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Alcohol: The Socially Acceptable Drug that Kills Workplace Productivity

Alcohol is perhaps the only drug that isn't just legal but widely encouraged. We use it at parties, after work during happy hours, and even at home after a long day as a way to unwind. It is glamourized in the movies, and it is widely socially accepted – which is why it finds itself listed among the top abused substances in the country.

Interestingly, the world in general is using less alcohol for the first time in 15 years – with the exception of North America, whose overall consumption has increased. However, less concerning than overall consumption is the fact that people binge drink and abuse alcohol, especially when such behaviors spill over into our work lives.

A recent study found that over 19 million workers are under the influence at least occasionally during work hours. These numbers tend to lean heavier toward managers over their reports, and over men than women. Higher usages are reported among those who work the less common shifts, such as overnights or evening shifts.

For employers, there are two types of drinkers in general that are the most problematic: those who drink immediately before beginning work, and those who drink so heavily the night before that it impacts their performance the next day. Important to remember is that it is not always "alcoholics" at the root of the problem; many times it is simply those who fall into the latter category mentioned above, the "non-dependent" drinkers who occasionally have one too many.

That is why it is so important for employers to impart a clear company policy onto their employees, as well as establish a dependable employee assistance program that employees can turn to when they need help coping with their problems. Unfortunately, many companies simply do not have the necessary policy in place that would benefit both them and their employees, especially when it comes to training managers on how to recognize and handle a situation wherein an employee may need that extra help.

When a manager either can't recognize the problem or recognizes the problem and is unsure of how to deal with it, then he or she may simply choose to ignore it. This is incredibly dangerous because not only can it be costly for the company insofar as mistakes being made on the job that can lead to, at best, a workplace flub and, at worst, a lawsuit, but he or she may also be putting everyone's safety at risk, from his or her own to direct reports and possibly even the general public.

Many companies have found themselves in serious trouble after an employee who was intoxicated while on the job caused an accident involving company equipment. This is one of the many reasons why companies should strive to both establish and enforce a drug and alcohol-free policy on campus.

If someone uses cocaine or heroin only one time, this is seen as a big deal. However, someone having one drink is usually not taken as seriously. Employers should take both situations just as seriously and be adequately prepared, should a situation arise that could result in disaster.