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What Should You Do If Your Boss Is An Alcoholic?

5 minute read

Having a boss or supervisor with an addiction can make for a chaotic or toxic work environment. Alcoholism and other forms of addiction can cause erratic behaviors and unpredictability in the individual, which may fuel heightened anxiety and stress in the people around them. Having a potentially alcoholic boss can negatively impact your job. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs estimates that around 53 million adults are negatively impacted by someone else’s addiction. This impact may come in the form of:

  • Harassment
  • Threats
  • Physical aggression
  • Property damage
  • Disregard for boundaries

Having an alcoholic boss not only affects your work life but can have emotional and psychological repercussions that seep into your personal life. You may also feel concern or worry for your supervisor but aren’t sure how to help.

Debi Bliazis is a SHRM-certified professional (SHRM-CP) and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) with over 15 years of human resources experience. She is currently the Vice President and Director of Human Resources at Champions School of Real Estate. Bliazis shares some valuable insights about what to do if you suspect your supervisor has a drinking problem.

Signs of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Substance abuse is a real problem in the workforce and having an alcoholic boss or supervisor can be an extra challenge for employees.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • Almost 70% of illegal drug users are employed.
  • Most heavy drinkers and binge drinkers are employed.
  • 79.3% of binge drinkers are employed.
  • Over 75% of heavy drinkers are employed.

When drug and alcohol use turns into addiction, it impacts all areas of an individual’s life — including work. People who are able to maintain work responsibilities in the face of a substance use disorder are often called high-functioning alcoholics. However, while they may be able to keep it together for a while, addiction gets worse without treatment. Eventually, their alcohol abuse can damage their physical health, behavioral health, career, and relationships.

Bliazis says the following are signs of problematic alcohol use that can show up in the workplace:

  • Odd or inappropriate behaviors
  • Frequent hangover symptoms
  • Smell of alcohol on breath
  • Frequent masking of breath with mints
  • Dozing off at work
  • Tense relationships with co-workers
  • Outbursts
  • Fogginess and confusion
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Erratic driving in the parking area
  • Excessive alcohol consumption at company social events
  • Driving drunk after company social events
  • Declining work performance
  • Missed deadlines
  • Excessive absences from work
  • Personality changes
  • Bringing alcohol to work disguised in various containers

What Should I Do if My Boss Is an Alcoholic?

If your boss has a drinking problem, you may feel like you’re between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps you worry that reporting it will get them — or you — in trouble. You may also fear that reporting your boss’s substance abuse will make your life harder. You may be concerned that they’ll be angry and take it out on you or you’ll be passed over for promotions. The truth is there are laws and regulations in place that should protect you from any aftermath. The other truth is addiction is dangerous and sometimes deadly. Calling attention to their problem may just save their life or the lives of others.

Bliazis suggests the following actions when you suspect there is a case of alcoholism in the workplace:

Review Your Employee Handbook

The first thing Bliazis recommends is to review your employee handbook. Look for the Drug-Free Workplace Policy section. The Drug-Free Workplace Act is a law congress enacted in 1988 for federal workers and contractors, but many companies across all industries have adopted this policy. Your company’s Drug-Free Workplace Policy may contain the steps you need to take for reporting alcohol or drug abuse.

Make a Detailed List of Incidents

Before you approach the Human Resources department, it’s important to have evidence of situations or events tied to substance abuse. This includes dates, times, witnesses, and any other signs of alcohol misuse. “Providing details helps your human resources representative gather additional information to address the situation,” says Bliazis. “Just presenting HR with gossip or hearsay may not give them enough concrete information to investigate the claim.”

Tell Human Resources

When an employee’s alcohol addiction is affecting their job, it’s best to get human resources involved instead of trying to address the problem yourself. “I recommend the employee reach out to human resources to discuss their observations and concerns,” says Bliazis. “The employee could also reach out to another supervisor or company executive, if an HR representative is not accessible.”

Contact Your EAP

Many companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which enables you to talk to counselors. Services through an EAP are free, and all of them are confidential. “EAPs provide a confidential opportunity for employees to speak with someone about difficult situations,” says Bliazis. “The EAP can recommend resources and provide them with options. The employee can communicate their concerns and receive guidance from a counselor to determine the best approach in their situation.”

Can I Get in Trouble For Reporting My Boss’s Alcohol Abuse?

Most companies have policies in place that prevent retaliation on employees who bring concerns to human resources. Bliazis says that any information an employee brings to Human Resources about a potentially alcoholic boss or supervisor should be kept confidential by them. If your boss still suspects that you reported them and takes it out on you, there are actions you can take.

“If the supervisor is harassing an employee for bringing forward a claim, the supervisor could face potential violations of company policy that may result in disciplinary action against the supervisor,” says Bliazis. “If there are events of harassment or mistreatment from the supervisor, I recommend the employee document them and bring concerns forward to HR.”

How Do Companies Handle Substance Abuse Reports?

Every company has their own policies and procedures for these types of situations. Bliazis says that ideally companies will handle substance abuse concerns professionally and compassionately. “If the employee requires addiction treatment, some companies will grant a leave of absence,” says Bliazis. “Another option is modifying their work schedule so they can attend outpatient treatment.” If the employee is covered under the company’s benefits program, the HR representative may reach out to the provider to gather information about coverage, length of treatment, cost, and inpatient or outpatient treatment program options.

It’s important to acknowledge that this is a difficult situation for both you and your supervisor. Bliazis says it can help to try to find some empathy.

“You never know what may be going on with someone or what personal struggles they are dealing with. Many times, individuals may not have a support system to help them through life challenges,” she says. “Showing concern and taking steps to assist someone may not always be easy. By going the extra mile to help someone, you could make the difference that saves them from a destructive path of addiction.”

Looking for Help?

If you need to refer an employee to professional addiction treatment, Footprints to Recovery treatment centers can help. We offer evidence-based substance abuse treatment as well as mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders. Options include alcohol and drug detox, residential drug rehab, and outpatient treatment. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation.


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