Alcoholism in the Work Place
Watching a co-worker struggle with alcoholism is painful. Not only will this individual be damaging their own life, but their addiction will impact their ability to do their job properly. Co-workers end up having to take up the slack, and this can lead to resentment. They will also have the uncomfortable dilemma of deciding whether to report these concerns to higher management. Alcoholism in the workplace can be the cause of a lot stress for everyone in the team.
Signs of an Alcoholic Co-Worker
Just because a co-worker is behaving suspiciously does not necessarily mean that they are an alcoholic. There can be many reasons why the individual may start to perform poorly at work and substance abuse is just one possible reason. There can be signs that point to the likelihood of alcoholism and these include:
- Frequent hangovers – The individual may have red eyes most mornings and appear a bit unwell.
- Physical signs of alcohol withdrawals – They may have the shakes or other signs of alcohol withdrawal.
- Unkempt appearance – As alcohol takes over the individual’s life they can lose interest in taking care of their grooming. Their clothes can look unclean and wrinkled. Their personal hygiene may suffer and they might frequently stink of booze.
- Irrational Behavior – The co-worker might act in a paranoid fashion and suffer from frequent mood changes.
- An obsession with alcohol – They enjoy talking about their drinking exploits and don’t seem to have many other interests.
- Temper outbursts – An alcoholic may find it difficult to control their emotions can become angry at the slightest provocation. They may not be able to handle stress as well as they once did.
- Reduced productivity – As addiction takes over, the co-worker may show up for work less frequently. When they do turn up, they are less productive than they once were.
- Secretive and dishonest behavior – The co-worker will try to hide the evidence of their addiction by being guarded or by outright lying. They might try to hide the symptoms of their alcohol abuse by wearing sunglasses or eating mints to mask the smell of the booze.
- Increased negativity – Alcohol abuse may lead to symptoms of depression. The addict may develop a general negative attitude and may even become suicidal.
Some of these symptoms could also be a sign of other emotional, mental, or personal problems. A combination of these signs is a good indication of alcohol abuse.
Whether to Report An Alcoholic Co-Worker
The decision to report an alcoholic co-worker can be a difficult one to make. Friendships can be strong within a team and going to management may feel like an act of disloyalty. If a co-worker is putting the rest of the team in danger, there will be a greater need to take action. It is not the responsibility of an employee to diagnose a substance abuse problem in a co-worker, but they do have an obligation to report any safety concerns.
How to Help an Alcoholic Co-Worker
Helping an alcoholic co-worker can be difficult if they are in denial about their problem. The individual may react defensively and angrily to any suggestions that their drinking is out of control. Ignoring the problem though will only prolong the misery for everyone involved.
It is often necessary to confront the co-worker with concerns about their behavior. This should occur in a non-judgmental and non-accusatory manner where only facts are presented. As well as mentioning the causes of concern, it is also helpful to offer possible solutions. This can be a good opportunity for co-workers to mention how people they know have dealt with alcohol problems by seeking help.
A co-worker intervention often involves the whole team confronting the alcoholic with their behavior. This may be required if the individual’s job is on the line or if their performance is causing too much disruption. Some interventions may also include a trained addiction specialist, but this is not always necessary. A collective co-worker intervention can be far more effective than a single confrontation by just one co-worker. The alcoholic team member will be presented with evidence of their poor behavior and will be put into a position where they have to make a choice. This may be the catalyst the alcoholic needs to begin the process of rehabilitation.