How to Deal with an Alcoholic in the Workplace

Everybody jokes about hating their job, but what can you do when work no longer feels safe?

Alcoholics can be very unpredictable in the workplace. Not only do you have to worry about their wellbeing, but their actions can really disrupt other employees from doing their job.

If you suspect someone in your workplace has a drinking problem, this article will walk you through identifying the symptoms and how to deal with an alcoholic.

What Is an Alcoholic?

Lots of people look forward to enjoying a few drinks to unwind after work. How many drinks are too much, though? Sometimes the line between casual drinking and alcoholism can be blurry.

The problem can often start in college where binge drinking is encouraged. It’s estimated that nearly half of college students binge drink and more than 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health issues. After graduation, binge drinking is no longer glorified.

Instead, a different kind of drinking habit is encouraged. Instead of consuming many drinks once or twice a week, people turn to having only one or two drinks a day.

It’s hard to quit drinking in a society that always tries to justify drinking with the few health benefits of alcohol. Having a drink can calm your nerves after a long day, but what happens when you can no longer cope without those drinks?

To quantify how many drinks can lead to alcoholism, here is a guide:

Binge drinkers consume more than four drinks in 2 hours.

Heavy drinkers consume more than three drinks a day or more than 14 drinks each week.

Their psychological dependency can also define alcoholics. People who can’t function without drinking are also likely to have problems.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcoholic behavior is distinct once a pattern is formed. Many of the warning symptoms are only visible to the drinker themselves, such as drinking alone. The reason why alcoholics try their best to hide their addiction is because they feel guilty or wrong.

However, outside observers can identify some telltale symptoms of alcoholism. This list will walk you through signs to watch out for in the workplace:

  1. The worker in question frequently smells of alcohol. This is easiest to notice when you speak with them.
  2. They have unpredictable mood swings or lash out at other employees often.
  3. They are irritable.
  4. Their hands shake, they sweat a lot, or they exhibit other anxious behaviors that can be classified as withdrawal symptoms.
  5. They are late, absent, or use a lot of sick days. They may also try to take Fridays or Mondays off for longer weekends, or they are absent after each payday.
  6. Their work is sloppy or late.
  7. Other coworkers have distanced themselves from the individual.
  8. They sleep on the job, have bloodshot eyes, or stagger when they walk.

Identifying an alcoholic depends on how good the person is at hiding their symptoms. Many alcoholics rely on chewing gum, mouthwash, and fragrances to hide the smell. It may take a long time to notice these symptoms, but they won’t be able to maintain their secrecy forever.

It’s important to note that some employees may exhibit these symptoms at some point, but it doesn’t mean that they have a drinking problem. Stress from the job or not getting enough sleep can make anyone cranky. The key to identifying alcoholics is observing a consistent pattern of these behaviors.

Why It’s Important to Handle Alcoholics in the Workplace

It’s not easy trying to get help for alcoholics, but it’s necessary for maintaining a safe and productive work environment. Alcoholics can cause a lot of problems.

Besides affecting the quality of their work, alcoholic behaviors can cause harm to other employees and your business. Your employees may no longer feel safe, which can either cause their work to suffer or force them to quit if you don’t handle the problem. Businesses with high turnover rates suffer much more than businesses with happy, reliable employees.

Alcoholics may also steal from the workplace if they need more money to fund their addiction. They could make poor decisions that endanger themselves or their coworkers. If you fail to recognize that there is a problem, this could negatively impact your workers’ morale and confidence in you as their superior.

It might feel safer or more comfortable to turn a blind eye, but avoiding confrontation leads to more and more problems. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on your employees and, as soon as you can diagnose an issue, address it.

How to Deal with an Alcoholic at Work

Alcoholics know that they have a problem, which is why they try so hard to hide it. When you confront someone with a drinking problem, they can get angry or defensive once they realize they’ve been caught. Approaching this uncomfortable situation with the right attitude and resources is imperative.

1. Consult Human Resources

HR workers are professionally trained to diagnose workplace problems and give proper advice on how management can address the issue. They will provide you with tips on how to speak with the employee and help you find a solution. It’s also reassuring to have them sit in on your conversation with this employee to help keep the peace.

HR staff is also usually responsible for writing directions on how to address the employee. They may also draft a letter that outlines the choices the employee has to seek treatment or terminate their contract.

2. Look into Insurance Options

Explore all of the resources that are available to your employee which are covered by their health insurance. Making a phone call to your company’s insurance provider can be useful. They will be able to outline which treatments are covered and help you decide which course of action might be most feasible for your employee.

3. Consult a Lawyer

It’s always smart to keep your lawyer in the loop of your business. Informing them about alcohol abuse in the workplace will help you make the right actions. Consulting them before you make any decisions will ensure that you’re not breaking any laws.

If your employee becomes violent and damages the workplace or harms another employee, a lawyer will also be able to protect your business if they are informed before the confrontation occurs.

4. Confront the Employee

After you are prepared, it’s time to address the issue directly. It’s best to pull the employee aside and speak in private. Try to sound sincere and understanding to their problems.

Calmly explain your concerns about their wellbeing and how their job performance has been affected. Outline their options and let them decide how to move forward. Many people who realize their job is endangered will become motivated to seek help.

Want More Tips to Help Your Business?

It’s crucial for every business to understand how to deal with an alcoholic in the workplace. Once the problem is addressed, your employees can feel safe and be productive.

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