Signs of Alcoholism at Work: Can One Get Fired?

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

man drinking whiskey at his workplace

Drinking at work is increasing in the US, and that is risky for companies, employees, and tremendously deteriorating for American society. Alcoholism causes the US to lose millions of dollars as well as work hours annually.

Statistical Outlook on Alcohol Addiction at Work in the US

Drinking on the job is much common in the US. Here is a summary of the reports provided by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the University at Buffalo:

  • 8.7% of full-time employees drink alcohol heavily.
  • 15% of the US workers, equating to 19.2 million workers, are alcoholics and work while they are drunk.

More importantly, drinking in the workplace significantly differs from one industry to another. Doctors think that the reason is related to the more stress and physical efforts the employees of a certain industry encounter, compared to others.

  • Mining includes the heaviest alcohol drinkers, equating to 17% of the employees.
  • Construction: 16.5%
  • Food services and accommodations: 11.8%
  • Entertainment, arts, and recreation: 11.5%.

Why do People Start Drinking Alcohol at Work?

Miners, for example, spend a lot of their day drilling and doing the tough job. For some of them, taking alcohol are said to help them do the work down the shaft or relax at the end of the day. There are many other reasons people drink at work. Here are the most widespread reasons that cause workers to start drinking alcohol in the workplace:

Historical office drinking culture

Drinking alcohol at work is a tradition of the US, which dates back to a time when the workers were paid in brandy. In other words, it is called a work environment. Some work environment has a culture of heavy drinking and alcoholism. A new member in such a situation will feel odd, and the pressure can be uncontrollable. With time, they might join and become an alcoholic too.

Mass media

Many fictional movies and TV series tend to make drinking look like a normal behavior at work, and even a sign of creativity, creating the false image that it is impossible to succeed in some jobs without consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Drinking is also widely promoted in different popular music.

Inability to cope with stress

Some employees feel that they are in need to drink alcohol at the workplace heavily, as they mistakenly think alcoholism is the best way to manage stress. Others think that alcohol would improve their productivity.

Drinking as part of work success

Some jobs require constant business meetings with new partners which often happen not only in offices but bars, clubs, and restaurants as well. Businesspeople usually consume alcohol to create a friendly atmosphere during such negotiations, or in an attempt to make their partner relax and accept their conditions easily. If such unformalized meetings happen regularly for a long period, alcohol dependence may develop, and a person becomes a heavy social drinker eventually.


After a hard day’s work, some individuals would relax with a bottle of drink. Others take one or more glasses of liquor at their favorite restaurant, at dinner, or parties. Carrying out the same actions every day or frequently enough can get one used to the taste. That can then lead into the part of addiction.

woman secretly pouring alcohol into her coffee cup at her workplace

Impact of Alcohol at Work

Having an alcoholic employee can result in many issues, negatively affecting work atmosphere and productivity:

Increasing absenteeism rate

Alcohol long-term effects cause employees’ health to worsen almost every time they drink heavily. Constant alcohol-induced diseases and hangovers result in a high absenteeism rate.

Health alcohol-related issues

Alcoholic employees are prone not only to the psychological effect of alcohol that includes anxiety and depression but also to serious physical health problems. Excessive drinking negatively affects all the parts of the human body, including brain damage which makes effective work almost impossible.


A work alcoholic is at a higher risk of getting injured. Such an employee may even affect the general safety of other co-workers. The alcohol-related fatalities accounted for 11% of the fatalities related workplaces. Emergency rooms revealed that 16% of the injured workers were alcoholics.

Negative effects on the work environment

Alcoholic employees constitute a  problem both for the colleagues and the employer, no matter if they are involved in constant consuming of heavy spirits like vodka, or addiction to the less dangerous behavior like drinking wine alone. Also, the social effects of alcohol, such as isolation and aggressive behavior of alcohol abuse eventually destroy the work atmosphere.

Negative image for the company

Surely, work alcoholics create a bad image for the company, as they are likely to treat clients and co-workers inappropriately. They also are much prone to be lazy, sleepy, performing badly, and being less productive.

 Is it Legal to Drink at Work?

Alcohol causes people to be more violent, which can result in criminal behavior against both co-workers and clients.

