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Is your colleague an alcoholic?

11 October 2016, 14:30 Rhys Evans, Director at ALCO-Safe

Alcohol or substance dependence increases absenteeism, reduces productivity and escalates accident rates. It can result in divorce, broken homes, severe emotional problems and even death.

It is important to know the phases of alcohol addiction

Know the signs of addiction

It is beneficial to employees and employers to be able to identify substance and alcohol abuse, as once the problem is identified it can be addressed. The affected person can seek treatment, counselling and support before it is too late.

In order determine if a person is having a problem with alcohol or drugs, it’s important to be educated about the symptoms and phases of addiction.

Early phase addiction problem

Here, the individual drinks to relieve tension. As alcohol tolerance increases, the individual might experience memory blackouts.

Drinking results in arriving late for work, and leaving early, as the individual frequently feels unwell. This starts a pattern of absenteeism, and the person will be missing deadlines and become the subject of complaints from fellow workers.

Mistakes are more likely to be made due to inattention, poor judgment and decreased efficiency.

Read: Alcohol ads strongly influence teens' choices

Middle Phase

At this point of addiction, the affected individual is likely to engage in surreptitious drinking. While it is likely they feel guilty about drinking, they’re unlikely to give it up unassisted, as by now they will be experiencing tremors during hangovers.

Absenteeism increases and reliability is reduced as he or she takes more time off for vague ailments or implausible reasons. The individual experiences a deterioration in job performance, hindered by a lack of concentration and minor injuries on and off the job become more frequent as a result.

Late Middle Phase

The affected individual has reached a point where discussion of problems is avoided entirely. Unable to control his or her impulses, they might neglect food in favour of drinking alone. Work attendance drops off even further, as the employee fails to return from lunch or takes several days off at a time. 

By now it is impossible for the individual to keep work and personal life separate, as the alcohol is affecting both and is now interfering visibly with work. Trouble with the law is a possibility and the chances of hospitalisation increase, as job performance falls far below expected levels.

Late Phase

Once this phase is reached, the individual believes that all other activities, including work, interfere with drinking. Attendance is characterised by prolonged and unpredictable absences, exacerbated by worsening financial and family problems.

Performance is uneven and the individual is rendered incompetent due to drinking on the job.

Dealing with the problem

In the workplace, it’s important for an organisation to address the problem of alcohol and substance abuse clearly at a policy level. This provides a foundation on which to base workplace detection, intervention measures and employee assistance programmes.  It is also important to ensure that managers and supervisors in the workplace know their role in dealing with alcohol problems.

Read: Foetal alcohol syndrome highest in SA 

While it is their daily responsibility to monitor the work and conduct of employees, it is not a supervisor’s task to diagnose alcoholism. Exercising responsibility in dealing with performance problems attributable to alcohol, by holding the employee accountable, recommending help and taking appropriate disciplinary action.

To prevent the use of drugs or alcohol from slipping below the radar, companies should ensure that their policy covers how drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace will be identified and dealt with formally. This includes testing, on either a random or compulsory basis, in accordance with the procedural requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).   

Proactively working to eliminate alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace fosters a safer and more productive workplace which adds up to higher safety levels and better productivity. This in turn will boost company morale to the benefit of both the employer and employee.

Read more:

US women starting to match men's drinking habits

The dangers of alcohol during pregnancy

Alcohol-related disease burden high in poorer countries

Image: Man with glass of brandy from iStock



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