The consumption of alcohol is a social phenomenon that can be found across the world. The relationship between drinking and working, however, is surprisingly complex.
We all know the basic mechanics of alcohol and the human body. Although everyone is different, in general, as you consume your inhibitions are lowered, your coordination is decreased, and your judgment is impaired. The body does eventually process whatever you take in and you can function normally once you are sober—although there may be long term impacts if you drink heavily on a recurring basis.
So what about going to work the next day? According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance
Light and moderate drinkers cause 60% of tardiness, absenteeism and poor quality work as a result of alcohol consumption. Heavy drinkers and alcoholics cause the remaining 40%.
Up to 40% of industrial fatalities can be linked to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses annually 37 billion due to premature death.
Of course, most of us aren’t drinking that much, and most of us aren’t going to work with whiskey-breath. But a study covered by Bloomberg presents a shocking figure:
The Centers for Disease Control has put a figure on how much it costs the American economy: $249 billion. That includes spending on health care as well as the economic toll of lost productivity, car crashes, crime, and deaths attributable to excessive alcohol consumption.
The total cost of excessive drinking to the economy is rising. The last time the CDC made a similar calculation, excess drinking was blamed for $224 billion in costs, estimated for 2006. The increase, about 2.7 percent annually from 2006 to 2010, outpaced inflation. Most of the costs are attributable to binge drinking, and 40 percent of the total is borne by the government.
Talking about the total economic cost of excess alcohol consumption is great for headlines, but it’s hard for everyday people to grasp. A better framework might be to ask questions for yourself and try to answer them. Here are a few worth considering:
Why do I drink? There are lots of reasons that people decide to have a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail. Sometimes we just enjoy the taste. Or we are using the drug for a specific effect, the way people sometimes use caffeine to help them wake up or concentrate.
Is there a connection between my work stress and my alcohol consumption? We all experience levels of stress at work. If alcohol is being consistently used as a way to deal with that stress, that’s not a good sign. Instead, relieve stress through exercise, or better yet, identify ways to produce less stress in the first place.
Do I ever go to work when I should stay in bed? This may be the most telling question about alcohol and work. We know that many professionals show up for work even when they are sick. If you’re not feeling well—even if the problem is self-induced—it’s best to stay home. And really, a strict requirement of working hours doesn’t make sense for many companies anyway.
Productivity matters in every organization, but the only way we can sustainably improve productivity is if the people who are doing the work are happy and healthy. Pay attention to your alcohol intake, as well as the habits of those around you. Doing the right thing can not only save a company, it can save a life.
If you have questions, do not hesitate to visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. If you need help, get help.