Managing Alcoholism in the Workplace

Drug & Alcohol Test, Alcohol TestAs with nearly every supervisor, at some point in your career you will come up against alcohol-related work issues. At first, you may not know these problems stem from alcohol abuse. In other cases, you will be aware of the problem if the employee has admitted to it or if alcohol use is readily detectable (e.g., you are able to smell it on their breath).

Although as a supervisor you are not responsible for treating the employee’s alcohol problem, there are several signs that can alert you to possible alcohol use. When you witness several of these behaviors over a period of time, a referral to the company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may well be appropriate:

Signs of Possible Alcohol Problems

Evidence of excessive alcohol use may be reflected in such attendance-related issues as frequent unexplained absences or tardiness; by careless and shoddy work product, consistently missing deadlines insubordination, inability to get along with co-workers, or signs of financial difficulties, such as asking co-workers to lend money or  receiving calls from creditors; frequent mood swings with periods of euphoria followed by a period of subdued behavior; smell of alcohol on the employee’s breath and frequent use of breath fresheners.

Any one of these signs taken alone or even a few together does not necessarily mean that an employee is an alcoholic. However, when his or her performance becomes negatively impacted over time, a referral to an EAP counselor for an assessment may well be appropriate. The goal of this referral is not punitive but to assist the employee to obtain needed assistance before they reach the point of no return (i.e. job loss).

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs provide assessment as well as short-term counseling to employees with alcohol and other drug-related problems, mental health and emotional issues, financial problems and marital/family difficulties. However, they are not long-term therapy programs and if it is deemed by the EAP counselor that the employee needs more intensive counseling, s/he will initiate a referral to a residential or outpatient treatment facility.

Although all discussions with EAP counselors are confidential, the employee may sign a waiver so that the counselor may share his or her assessment of the employee with supervisors, as well as any recommendations for further treatment.

Addressing problems directly

While it is a good idea to refer employees you suspect of alcohol abuse to an EAP counselor, supervisors also need to confront the employee directly. Before meeting with the employee, it is a good idea to first confer with the EAP counselor to discuss all problematic areas. The EAP counselor can provide strategic advice regarding how best to approach the employee.

During the meeting with the employee keep things specific in talking about problems with the employee’s performance or conduct and provide examples. Explain the negative consequences that will ensue if things don’t improve, up to and including termination.

The hardest part of interacting with the addictive personality is getting past the denial stage. Even when faced with consequence, the thinking patterns of alcohol addicted persons are so ingrained that they can’t even see that they have a problem. A frequent refrain heard during the denial stage is “I can stop anytime I want to.” In effect, the person with an alcohol problem will rationalise every drink they take.

Intervention Techniques

An intervention typically consists of scheduling a session with the employee in which several important people in their life attend, such as spouse, family, friends, co-workers and supervisor.

The session is facilitated by a professional, such as an EAP counselor. During the session each person in attendance relates to the entire group how the employee’s drinking behavior has directly (and negatively) impacted their lives. Intervention has proven to be an effective technique in combating denial as the employee cannot so easily dismiss the assertions of so many people s/he cares about.


Recognise that employees with an alcohol problem have a disease that requires compassion. However, sometimes being an effective supervisor requires a good dose of “tough love.” What this means is that although you want to be kind and offer help in the form of EAP assistance, the employee also needs to recognise that s/he is ultimately responsible for their treatment, rehabilitation, and improved work performance and conduct.

Working with an employee with an alcohol problem presents many challenges for both supervisors and staff. In the end, work needs to get done so that the performance standards of the entire team may be met. This is where regular drug and alcohol testing for all staff become important.  CMM Technology offers some of the best drug and alcohol testing equipment on the market today such as Lion breathalyser tests and Oraline drug tests. We have experts available 25/7 to answer your questions and order testing equipment. We invite you to contact us today to learn more about keeping a drug-free workplace and helping those with an alcohol problem get needed help.


“Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Guide for Supervisors.” U.S. Office of Personnel Management Publication. N.p, n.d. Web

“The Workplace and Alcohol Problem Prevention.” NIAAA. N.p, n.d. Web August 2002

Tags: , , ,