By Brandon Wilkinson - Medical Specialists Pharmacy
According to a 2007 survey carried out by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there are an estimated 1.6 million people in England alone that are dependent on alcohol, and it is a casual factor in over 60 medical conditions, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast, high blood pressure, depression and cirrhosis of the liver.
The abuse of alcohol is said to cost the country a shocking £21 billion annually through the treatment of alcohol-related disease, the resulting crime that follows a bingeing episode of drinking, and loss of work productivity (about 8 to 14 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol).
The first two impacts of alcohol abuse are probably quite obvious to some, but the impact on alcohol to the workplace can often be dramatically underestimated – and it is a serious problem that many employers are having to tackle as alcohol dependency does not discriminate according to occupation.
Firstly, let’s look at the repercussions of alcohol in the workplace. Through either sustained alcohol dependency, or from isolated occurrences of heavy drinking, the main issues relating to the workplace are: Loss of production, absenteeism and extra sick leave, injuries and accident rates, and the risk of premature death or fatal accidents.
Alcohol can and will impair an employee’s decision making at work, slowing down reaction times, potentially inducing sleepiness and drowsiness, increase the risk of errors occurring and lead to the employee delivering goods or services to a substandard quality. It may even cause friction and anger amongst those employees that have to carry the burden of compensating for those whose work output is declining due to drinking.
It is usually primarily the after-effects of drinking – being hungover – that impacts the ability to perform a job correctly, or even turning up to work at all. In fact, a 2006 survey conducted by YouGov for PruHealth discovered that there are an estimated 200,000 workers in Britain coming into work hungover from the previous night’s drinking.
Some alarming finds were made in the survey: 22% admit they have made errors at work as a consequence of their hangover, 83% admit their hangovers change the way they perform their role, a third even admit to ‘drifting off’, whilst 28% say they have to work with headaches because of their hangover.
It is generally believed that the common working factors linked to increased alcohol consumption include feeling stressed at work, periods of inactivity or feeling bored, low job satisfaction, shift or night work, working remotely, having to travel long distances, and frequenting business meals where there is a likelihood to be alcohol available.
Employers should be able to spot if an employee has a drinking problem through a number of common traits.
Signs for employers to be aware of
- The employee’s job performance declines.
- Frequent absenteeism due to sickness.
- Frequent lateness to work or late to arrive at meetings.
- Frequent toilet visits.
- Attempts to mask the smell of alcohol with chewing gum, mints, breath sprays, or applying lots of aftershave/perfume and deodorant.
- The employee is absent from their desk for large periods of time.
- Suspect stories emanating from colleagues trying to cover for each other.
What can employers do?
First and foremost, employers should remember they have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work. Employers can be prosecuted for knowingly allowing an employee to work that is under the influence of excess alcohol.
A clear substance use (i.e. alcohol and drug) policy should be in place for all employees and employers should quiz their staff on what they know about the impact that alcohol has on health and safety, and their thoughts about drinking during working hours. All supervisors and managers should be trained to spot the signs of both alcohol and drug use and be aware of what actions to take if an employee confides about a problem or they suspect an employee might have a problem.
If the employee was a vital and valued member of the team before their alcohol dependency issues began, the employer might be wise to consider offering help and support where possible. After all, that employee will be incredibly grateful for this and probably show a greater sense of loyalty and commitment to the organisation, a huge benefit to the employer of course.
What can employees do?
Employees with alcohol dependency problems should have easy access to occupational health services, but under no circumstances should employees go into work whilst still under the influence of alcohol (or drugs for that matter).
Any employee with alcohol dependency issues should be open and honest with their employer to discuss what can be done to help the situation, and feel comfortable in speaking about it to their GP, or even any local pharmacy if that is preferred.
Medical Specialists® Pharmacy are now able to actually help those with alcohol addiction through the treatment Selincro (nalmefene). This medication is suited for people who are heavy drinkers, but don’t require immediate detoxification, and whom have a high level of alcohol consumption 2 weeks after the first consultation with their doctor. This is defined as more than 60g of alcohol per day for men or more than 40g of alcohol per day for women. The great news for those who are prescribed it is that there is no risk of becoming dependent on Selincro.
Selincro’s active ingredient nalmefene works by latching onto certain opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for addictive behaviour, altering their activity, thereby decreasing the urge to continue drinking.
Unfortunately, alcohol dependency is a disease that affects all aspects of life, not just in workplace. It has a major impact on life at home too, being incredibly stressful for friends and family of the person drinking. It is a disease than can be beat however, with help and support usually available from employers to their employees - if there is complete honesty from the employee of course, and obviously support coming from loved ones of that person.