Since alcohol is an accepted drug in much of our culture, the fact that the cost of alcohol and alcoholism in our society is an astounding figure that should lead us to questioning if we are doing enough to address the problems that are related to workers impaired by the use and abuse of alcohol.
In 1992, it was estimated that losses attributable to alcohol cost our country $148 billion. This figure was updated in 1998, the last year that we have reliable data on this subject, to $184.6 billion, which represents a 3.8% per year average increase in losses. These losses were calculated from the following areas:
- Specialty Alcohol Service
- Medical Consequences related to alcohol use and abuse
- Medical consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Lost Future Earning Due to Premature Deaths
- Lost Earning Due to Alcohol-Related Illness
- Lost Earning Due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Lost Earnings Due to Crime/Victims
- Crashes, Fire, Criminal Justice, etc. related to alcohol
The evidence shows that drinking rates vary among occupations, but it is difficult to highlight any social segment, industry or occupation as being the identified reason for these costs since losses are spread across all of these categories.
Every workplace has its individual culture in regard to the level at which it either accepts and encourages drinking or discourages and inhibits alcohol use. Some male-dominated occupations have a culture that encourages drinking to build solidarity and show conformity with the group and when these workplaces are compared to those with a gender mix of workers, we find higher levels of alcohol-related cost in the male-dominated occupations.
There are many other factors that encourage drinking besides this gender bias. Work that is boring, stressful or isolating tends to lead to higher rates of alcohol use than those jobs that have more the work is more meaningful to the employees.
Some workplace cultures are very lenient about any restrictions that limit access and availability of alcohol to its workers. In one study of 984 workers at a large manufacturing plant, it was found that it was very easy to bring alcohol into the workplace, to drink at workstations and to drink during breaks.
Most industries have alcohol policies that limit and restrict the use of alcohol in the workplace and may even describe drinking behaviors that are unacceptable during hours before an employee arrives at his job. However, even though these policies are, for the most part, adequate to have a significant impact in curtailing alcohol-related losses, many times these polices are not enforced. Since supervisors are under constant pressure to keep a high level of production, these policies are many times ignored because of the amount of work time that would be needed to educate the staff about these policies and the time required for enforcement of policy violations.
Dr. Ames and his colleagues studied the relationship between drinking outside of work and the loss of productivity at work. They discovered a positive relationship between being "hung-over" at work and the frequency of being sick at work, sleeping on t he job, and having problems with job tasks or coworkers.
Since productivity and profits are driving our industries and workplaces, it behooves everyone to examine what successful actions can be taken that have a positive effect in reducing and limiting losses due to alcohol use and abuse. Health promotion programs have proven to have a positive impact on this alcohol problem. Narconon Drug Education has recently launched alcohol and drug education in partnership with businesses and industry. These classes and lectures have had an enthusiastic acceptance and even though there isn't research, at this time, showing the positive impact coming from these efforts, it is reported that the participants are thankful that their companies are addressing these issues and getting people taking and sharing their concerns.
Just as families live in denial about the impact of alcohol and drug use, companies demonstrate the same phenomena. The first step in getting positive change in our workplace culture is to eliminate the cloak of silence that protects destructive drinking behaviors. Employees will know that their drinking is a problem or, perhaps the drinking of a colleague is problematic, but until it is acceptable to have a dialog about such issues, we find that pervasive fear is keeping anyone from confronting these issues. This happens even though the employees are aware that these types of problems are threatening the viability of their companies and jobs.
Providing workshops and in-service training that brings these problems into discussion is the beginning of changing a culture where alcohol and drug problems will only grow worse if not addressed. Strong policies that encourage openness about these issues needs to be coupled with solution-oriented interventions that allow those in the company that may need counseling or rehabilitation to gain access to these services without repercussions in terms of their employee status and income. There is ample research that documents the level of loyalty that comes from employees where their companies invested in getting good alcohol rehab services for those whose drinking problems had progressed to a place where the company and the employee were both losing from not salvaging the value of a sober and happy worker.
Alcohol has no place in the workplace and history has shown that those companies that have the strictest rules limiting the use and presence of alcohol in their employees have far fewer problems than those companies that have a corporate culture of liberal alcohol use. Every company needs to have awareness-building classes and practices that are accompanied by testing and consequences to ensure that alcohol and other drugs are not left unaddressed, since it has been made clear that if these problems are not confronted, everyone looses.
- NIH: Economic Costs of Alcohol Abuse
- Ames, G.M., and Janes, C. A cultural approach to conceptualizing alcohol and the workplace. Alcohol Health & Research World 16(2):112-119, 1992.
- Ames, G.; Delaney, W., and Janes, C. Obstacles to effective alcohol policy in the workplace: A case study. British Journal of Addiction 87(7):1055-1069, 1992.
- Ames, G.M.; Grube, J.W.; and Moore, R.S. The relationship of drinking and hangovers to workplace problems: An empirical study. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 58(1):37-47, 1997.