Booze, the Brain and Business

We often hear of the relationship between drinking, violence and alcohol. Our news and current affairs channels are bombarded with alcohol related violence items each day. This aspect of alcohol consumption is so problematic, a recent study from DUMA (Drug Usage Monitoring Program of Australia) found people charged with assault “are likely on average to have consumed twenty-two drinks before their arrest.”[1]

But less frequently do we hear about Alcohol Related Brain Impairment and its cost to industry and business each year in Australia.

Alcohol Related Brain Impairment (ARBI) can occur as a result of ongoing drinking, or can occur due to drinking in excess of recommended levels in a single session – more commonly known as binge-drinking.  The latter is typified by a heavy consumption of alcohol (minimum six drinks in a row) over a relatively short period of time. It can also entail periods of complete abstinence, with concentrated drinking over a number of days or weeks before “drying out” again. Most often, “an individual does not set out to drink a lot, but because they may be unsure of their limits, they can inadvertently drink too much over a short period of time.”[2] In terms of work performance, the impact of this style of drinking on the brain and cognition can be extreme and in due course can impact an individual’s undertaking of even the most rudimentary of tasks.

When bingeing occurs over long periods of time, risks include:

  • Brain damage
  • Heart damage
  • Stroke
  • Cancers
  • High blood pressure
  • Work problems
  • Termination of employment.[3]

Indicators of ARBI are a decline in memory, a decline in cognition or thinking ability and in some cases, issues with physical co-ordination or “ataxia.”

The main concern for employers is the development of a frontal lobe dysfunction in any worker undertaking high-risk tasks such as long-haul driving, machinery operation, mine work or flight and/or shipping work. Problems with abstract thinking, planning and reduced problem solving ability can impair an employee’s efficiency and job capacity and pose risk to the wider workforce population and community. More extreme manifestations of ARBI may include liver disease (which results in time off work) as well as peripheral neuropathy and in worst cases Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, where the brain has lost virtually all function.[4]

Alcohol Related Brain Injury also leads to increased worker absenteeism, redundancy and replacement. At a time when absenteeism due to alcohol is nearly double that of the rate of non-drinkers, it is important to employ a vigilant stance on alcohol use and abuse and its impact on your business.[5]

For further information on drug screening and drug screening products, call CMM Technology on 08 9204 2500.


[1] Alcohol and Assault on a Friday Night DUMA  quarterly report May 2011. Sweeney Josh and Payne Jason.

Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, May 2011

[2] Ambulance Fact Sheet. Binge Drinking and its Effects. www.ambulance.nsw.gov.au

[3] South Australian Health Department website http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=240&np=158&id=2098#3,20/03/06

[4] http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Alcohol_related_brain_damage

[5] THE FACTS. Binge Drinking and Alcohol Abuse. http://salvos.org.au/need-help/the-facts/documents/Bingedrinking.pdf

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