Alcohol abuse is becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace, especially with the introduction of remote work and greater employee freedom and anonymity.
According to research revealed in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 70% of adults with a substance use disorder are employed, and almost 9% of employed adults have a drug or alcohol use disorder.
With stress levels mounting, mental health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and virtual or in-person happy hours encouraged in many workplaces, it’s no wonder why so many people across the nation are finding it more difficult to navigate their relationships with alcohol.
Whether you drink once weekly or every day, alcohol consumption can impact your work performance. Below, we’ll discuss a few of these impacts and how you can be more aware of your alcohol intake and how it affects your mental wellbeing.
1. You’re Falling Behind on Deadlines
Missing a single deadline is typically not a make-it-or-break-it situation for employees. However, if you find that you’re missing deadlines consistently, or more often than you usually would, this may point to a deeper issue.
You might miss a deadline at work for a number of reasons regarding alcohol consumption. This might include:
- Feelings of depression or anxiety exacerbated by alcohol consumption getting in the way of work performance
- Impaired sense of time, responsibilities, memory, or mobility due to drinking during work hours
- Feeling uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol hangover during work, such as headache and nausea
Issues such as missed deadlines are all relative when you look at the isolated concern. However, when you look at the bigger picture — drinking, showing up to work on low energy or hungover most days, and missing deadlines as a result — you may be able to put the pieces together to see the larger problem.
2. You Feel Disconnected from Coworkers
People who develop issues with alcohol tend to withdraw from family, friends, and coworkers. This may be particularly evident if you’re usually more social with your coworkers but no longer feel the desire to stay connected, such as choosing to hang back instead of participating in a group outing for lunch.
Alcohol addiction is isolating, and it often makes you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. A decrease in motivation to socialize, lack of confidence speaking up in meetings, or a general sense of disconnectedness can reveal a problem with alcohol.
This does not mean that if you’re not social, you have an alcohol addiction. Many people, such as those who are introverted or naturally quieter, may not socialize and communicate frequently with coworkers.
The important thing is to note any change in behavior. If a minimal level of communication has dropped to none, you might want to take a closer look at what’s happening internally.
3. You’re Taking Long Absences from Work
It’s normal to use your paid time off (PTO) to go on vacation, spend time away from work, or take a mental health day as needed. However, if you notice that you’re taking longer absences from work due to alcohol-related concerns, this is important to evaluate.
A person with a drinking problem might show up late to work or miss work altogether because of physical or mental health issues resulting from alcohol consumption. If you’ve been missing a lot of work lately, take a few minutes to consider why you used a PTO day or sick day and if it had anything to do with alcohol.
Factors such as high levels of stress, difficulty managing emotions, trouble staying on top of physical health due to drinking, and others can all be reasons why a person might miss larger periods of work when drinking.
4. Making Mistakes Frequently
Alcohol can have major negative implications on a person’s judgment and coordination skills. And when it’s used long-term, alcohol may cause permanent damage to a person’s brain.
This decrease in cognitive and motor functions can greatly impact your work. Alcohol impairment may be especially dangerous for people with interactive jobs involving the use of vehicles, heavy machinery, etc.
If you find that you’ve been making mistakes more frequently, been involved in more accidents on the job, or experience mental confusion regularly, alcohol consumption may be impacting your work.
5. Worsened Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene can often be an indicator of problem alcohol use. This is because as alcohol consumption increases, the desire to take care of yourself usually decreases.
You might find that you put less effort into your appearances, such as wearing dirty clothes, forgetting certain pieces of your uniform, or some other aspect of personal upkeep.
Drinking, becoming intoxicated, and dealing with the aftermath of alcohol withdrawal can impact your ability to perform regular hygiene tasks, such as brushing your teeth, bathing, or combing your hair. This is typically the result of co-occurring mental health concerns that are worsened by alcohol use, low self-esteem, or a lack of motivation, all of which are associated with heavy alcohol use.
It’s important to note that professionalism does not always equate to nicely kept hair and fresh clothes. However, if you notice that you are no longer performing acts of personal self-care that you did before, there may be a problem with substance use.
What You Can Do
The factors above and others can point to an alcohol use disorder, which is treatable under the right care. The first step is to reach out for outside support, which may include friends, family members, coworkers, employers, or professional services.
If you feel comfortable, you may reach out to managers or supervisors at your place of work to discuss options for support. Or, you might explore treatment options for alcohol or drug addiction. This might include therapy, a support group, drug or alcohol detox, or an inpatient rehab program. No matter where you are with your relationship with alcohol, help is available.
Sarah O’Brien is an Addiction Specialist with Ark Behavioral Health.