Three Warning Signs of Alcoholism in the Work Place

Medically Reviewed By: Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH

Last Updated: 7/28/2021

Being in the Human Resources department for your company is hard work. People around you expect you to know all the answers while upholding the policies and procedures that make your company run smoothly. Sometimes your job may feel like a walk in the park, and other times like a steep hike up Mount Everest.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your company has a safe work environment for all of your employees to maintain a high level of productivity. So when you notice an employee whose work productivity is on a decline, you, as HR, are responsible for investigating and make decisions to correct that behavior.

The Problem of Alcoholism in the Workplace

Alcohol is a common Substance Abuse disorder that many in the US struggle with. This presents a lot of danger when brought into the workplace.

Employees with alcohol addictions are 270% more likely to have an injury-related absence resulting in missed workdays and low productivity.

Before this problem becomes a work liability, here are three warning signs to look for in an employee you may think is the struggle with alcohol addiction.

1. Repeated Absences

That 9 to 5 Monday through Friday can be stressful and exhausting, especially if you have parental responsibilities when the weekend rolls around.

Many people can’t wait to crack open their first beer of the weekend or unwind at their favorite bar.

It is more common than not to have someone binge drink their weekend away only to feel lethargic and unmotivated on Monday.

On Monday, those who do come in on Monday may not be on top of the game, struggling to keep up with their workload.

Others may call in sick with the “Monday Flu,” sleeping off their weekend of booze and debauchery.

2. Change in Work Attendance and Performance

Nothing is more demotivating at 6:00 am than a hang-over when all you need is that extra 30 more minutes of sleep.

Heavy drinking regularly has been known to take a toll on the body over an extended period.

One’s appearance and hygiene can suffer as the body tries to rid itself of alcohol toxins.

Bad breath, unpleasant body odor, and even the overall appearance of the employee become noticeable if their drinking starts to get out of hand.

3. Attitude and Behavioral Problems

Often the first thing noticed in someone suffering from alcoholism is their mood and behavior.

Coming into work with a hang-over is always noticeable. Irritable, sensitive to light, and sometimes headaches.

Coworkers may realize and then joke about their mood change. But when it becomes a daily inconvenience, it is HR’s responsibility to intervene.

The problem becomes more apparent if the employee is often secretive or guarded, hiding liquor in their desk; stealing sips when no one is looking.

Dishonesty becomes a norm, making excuses for their nasty behavior to others or their lethargic productivity.

Over 92% of people afflicted with alcoholism do not receive the care they need causing their employers to flip the bill for lost productivity and medical expenses.

Signs of an Alcoholic

Signs of alcoholism can be subtle but grow as alcohol use becomes more frequent. Obvious physical signs include smelling alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, a puffy face, and red eyes.

Emotional signs can be severe irritability or being easily angered. Those who experience physical alcohol dependence can be self-medicating to cope with a co-occurring disorder or trauma.

As the drinking worsens, the individual may not go 24 hours without needing a drink.

The alcoholic will rationalize or take risks to continue drinking throughout the day.

Common behaviors associated with alcoholism or alcohol addictions include not showing up for work or bringing alcohol in a concealed container to work.

At home, where drinking was once a social endeavor, the individual may begin drinking in secrecy and therefore begin isolating themselves from their family or friends.

You may notice a significant behavior change in them and intuitively know that something is wrong, especially if you have known this person for a significant amount of time.

As the problem worsens, the signs become more obvious. Individuals experiencing issues with alcohol may become very defensive in answering any questions from family, friends, and employers.

Eventually, family, friends, and co-workers will want to confront the issue, and it may not be easy to bring the individual out of denial.

Hopefully, the individual will speak up for themselves and ask for help.

You Have the Power to Choose

As HR, you are given the authority to choose.

Could this incident be a write-up?
Could this incident be a verbal warning?
How must the employee change their behavior and what time frame is needed?

It is your responsibility to gauge the level of disciplinary action. When dealing with alcohol or drug abuse, people tend to lean on termination than any other solution.

We are here to offer another choice that is more cost-effective for your company in the long term.

A choice to provide your employees with a level of care would encourage productive behavior upon returning from treatment. Trust in us to address your struggling employee’s alcohol problem in a discrete and timely fashion.