Alcohol Awareness Week: Employers’ Guide on Managing Alcohol Abuse at Work

Photo Credits: Taylor Friehl via Unsplash

Alcohol abuse at work is a growing concern for the UK population, especially during festive or celebratory times.

July 1st to 7th is observed as Alcohol Awareness Week. And this time, the week is all about raising awareness of and campaigning for change around, drug and alcohol misuse in the UK. Below, we discuss the importance of alcohol abuse awareness, why employers should promote Alcohol Awareness Week within their organisations, and how they can manage alcohol abuse at work and provide employee support for those who may be struggling with this.

Alcohol Awareness Week: Why Do We Need Better Alcohol Awareness?

In our society today, alcohol is very widely promoted and seen everywhere in the media. It is almost a key must-have for most kinds of events – from weddings to funerals and everything in between. It is socially accepted as a pleasant pastime and is often joked about in various environments and contexts. Yet alcohol can have significant effects on physical and mental health which are rarely the topic of conversation.

Alcohol Awareness Week is organised by Alcohol Change UK and is, as it says, an opportunity to “get thinking about drinking”. This year’s theme is “understanding alcohol harm”, which encourages us to explore the impact alcohol can have on physical and mental health.

Understanding Alcohol Harm

Alcohol can cause addiction or dependency in consumers and excessive consumption has significant health effects. Short-term, these might include vomiting, nausea, and hangovers (i.e. dehydration and alcohol poisoning).

Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can cause irreversible organ damage (particularly to the brain and nervous system, heart, liver, and pancreas), increase blood pressure, and heighten the risk of cancer. It can also negatively impact mental health and is linked to depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

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According to data from the Local Alcohol Profiles for England, England saw 20,970 deaths which were classed as “alcohol-related” in 2021. Between 2021 and 2022, 342,795 hospital admissions in England were “wholly due to alcohol”.

Given the popularity of alcohol in our society, it can be difficult to identify the fine line between regular alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse. However, the moment that line is crossed, the entire topic changes from societal to taboo, and what is previously regarded as a light-hearted indulgence transforms into a solitary struggle. Alcohol Awareness Week is about helping to acknowledge this and encourage those struggling to seek, and others to provide, the support they need.

Discussing Alcohol Abuse at Work This Alcohol Awareness Week

Drug and alcohol misuse can have a massive effect in the workplace. Quite apart from the potential negative health effects for employees, alcohol abuse at work often causes significant issues such as poor time management, low quality of work, accidents, and absence.

Employees attending work with a hangover are highly unlikely to be able to achieve their usual levels of productivity owing to symptoms such as headaches and tiredness. Similarly, those dependent on alcohol will struggle to maintain a work-focused attitude, impacting their overall standard of work.

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However, whilst some employers will treat alcohol abuse at work as a disciplinary matter requiring punitive measures, others recognise it as an opportunity to educate their employees and provide employee support. Engaging with Alcohol Awareness Week at work is an excellent way to achieve this, providing employers with an opportunity to address the topic neutrally as part of its national recognition.

Alcohol Change UK encourages as many people as possible to participate in Alcohol Awareness Week, including employers. After all, the greater the participation, the more awareness will be raised. Employers could tie this in with more in-depth training or use it as a gateway to implement more long-term changes in the workplace, such as policies and culture.

Alcohol Change UK has a variety of posters, factsheets and other resources employers can use.

How to Support Employees with Alcohol Abuse at Work

Drug and Alcohol Misuse Policy

Employers might consider creating and implementing a clear drug and alcohol misuse policy.

This should have a focus on employee wellbeing, promote an ethos of openness, and encourage those who are struggling to seek employee support. Providing training to staff about the impact of alcohol abuse at work will help raise awareness and normalise discussions about the same.

Additional Training on Identifying Drug and Alcohol Abuse at Work

Managers should receive additional training to enable them to effectively follow the policy, identify the warning signs of drug and alcohol misuse, and provide support to those who need it. They should understand the external support available and feel confident in signposting employees to alternative sources of help and advice.

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This is of equal importance for employees who work remotely, with managers facilitating regular discussions about health and wellbeing and being approachable and supportive.

Eliminating Pressure to Drink at Work Events

It is important to demonstrate a healthy culture in the workplace, and this extends to the presence of and attitudes around alcohol.

According to research conducted by the UK Addiction Treatment Group, one in five employees feel pressured to drink alcohol at work events. Employers should be sure to provide alternative drink options at work socials and ensure that rewards are not alcohol-based, to help to dispel this impression.

Moreover, employers should strive to nurture a culture in which employees feel safe to talk about any problems they may be having and in which those struggling with alcohol abuse at work can be supported rather than ridiculed.


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