Alcohol, Acquired Brain Injury and Job Performance

Alcohol TestThe long-term health problems triggered by alcohol abuse can be significant. Many of those problems are well-known, like an increased risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus, liver damage, and a weakened heart muscle. However, what non-health professionals may not be familiar with is Alcohol Related Brain Injury (ARBI) which is caused by brain cells damaged directly by alcohol or indirectly as a result of thiamine (vitamin B1) depletion due to alcohol or a nutritional thiamine deficiency connected to the lifestyle. Workers who drink excessively for over 10 years and over the age of 40 are more likely to develop this brain injury. The manifestations have a direct relationship to the ability of the worker to complete quality job performance. They also emphasise the need for workplace alcohol testing.

The symptoms of ABI almost read like a laundry list of the characteristics of a poor performer in the workplace. People with ARBI have difficulty with problem solving and goal setting. They struggle to cope with even small changes in routines, and operate best when there is a repetitive quality to required job performance. Other worrying symptoms include the inability to recognise the consequences that will be produced by certain behaviours and difficulty with planning and organising. That is not all. People with ARBI have short-term memory problems that are not related to blackouts. ARBI interferes with a person’s ability to handle jobs requiring eye-hand coordination (visual-spacial).1

The symptoms mentioned are associated with ARBI that is at the mild to medium stage. If the ARBI is significant, the person will be unmotivated, get easily disoriented, confuse dates, show a lack of insight, and experience other difficult symptoms. At any stage, people with ARBI are most comfortable doing ingrained, repetitive work.

Testing…Not Diagnosing

In Australia, there are over 2,500 people treated for ARBI annually, which likely means there are thousands who are not diagnosed. Current estimates are 200,000 Australians have it already and are not diagnosed, and over 2 million are at risk of developing ARBI due to excessive long-term drinking.2 Since many of the people are older, there is a likelihood that most of them are working, and especially in Australia where alcohol consumption begins at an early age. ARBI can lead to an increased risk of falls and accidents, job mistakes, mental confusion, and ‘confabulation”, in which someone makes up information to fill memory gaps and believes the information is true. However, employers should also be aware of the fact that younger people can develop ARBI quickly if they binge drink, and many do.

Employers are not responsible for diagnosing workers with ARBI. However, they do need to understand that the alcohol breathalyser test identifies people who are likely chronic users as well as infrequent ones. People who would violate the alcohol policy and risk losing their job are probably working on addiction or are addicted already, making them prime candidates for ARBI. Alcoholism can lead to cerebellar atrophy (poor coordination of lower limbs), peripheral neuropathy (negative impacts on peripheral nerves leads to the ‘pins and needles’ feeling or numbness), Wernicke’s Encephalography (life threatening condition due to thiamine deficiency), and hepatic encephalopathy (alcohol related liver disease produces psychiatric symptoms).

CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) has many breathalyser options for alcohol testing. Employers can choose the model that best fits their budgets and needs. All of the equipment options meet Australian Standards stringent requirements and represent state-of-the-art technology.

References

  1. ADIS – Government South Australia. (n.d.). Alcohol Related Brain Injury. Retrieved from Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) : http://bit.ly/1eBGS5q
  2. State Government of Victoria. (2013, July 19). Alcohol related brain impairment. Retrieved from Better Health Channel: http://bit.ly/1if2Com

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