Alcohol And Other Drugs In The Workplace

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

Alcohol and drug use is prevalent in the workplace, with 15% of workers having been drunk at work and 1 in 10 reporting a hangover [1].

This results in poor performance at work, difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, tiredness and mistakes [1].

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Drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace impairs concentration and performance, with alcohol and substance abuse being linked to 60% of poor performance at work, including a lack of productivity and making mistakes [2].

It also increases the risk of accidents, with 40% of all workplace accidents caused by drinking or drug use [2].

A study in 2007 by Norwich Union Healthcare found that a third of employees had been to work with a hangover and 15% had been drunk at work, reporting that work problems that came from this included difficulty concentrating, mistakes, tiredness and reduced productivity [1].

Effects of Drug And Alcohol Misuse In The Workplace

Workplace Accidents

These accidents are not limited to heavy machinery, as smaller injuries such as falls, cuts or broken bones, with 65% of workplace accidents being caused by drinking and drug use [3].

The Health and Safety Executive Report found that 690,000 workers were involved in a non-fatal workplace accident.

The most common workplace accidents found were:

  • Falling from a height
  • Falling or tripping accidents
  • Using equipment or machinery
  • Being trapped under a fallen or collapsed item
  • Coming into contact with electricity [4]
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Costs To The Workplace

Alcohol and drug use costs to the workplace include:

  • The cost of absences or sick leave used, up to 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol use with a cost to the economy of £1.7 billion [1]
  • The cost and inconvenience of missed deadlines, incomplete work or poor quality work, in a study of the association between alcohol consumption and impaired work performance, it was found that 77% of workplaces tested found that higher levels of alcohol consumption led to impaired work performance; with the effects of a hangover [nausea, headaches, drowsiness] causing both short and long term sick leave [5]
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Employer Responsibilities

Employers have a responsibility to create a clear policy on the stance of the workplace towards drug and alcohol use.

Drug And Alcohol Policy

A drug and alcohol policy allows the employer to make their expectations clear to employees.

The policy must include:

  • The rules on drugs and alcohol at work
  • The consequences and dangers that will occur if a person takes part in drug and alcohol misuse at work or if that use affects work
  • The full disciplinary procedures that will be followed
  • Help and support available for employees suffering with a drug and alcohol problem [6]

Signs Of Drug And Alcohol Misuse In The Workplace

Signs that an employee has a drug or alcohol problem include:

Causes Of Drug And Alcohol Abuse

Workplace Culture

Studies have proven that mining and construction industries have a strong culture of abusing drugs or alcohol, with each accounting for 17.5% and 16.5% of alcoholism in all industries surveyed [8].

In a study completed by BMC Public Health in 2021, men were proven to have higher rates of drug and alcohol misuse than women [9].

In a study, female police officers showed low levels of workplace stress but high levels of alcohol consumption, which is attributed to wanting to fit into a male dominated environment [10].

Stress In The Workplace

Alcohol and drug use in the workplace may be an attempt to develop a coping strategy as a means to overcome stress [11].

30% of workers drink as a way to relieve work stress [12].

A study by BMJ in 2015 found that stressful work situations, such as long hours, cause alcohol or drug abuse [13].

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How Much of A Problem Is Drug And Alcohol Misuse In The Workplace?

A survey by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern found that 27% of employers had experienced issues due to drug misuse at work and 60% had issues with alcohol misuse [14].

Alcohol misuse costs companies around £21 billion per year [15].

Is It Illegal To Drink Or Use Drugs In The Workplace?

Although drug use is always illegal, there are no employment laws concerning the consumption of alcohol at work [16].

It is an offence to be drunk or or on drugs in some professions, for example, the Transport and Works Act 1992 made it illegal for workers to have used drink and drugs whilst working on transport systems [17].

Can You Be Fired For Drinking Or Using Drugs At Work?

If a company suspects drug use or a drug test is failed, then there are grounds for suspension or removal from the company [18].

There are no laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in the workplace, but intoxication will go against the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, highlighting the responsibilities of the employer and employees to consider others safety in the workplace [19].

Intoxication or drug use in the workplace is considered gross misconduct and will lead to disciplinary action or dismissal, dependent on the company policy [16].

In the Attitudes to Addiction report, 1 in 5 workers felt that they would be fired if their employers knew the full extent of their drinking or drug use [20].

Alcohol and drug misuse can be limited inside an organisation by:

  • Choosing soft drink options in workplace social settings [21]
  • Speaking to employers if stress is becoming an issue, with solutions such as realistic workload expectations and targets, training and promotion opportunities all decrease stress in the workplace [22]
  • Find ways to avoid workplace stress, by spending time with family and friends, exercise, meditation and reflecting in a journal [23]
  • Distancing from co-workers that are drinking or using drugs, or those who are encouraging this behaviour in others [24]
  • Speaking to supervisors if drinking culture is causing work issues, such as lack of productivity, difficulty concentrating or mistakes [25]
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About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: January 10, 2024