. Awareness of these reasons people turn to alcohol at work, and identifying the factors that induce these reasons is crucial to taking necessary action for promoting healthy habits in the workplace.


In conclusion, alcoholism in the workplace poses significant concerns for employers and employees, with potential impacts on productivity, employee morale, and increased healthcare costs. It is essential to recognize the signs of alcohol use disorder in the workplace and to provide support and resources for those who struggle with it.

Employers can create supportive environments by including alcohol-related policies in their employee manuals and setting aside resources for employees who may require treatment. Employees can be proactive by seeking out help when needed, committing to healthy habits and practices, and supporting colleagues with AUD.


Q: What are the most common signs of alcoholism in a coworker or employee? A: Signs include poor coordination, slurred speech, memory impairment, risky behavior, non-stop drinking, denial, distress, and changes in typical work behavior.

Q: What causes people to drink at work? A: People drink at work due to work or life stressors, heavy workloads, poor work environments, genetics, mental health issues, and escapism.

Q: What are the effects of alcoholism in the workplace? A: Alcoholism in the workplace can lead to decreased employee morale, loss of productivity, low job performance, workplace injuries, increased healthcare costs, high employee turnover rates, theft among employees, and absenteeism.

Q: How can employers support employees with AUD? A: Employers must create a supportive workplace environment, provide resources to employees outpatient treatment, and have honest and confidential discussions with those struggling.

Q: Can an employer terminate an employee with AUD? A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees with alcohol use disorder are protected against discrimination.

Employers must make accommodations before termination is considered. Q: How do I approach an employee with a drinking problem?

A: It’s crucial to take a non-judgmental approach, showing empathy and support, in addition to creating an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their struggles.

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