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Employees Getting Drunk or High at Work Desperately Need Wellness Support


drinking beer and getting drunk at work

The number of employees struggling with addictive substances has surged since 2018. Nearly half of American workers abused substances, and the number of people who were absent due to alcohol and substances almost doubled through 2020. The issues with drugs and alcohol in the workplace don’t even account for the overuse of prescription drugs.  

From an employer’s perspective, terminating people who get drunk at work or use cannabis at work may seem like an expedient way to solve a disruption. But getting intoxicated or high at work may indicate a company-wide problem. By taking a step back and considering the underlying factors that contribute to the misuse of drugs and alcohol in the workplace, industry leaders will be better equipped to address root causes.

Alcohol and Its Role in the Workplace

The staunch prohibitions against alcohol use in the workplace are something of a modern construction. As anti-drunk driving messaging grew and insurance carriers took more determined stances regarding alcohol-related instances, decision-makers tended to roll back workplace usage.

For example, a couple of Friday beers on a construction job site was not uncommon during the 1980s. Many construction crews saw it as a traditional way to bond together. In office environments, taking clients out for a two-martini lunch was once not considered unusual. Although it was largely unacceptable to be drunk at work, having a little buzzed was not necessarily a major transgression. Those days have gone the way of the dinosaur.

The Legalization of Cannabis and its Role in the Workplace

The growing trend of states to approve medical marijuana and recreational use are likely to prompt evolving workplace standards and policies. Conflicting reports indicate the country is in the midst of a cultural shift in terms of overall use and cannabis at work.

A recent Fortune article highlights the debate between potentially positive effects versus workplace safety risks. The piece, called How Cannabis Actually Affects Productivity, presents contrasting viewpoints. On the one hand, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reportedly points to increased safety risks. But other studies argue that the availability and possible use of cannabis at work reduce the symptoms of people with chronic pain. One would extrapolate that people struggling with workplace stress and anxiety would also be able to sidestep addictive prescription medications in favor of cannabis.

Is it Ok for Employees to be High at Work?

States have taken different positions on marijuana use in the workplace. In places where recreational use has been approved, such as Massachusetts, the official policy is that employers do not necessarily need to accommodate employees. In some states, strict workplace bans remain in effect. Companies largely have the discretion to discipline or fire staff members who bring cannabis on the property.

What to Do if Employees are Getting Drunk or High at Work?

To say the pandemic was a major factor in increased drug and alcohol abuse would be something of an understatement. Spikes in drug overdoses and rising instances of alcohol abuse were recorded by health agencies and media outlets. According to data from the National Emergency Medical Services Information System, overdoses doubled in 2020 compared to baseline numbers in 2018. The essential point is that disruption contributes to stress, and even remote workers increased negative self-medication practices.

Are Employees Getting Drunk or High at Work Because of Stress?

Wide-reaching data links workplace stress to alcohol and substance abuse. The National Institute of Health published research that draws a powerful link between people leveraging alcohol as a way to manage stress. Researchers developed the following models to explain the correlation between workplace stress and alcohol consumption.

  • Cause-effect model
  • Mediation model
  • Moderation model
  • Moderated mediation model

What all of these academic ways of understanding alcohol in the workplace have in common is stress. Hard-working employees are not necessarily getting drunk at work because they lack discipline. It appears they are reaching for a bottle to handle the pressure.

Offering Employees Wellness Solutions to Help with Stress

When business leaders step back and thoughtfully consider a workplace problem such as employees getting drunk at work or high at work, they are better equipped to resolve underlying causes. People that overstep workplace boundaries may be acting out of personal necessity and need support.

One of the ways compassionate industry leaders can help shepherd otherwise loyal employees to a more secure and productive place is to offer wellness solutions. By integrating programs and policies designed to reduce stress and holistically improve workplace wellness, valued employees can stop reaching for alcohol and cannabis when it's not appropriate.

[Read More: How to Prevent Employee Burnout]

Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace are A Symptom of a Larger Problem

Thought leaders typically prefer to create thriving workplaces in which everyone can maximize their potential. Unfortunately, people who rely on alcohol and cannabis to negotiate the environment are falling through the cracks. This misuse of substances often points to an issue they and others need to be addressed. When some team members get drunk or high at work, the entire staff may also be experiencing stress. If you're interested in learning more, then check out our article on Stress Management.



Caring For Remote Employees

Many organizations continue to work in remote and hybrid models as the pandemic winds down, but many employees, when given the option to return to work, would actually prefer to continue working remotely. Our new guide, Taking Care of Remote Employees: The Key To Business Success Beyond the Pandemic, gives you actionable steps to ensure that your employees feel supported no matter where they are working. 

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