For many, social drinking is something to look forward to after a hard week’s work with your peers. Going out for a few to the local pub can be enjoyable and serves as a way to bond with your colleagues, but it’s also dangerous; drinking culture is widespread in the UK, and it can enable alcoholism and addiction.
Alcoholism and alcohol misuse affect thousands of adults across the UK each year and is a prevalent issue in the workplace. If you’re concerned about your own drinking or would like to help another, that help best begins with informing yourself more on the nature of addiction and substance misuse.
So, when do you know to draw the line? How can social drinking lead to problems with dependency? Does it bleed into the workplace? Let’s take a closer look.
Understanding the Definition of Alcoholism
Alcoholism usually refers to full-blown physical dependency, which includes symptoms such as the ‘shakes’ when drink hasn’t been consumed — often in as little as a day. Severe alcoholics of this kind are what most think of when weighing their behaviour against the impact it has on their lives; a misunderstanding of problematic drinking that holds many back from being honest about their habits.
Most adults in the UK struggle to define what alcoholism is. Most of us drink recreationally throughout the week — often more than the government officially advises us to do so. The majority have no real apparent symptoms and manage careers, social circles and families with seemingly little issue. For others, the spiral of addiction begins with social drinking, which is in itself perpetuated in workplace culture.
The best thing you can do to define and understand your alcohol use is to ask yourself this: Could I stop for a week or month if I wanted to, and is my drinking negatively affecting my life and career? If you find yourself unable to say yes, particularly after trying to stop, you’ve got a problem that should be addressed decisively, such as by considering some form of alcohol rehab.
Is my drinking affecting my work?
If you’re concerned about how much you’re drinking, and the effect it is having on your career, it’s helpful to check your behaviour against these common warning signs of dependency and substance misuse.
I’m taking time off due to drink: Sometimes a hangover can be too much to handle at work. Its’ far from unheard of to call in sick after heavy drinking, but it is nevertheless a sign that your alcohol consumption has taken priority over work. If this pattern begins to repeat itself, you’ve got an issue you need to address decisively.
My quality of work is suffering: The deterioration of your quality of work doesn’t have to just be about hangovers or being drunk in the workplace. If you’re unable to focus properly because you’re thinking about alcohol or are changing your schedule so that you can accommodate social or private drinking, you’re again prioritising alcohol over your career. This is a subtle but serious point — and it helps to be honest with yourself about it.
My colleagues are commenting: Because drinking culture is so widespread and prevalent in the UK, it’s common for colleagues to joke about each other’s alcohol consumption. This can happen without any discipline or consequence, and it’s often done as a form of bonding. This isn’t problematic in of itself, but it can be a warning sign; if your colleagues are regularly joking about how much you drink, it might be time to check your behaviour and consider cutting down.
I’m worried about a colleague. What can I do?
It’s difficult for anyone to address a peer, friend or loved one’s apparent substance misuse. We want to act in their best interests and help them to resolve what may seem to be a problem, but it’s delicate; get the intervention wrong and you risk causing offence — if there even was a problem in the first place.
In a workplace context, you can consider two things. First, educate yourself on the basics of alcohol addiction and substance misuse, part of which has been covered in this very article. This can help you to better understand how dependency grows and develops — and how it can affect a person in the workplace.
Secondly, your Human Resources department will contain staff who are trained in how to handle any thing that is affecting the wellbeing and performance of you and your peers. The most tactful solution may be to go to them for advice instead of intervening yourself. You can do this without having to name an individual, which can help you to explore what options your company can provide to people who are struggling with substance misuse, such as is commonly offered through an Employee Assistance Program.