Are alcoholic workers protected with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Alcoholism is a protected disability. Irrespective of how restricted a working environment is, the ADA compels enterprise owners to give room for rehabilitation. With that, staffs who suffer alcohol addiction can take back control without losing their job. Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act protects employees who take extended leave for alcoholic rehabilitation.

Can an alcoholic employee get fired for drinking at work?

Although alcoholism is considered a disability and an alcoholic person cannot be fired simply for being addicted, such individuals still are required to comply with the same standards of work just like other employees. In case the person is unable to cope with the regular duties due to substance dependence, he or she can get fired. However, the company may establish rules that forbid her workers to drink at the workplace or before attending it. In case of violation of such rules, the appropriate actions may be taken by the company.

Will the drunk worker receive any kind of insurance or compensation when injured at the workplace?

The injuries a drunk worker may be exposed to at the workplace are considered to be his or her fault. No compensation or insurance would be provided for trauma received at the workplace if the worker was under the influence of ethanol.

young drunk man yelling at the phone at his wor desk

Signs of Alcoholism at Work

To be able to tell that your boss, your employee or a co-worker is abusing alcohol, different signs of alcoholism should be taken into consideration. Those signs are divided into three categories:

Job performance signs

Alcoholic employees are much likely to:

  • miss deadlines
  • be less creative and less productive than before

Behavior-related signs of alcoholism

  • Looking angry without a reason
  • Looking defensive, whenever drinking or alcoholism are mentioned.
  • Frequently sleeping
  • Constant use of mints
  • Reddish eyes
  • An unsteady gait

Attendance-related signs of alcoholism

  • Frequently arriving late
  • A high rate of absenteeism
  • Frequently leaving the workplace early for drinking

How to Respond to a Problem?

If you think a family member, a co-worker, a boss, or an employee is suffering from alcoholism at the workplace, the best is to provide them with advice appropriately.

  • Tell them clearly that they are risking their jobs, careers, and lives.
  • Advise them to seek help at a professional rehab center, alcohol support groups other than aa, or the employee assistance programs (EAP) that is provided in some companies.
  • If the company doesn’t provide such program, letting the human resources (HR) representative know would be helpful.
  • Do not try to cover up an alcoholic co-worker, especially if their drinking can somehow negatively affect their colleagues.

How to Drink Wisely?

Ensure checking the policy of your company, and identify the points below:

  • Does the company allow drinking at work?
  • When are you allowed to drink?
  • Even if alcohol drinking is allowed, don’t drink too much. Never forget that you’re in a professional environment where alcoholism would not be beneficial.

In case there is a working event where drinking is involved, follow these rules to drink wisely:

  • Do not mix the drinks. Try to choose one type of alcohol (preferably with a low amount of ethanol, like beer and wine) and stick to it throughout the evening.
  • Eat while you drink. It will help to get drunk more slowly and prevent many complications. Choose foods with fat – cheese, snacks with butter.
  • Try to avoid soda softs – they make alcohol absorption much faster.
  • Drink something that you have already tried before. Of course, it is always interesting to try some new type of alcohol, but you never know how your body can react to it for the first time.
  • Drinking is not a competition. Do not try to drink as fast as the others do.
  • Drink water to prevent dehydration and the morning hangover. Water will help to detox alcohol from the body faster.

How to Get Rid of Alcoholism?

Drinking is deteriorating to businesses, employees and the society at large. However, this issue can be handled as alcoholism is a treatable disease. However, it is important not to stay alone with this problem and to seek help in a professional alcoholic rehab center to get better.


Gregory Okhifun

Dr. Gregory Okhifun

Medical Reviewer

Dr. Okhifun is a passionate medical doctor, with over five years’ experience as a general practitioner. His passion for medical education led to his journey in medical writing. He has a wealth of experience writing for hospitals and medical centers, health organizations, telemedicine platforms, wellness organizations, medical tourism publications, addiction websites, and websites focused on nutrition and nutraceuticals.
He also serves as medical coordinator and content writer for Gerocare Solutions, for which he also volunteers as a health advisor/consultant for the elderly.
Dr. Okhifun enjoys traveling, meditation, and reading.

Speak with a treatment specialist. Call 24/7



Add comment