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Warning Signs Your Co-Worker May Have an Alcohol Problem

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and alcohol in the workplace is a big issue.

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), which works to raise awareness about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, especially among today’s youth. This year’s theme is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow,” and this month will be filled with local, state, and national events aimed at educating individuals about the treatment and prevention of alcohol addiction, particularly among youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.

According to statistics, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people or one in every 12 adults are diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder and millions of more individuals engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking that can potentially lead to alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse does not discriminate and can affect individuals from all walks of life, including those who are in the workforce, regardless if it is a corporate office job, a skilled labor job, or a customer service job. According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost 9 percent of America’s full-time workers drink heavily on the job at least once a month. So how can you tell if your co-worker is battling an alcohol addiction?

The four main areas that are compromised when a co-worker is struggling with an alcohol use disorder include workplace behavior, job performance, job attendance, and workplace relationships.

The Monday blues

Coming into work Monday morning with a hangover from heavy drinking on the weekends is always noticeable. Irritability, sensitivity to light, and a major headache are obvious signs and symptoms that your co-worker had a long night of drinking. It is more common than not to have a coworker binge drink their weekend away only to feel lethargic and unmotivated on Monday. Those who do come in on Monday may not be on top of their work game which may carry over into struggling to keep up with their workload. Others may call in sick with the “Monday flu,” sleeping off their weekend. Although technically what an individual does in their own time is their business, if their behavior or physical appearance carries over into their work performance or if they are under the influence on the job, then this immediately becomes the responsibility of the workplace, in particular, the human resources department.

The following are warning signs that your co-worker is struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder:

  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Walking with an unsteady gait
  • Hangover symptoms including headaches, sensitivity to light, and irritability
  • Unexplained changes in mood/behavior
  • Having bloodshot eyes
  • Sleeping while at work
  • Decline in overall appearance including bad breath, wrinkled clothes, and disheveled hair
  • Repeatedly using mints or mouthwash
  • Avoiding supervisors
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Frequent use of sick leave
  • Frequent absenteeism
  • Bringing alcohol in a concealed container to work
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Certain patterns of absenteeism (on Fridays, Mondays, or in the aftermath of payday)
  • Unexplained disappearances while at work
  • Withdrawal from contact with other co-workers or employees
  • Frequent tense or strained interactions with others
  • An unusual amount of time needed to complete a routine task
  • Outbursts of aggression or belligerence toward others
  • Missing assignment deadlines
  • An unexplained decline in work quality
  • Using multiple excuses to explain workplace deficiencies

What can you do when your co-worker is struggling with an addiction?

The most important thing to understand if you suspect your co-worker is struggling with alcohol abuse is to never ignore the issue. Even if you are sweeping this issue under the rug as a way to save your co-worker from getting fired, your coworker’s health and how it affects others are the most important factors here. You can try talking to your co-worker at first about what you have noticed in their behavior and whether he or she thinks they may have a problem; however, this can backfire on you, as many individuals with addiction are in denial and may act defensively and aggressively towards you. You may also consult with a supervisor or HR if you do not feel comfortable addressing this individual on your own. However, if the decision is made to confront the individual on a private one-to-one basis, here are a few suggestions to follow:

  • Be nonjudgmental.
  • Express your concerns for the individual’s health and safety and well as the health and safety of other coworkers.
  • Do not accuse. Only report facts, such as how often you may smell alcohol on the person, if you have seen the person drinking, and specific behaviors that have been alarming.
  • If possible, use examples of another individual you may know who have dealt with addiction and who underwent treatment.

Depending on the state in which you reside and the company, substance abuse is often a reportable offense and must be reported to either your supervisor or HR within a specific period of time. You may be putting your job security at risk if you do not report this co-worker, so it is always important to be clear about the company’s policy on drugs and alcohol use and reporting suspected instances. Regardless of whether you choose to speak to the individual on a one-on-one basis or report this to a higher level of authority, this is always a confidential issue, and depending on the specific state where you reside and the company of employment, substance abuse is not always grounds for immediate job dismissal.

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