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What Causes Alcoholism in the Workplace, and How Can It Be Helped?

4 minute read
  • 70% of the 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • 24% of employees report drinking on the job at least once in the past year.
  • 35% of ER patients with an occupational injury are at-risk drinkers.
  • 20% of employees and managers report that a coworker’s on- or off-the-job drinking jeopardized their own productivity and safety.

You see people like this every day. They’re trying to hide it, but they’re struggling, and it’s impacting their lives and the lives of those around them.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

The impact of alcohol abuse in the workplace shows up in a couple of ways. People with alcohol dependence may be drinking alcohol onsite in the workplace. Other times, employees drinking habits at home rollover into work. They consume alcohol off hours, but the effects of their drinking cause hangovers, poor work performance, and relational strife on the job. Signs of alcoholism in the workplace include:

  • Binge drinking or drinking large amounts of alcohol at holiday parties, happy hours, or other work events that include alcohol.
  • Drinking and driving after work events that include alcohol.
  • Being drunk at work.
  • Smelling alcohol on the breath.
  • Decline in personal hygiene.
  • Excessive absences or tardiness.
  • Volatile relationships with coworkers.
  • Sleeping at work.

When substance use progresses into addiction, people continue to use drugs and alcohol despite negative consequences. Alcohol affects the brain’s reward center. People with alcohol use disorders get messages from their brain that they need alcohol to survive, just as they do food, water, and social connection. That’s why people with addictions engage in patterns that could jeopardize their livelihood like drinking on the job, missing multiple days of work, or slipping in performance. At this point of alcohol addiction, the effects of alcoholism have found their way into all areas of their life, including work. Typically, professional alcohol treatment is needed to overcome substance abuse when it’s gotten this concerning.

What Causes Alcoholism in the Workplace?

The reasons people with substance use disorders use drugs and alcohol usually stems from several reasons. Addiction is influenced by biological and environmental factors. There isn’t one “cause” of substance abuse, but there are situations and experiences that trigger substance abuse. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identifies a few risk factors that research says contributes to substance misuse in the workplace:


There is a link between higher levels of alcohol consumption and stress at work. Job stress and low job satisfaction are associated with more drinking. Other factors that can lead to alcohol abuse in the workplace include:

  • Not trusting management
  • Job burnout
  • Low commitment
  • Low involvement with the job

On the other hand, employees who are drinking to excess off the job have a harder time dealing with “normal” pressures at work, which can perpetuate the cycle. Having autonomy and satisfaction at work is associated with lower levels of drinking.


When employees feel left out or alienated from peers in the workplace, it can increase their drinking habits. A toxic environment, whether that’s an unfair or demoralizing supervisor, bullying, or interpersonal conflict can also fuel alcohol abuse. People with substance use disorders sometimes have struggles that can influence interpersonal issues at work so that begs the question, which came first?

Work Cultures and Subcultures

Drinking norms vary across industries. Some occupations have more of a drinking culture. Occupations that are linked with heavy drinking patterns include:

  • Bartenders and restaurant workers
  • Miners
  • Attorneys
  • Construction workers
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation
  • Utilities

Some occupations have less tolerance for on-the-job drinking or hangovers, where other industries might let it slide as long as it isn’t too disruptive. Then there are some workplace cultures where drinking at work is often acceptable at lunches off-site or to close a business deal. They allow employees to drink somewhat regularly.

A stressful work environment or a drinking culture on its own are typically not the only reasons behind addiction. Most of the time substance use disorders emerge from a combination of underlying factors like childhood trauma, co-occurring mental health disorders, and genetic predispositions. However, challenging life experiences like work stress or difficult feelings can bring about the desire to cope with those underlying issues through drugs and alcohol.

Looking for Help?

Substance abuse and mental health issues are workplace problems that can’t be ignored. Addicted employees are not only harming themselves, but they can also:

  • Decrease productivity
  • Put others in danger
  • Lower employee morale
  • Harm your organization and bottom line

Research shows addicted employees miss nearly 50% more days than their peers. In contrast, employees who’ve received substance abuse treatment and have been in recovery for at least a year miss the fewest days of anyone in the workforce and are the least likely to leave their employers.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery are a good start but are not a substitute for professional treatment. Treating alcoholism with therapies and approaches proven effective in addiction recovery is necessary. Connecting employees with alcohol addiction to treatment is critical for their health, and the health of the organization.

Footprints to Recovery’s teams have highly trained, compassionate addiction and mental health experts. Our evidence-based alcohol rehab treatment programs have helped thousands of people struggling with substance abuse. With inpatient and outpatient treatment offerings, we can accommodate your employee’s needs. We help HR professionals and others connect employees with assessments, treatment, and resources. We can also help determine the appropriate level of care. Options include:

  • Medical detox for alcohol withdrawal
  • Residential treatment
  • Partial hospitalization programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Sober-living residences
  • Aftercare planning for recovering alcoholics

Call us today for a free, confidential consultation and see how we can help.



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