How Should An Employer Respond to Alcoholism in the Workplace?

It is more than likely that you know someone who suffers from controlling how much they drink. While a majority of Americans drink with varying levels of intensity, some individuals lose control entirely and develop a dependence on it. At the point of dependence, an individual has developed Alcohol Abuse Disorder, known colloquially as alcoholism.

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence defines alcoholism as:

“Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychological, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortion in thinking, most notably denial.”–American Addiction Centers.

Dependence on alcohol is two fold. Initially, a patient will naturally develop a physical tolerance to the alcohol the more they drink, resulting in a cycle where they constantly have to drink more alcohol in order to feel the same effect. Secondly, the body gets used to the level of alcohol being consumed, so when patients stop consuming alcohol, the body goes through withdrawal, a painful process for which the symptoms include: increased blood pressure, profuse sweating, shakes and tremors, physical pain, vomiting and insomnia. So patients are trapped in a cycle where they are constantly drinking more but are unable to stop due to the pain of withdrawal (CDC, 2021).

Alcoholism is a disease that disrupts the lives of millions of Americans every year. It is the third most preventable cause of death in the United States. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism lists the number of individuals suffering from Alcohol Abuse Disorder at 14.5 million. Only 7.2 percent of those individuals  received any type of treatment (NIAAA, 2021).

Risk Factors For Alcoholism

There are several factors that affect your chances of developing an Alcohol Abuse Disorder. These include several genetic and psychological factors, as well as your socio-economic and cultural background.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you are at a higher risk if:

  • You have a family history of alcohol or substance dependency.
  • You drink daily for extended amounts of time
  • You started drinking when you were young.
  • You have a history of trauma.
  • You have had mental health conditions.

Alcoholism’s Effect on the Workplace

A 2019 CDC study that found excessive drinking generated the Federal government 223.5 billion dollars a year and cost State governments 2.9 billion dollars in losses. Workplace productivity accounts for 72 percent of that total cost.

Alcoholism is more prevalent in workplaces than one might think. A study by the American Bar Association (ABA) reported that almost 21 percent of lawyers showed signs of heavy alcohol use. This is high when compared to the total workforce percentage of just 11.8%, for workers with the same level of education (Alcohol Rehab Guide, 2021).

Some of the signs to look out for are:

  • Frequent unexplained or unauthorized absences. Absenteeism is estimated to be 4 to 8 times greater among alcoholics and alcohol abusers (OPM, 2021).
  • Sustained tardiness and disassociation
  • Careless or incomplete assignments and projects
  • Unmet quotas or missed deadlines
  • Strained relationships with co-workers
  • Belligerent or argumentative behavior

Drinking heavily also negatively affects sleep, which is related to higher next-day hangovers and poorer employee performance (NLM, 2010).

How Should An Employer Respond?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published a study that presented the Employee Assistance Program. EAPS allows employers to address an employee’s alcohol problem. EAPs work to prevent the loss of employment for the employee and continued productivity of the employer, allowing for both sides to benefit (Roman, Blum, 2021).

According to them, an employer should step in,

“When the use of alcohol interferes with the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties, the employer does have legitimate concerns, including the proper performance of duties, health and safety issues, and employee conduct at the workplace”– (OPM, 2021).

The EAP Process

Self-Referrals: Employers provide professional assistance that employees could use anonymously and without any effect on their job status.

Informal Referrals: Here, the referral happens after several informal social interactions and conversations, often involving an employee’s supervisor. Most of the referral processes are conducted this way.

Formal Referrals: When more external interventions, such as alcohol detox austin is required, formal referrals are used. Here a supervisor, after observing and confirming an employee’s changed behavior, would constructively confront an employee. If they deny their problems or are not willing to take action, the supervisor would present evidence for the accusation and state the disciplinary measures that would ensue if the problems are not addressed. If the employee chooses to use the company program, the employer would make arrangements with an alcohol rehab austin.

It is important to make sure that the use of treatment is a decision made by the employee and not a condition set by the employer. The employee would be held responsible for any payments not covered by the company’s health plan.

The EAP’s Role in Relapse Prevention: Many EAPs include follow-up and relapse prevention to help employees maintain recovery.


EAPs overall offer a great solution to a terrible problem plaguing this country. They are beneficial for both the employer and the employee and help reduce economic losses due to Alcohol Abuse Disorder.