How to raise an alcohol concern at work
According to recent statistics, around 29 million people in the UK population drink alcohol. But when does drinking becoming a cause for concern? Here’s how to spot if something might be wrong, and how to stage an intervention for an alcoholic at work.
Alcohol safety: I’ll drink to that
Many of us like to have a drink from time to time, whether that’s for a special occasion, a little Dutch-courage before an interview, or simply to wind down after a busy day at the office.
Drinking regularly comes with various health warnings. That said, as long as you drink in moderation and know your limits, you don’t have too much to worry about. Safety first.
If you don’t know your limits, though, these health warnings might start ringing alarm bells.
When to raise an alarm about an alcohol concern
It can be difficult to know when to seek advice regarding a loved one who may be drinking excessively, especially if they’re good at hiding any signs of alcoholism.
Functional Alcoholism is when a heavy drinker can still operate in their daily life, in their work world or home life. They will often hide their drinking problem and live in denial of their disease. However, no matter hard they try to hide their drinking addiction, there will still be some indicative signs or behaviours.
You may notice if:
A colleague or loved one drinks at any opportunity
They may consume lots of alcohol if given the opportunity and will continue to drink long after everyone else has finished. This may also include setting excessive limits or giving excuses, such as ‘just one for the road’ or ‘it’s been a long week, I deserve it’.
If someone seems to have an unstable or reactive personality
They may act completely differently when they’ve had a drink. For instance, they may be the nicest person in the office during the day, but once they’ve taken a few sips from the poison chalice, become an evil mess.
Look out for dramatic changes in their behaviour triggered by alcohol, such as dirty looks, defensiveness, raising their voice or, conversely, becoming very depressed or emotional.
A colleague or loved one has an increasingly poor memory
Alcohol is well known to cloud our memory or make it harder to make sense of things. Any business event involving alcohol may mean that the person in question finds it hard to remember any agreements or deals they’ve made, officially or speculatively. This may become increasingly worse as their addiction worsens.
Someone starts to fall behind on their workplace or family responsibilities
While being a functional alcoholic does mean that certain addicts appear to be able to carry on as usual, before long they will begin to fall short in one area or another. This may be in small lapses of memory or silly mistakes, which alone are trivial but collectively, if it begins to happen all the time, can be damaging for the company, and themselves.
This may start to show in the form of more sloppy work or missed deadlines.
A colleague or friend distances, or removes themselves entirely, from social interaction
Some people with drinking problems may find it increasingly difficult to interact socially. Relationships with co-workers, friends, and family may become very tense or strained.
The addict may become quite belligerent or hostile when they haven’t had a drink, despite still being able to work, making it hard to be in their company. This is because their body and mind is completely dependent on the substance to feel good or relaxed.
Please note: this list is not exhaustive, but can be useful when deciding whether to be concerned about someone’s drinking behaviour or not in the future.
What is an alcohol intervention?
An alcohol intervention is when friends, family or colleagues present someone with the opportunity to accept their problem – in this case, alcohol.
This can provide them with the opportunity to make changes before their alcohol consumption becomes significantly worse.
An intervention for alcoholics can allow them to find a suitable course of treatment and to understand the potential consequences of their actions - mentally, physically and financially.
How to raise a concern
You can’t literally run in ringing alarm bells – you’d embarrass yourself and the person in question. Alcoholism is a not just a serious matter but a terribly sensitive subject. It must be handled with care – the person in question should be given privacy and respect.
This means that there is a lot of planning involved in raising a concern. In order to allow the potential addict’s privacy to be respected, and their needs and circumstances to be taken into account, interventions require preparation, thought and particular attention to their unique situation.
Contact a healthcare professional
It may be wise to preliminarily contact a doctor or social worker for advice in planning the intervention. You can also invite a healthcare profession in advance to come to the intervention, so they are able to provide relevant and legitimate medical information – better from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Inform your superior
You will have to inform a superior about your concern. You will need witnesses – potentially friends or family - to help support the addict during the intervention. Interventions can be difficult, emotionally charged encounters.
Choose a private and respectful location
You should choose a time and place to raise the concern with the addict. This should be somewhere private, not just out in the open office, to respect the dignity and confidentiality of the addict.
Share your love and support
During the intervention, you should raise various consequences of the addiction.
Often those who are being accused of having a drinking problem will respond with denial. This behaviour should be met with a solid defence – the problem could lead to them losing their car, their job, maybe even their family, if it gets completely out of control.
That said, this should not be an attack against the addict.
There are many reasons for alcoholics to turn to alcohol for help, so they should be treated with empathy, compassion and as much care as possible.
Help them to find clarity
The intervention is a time to not just share the potential negatives of emptying another bottle but to emphasise the importance of the addict’s health and wellbeing to those around them. They need to know that people care and want to help.
Annual Alcohol Awareness Week
During Alcohol Awareness Week, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Northern Ireland's Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (NIDACTs) highlight the impact that alcohol can have on people who drink excessively and on those around them.
There are various other alcohol campaigns set up to raise awareness about alcoholism and how to help yourself and others if you or they are affected by addictive alcohol consumption.
These campaigns shine light on how to cut back if you’re worried you may be tipping too much into your glass of late. These campaigns also show to use new, healthier ways to deal with mental health issues, instead of turning to alcohol as an ‘anti-depressant’ or ‘self-medication’.
Drinkline is a helpline which offers free, confidential and accurate information and advice to callers who are concerned about their own or someone else’s drinking habits.
If you’d prefer to talk to someone in person though, you can also head to your local GP or pharmacy for advice. You’ll also find leaflets here to take home for extra reading. Websites such as Alcohol Change UK and Drink Aware are full of facts, figures and valuable advice related to alcohol awareness.
These websites can highlight how to reach out to family, friends and professionals for support, both for the addict and their family.
Perkbox Employee Assistance Programme
At Perkbox, we offer an Employee Assistance Programme. A workplace wellness programme, or employee wellness programme, is an initiative or organisational policy that's designed to support and promote the health of employees.
This is a benefit that enables employees to help a member of staff with personal or workplace issues that may be impeding or interfering with their productivity or performance at work. The benefit provides employees with the education, tools and support they need to stay on top form – personally and professionally.
Any issues that employees need support with concerning their health, Perkbox are there to help through thick and thin. These issues could be based on physical health, mental health, or various emotional problems, including those caused by excessive drinking or addiction.
We believe that employee wellness is an intrinsic part of the employee experience, and so through our wellness programme, we strive to help employees seek the necessary support and guidance to have the best employee experience possible.
Don’t be afraid to seek help
A study carried out by the NHS found that in 2018, more than 41,000 people were admitted to hospital as a result of consuming alcohol.
In 2017, Alcohol misuse was said to be the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages. It is also estimated that alcohol misuse is a factor in at least 30% of suicides each year.
To conclude, alcohol consumption affects thousands of UK citizens a year. The bottom line is: do not be afraid to seek help, whether it is for yourself or for someone you care about. You are not alone in your struggle.