Ever-increasing work pressure, job uncertainty, and looming deadlines are taking a toll on the mental as well as the physical health of employees. To relieve the pressure, it’s easy to step into a pub on your way home from work to let off steam. When consumed in moderation by an otherwise healthy individual, by an otherwise healthy individual, alcohol may not be a problem. However, when your drinking increases to the point of affecting your life, relationships, or work, it can cause serious issues.
Studies show that alcohol consumption among white-collar workers has increased. People who work long hours are more prone to heavy drinking as a way to relieve work pressure.
So, how does alcohol abuse affect you and your work? Let’s find out.
Is alcohol abuse a mental health problem?
Alcoholism has been described as 'a mental obsession that causes a physical compulsion to drink’ by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Alcoholism may not be recognised as other diseases such as cancer or heart disease. Nonetheless, it is a medical condition that needs to be treated physically and psychologically.
So, what is the relationship between work pressure and drugs and alcohol in the workplace? Studies covering data from over 14 countries show that working for more than 48 hours a week increases the risk of alcohol addiction.
Here are the reasons why mental health issues and alcohol/ substance abuse often occur together:
- Mental health problems and disorders related to excess alcohol intake and substance abuse have the same causes. These include a change in the composition of the brain, exposure to stress, and genetic factors.
- When people with addiction consume alcohol or illegal drugs, they experience symptoms of mental health problems.
- There are times when mental health patients resort to alcohol or drugs as a self-medication tool.
- Statistically, one in four mental health patients has substance use issues. Addiction and substance use have been noticed frequently in people with mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and depression.
Alcohol dependence and work performance
So, how does dependence on alcohol affect your work performance? Let’s find out.
- Alcohol may increase the risk of life-threatening situations or accidents at work. This is especially true for workers in charge of heavy machinery, hazardous chemicals, etc.
- Increased employee absenteeism may hinder overall productivity. The quality of work may also suffer because of poor decision-making capacity or the person’s impaired ability to be a team player.
- There are chances of alcohol-related burdens on the business increasing with liabilities, cost of training recruits, and loss of skilled employees.
How alcohol abuse affects workplace relationships
An employee has interactions not only with co-workers but also with customers and clientele. How can alcohol affect this balance?
- There are chances of unprofessional behaviour when communicating with clients and co-workers.
- Co-workers may experience resentment when they have to cover for a person who is drunk or has a hangover.
- There is a change in behavioural patterns, such as increased belligerence, argumentative attitude, and short-temper. This can lead to an unhealthy work environment for co-workers.
Managing work-related stress and alcohol dos and don’ts
The harmful use of alcohol is the cause of around 3.3 million deaths every year. Alcohol abuse causes a variety of disorders and is one of the main reasons for the increasing burden of disease globally.
A study published in Lancet says alcohol is bad for you, irrespective of how much you consume. However, you can cut down on your drinking to reduce the risk factor. Around two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women is considered less harmful.
It’s easy to reach for alcohol on your way home when you are stressed. However, when you drink more than your daily quota of alcohol, you increase your risk of injury, accidents, and a hangover. Long-term risks include heart disease, impaired liver function, and mental illness.
- Recognise the core issues, if any, behind your alcohol consumption. For example, if being overburdened at work is what drives you to drink, try to deal with that core problem by talking to your supervisor/HR. Eliminating the stressor might help you ease your alcohol usage.
- Talk to a trusted colleague at work and share your problem. This can help reduce your mental burden and prevent you from suffering in silence.
- Cordon off certain parts of your day, and don’t drink at those times. For instance, make sure your mornings, commute and work hours are alcohol-free times. Setting boundaries will make you regain a sense of control.
- Check for company-facilitated resources to help employees overcome alcohol dependence. These could include psychological counselling or support groups. Such resources are usually confidential, so you needn't worry about your privacy being violated.
- While you are undergoing therapy or rehabilitation, check with your manager about any temporary accommodations that can be made as per company policy – e.g., in the form of a work buddy or flexible working options.
When drinking, cut down on your intake using these methods:
- Avoid topping up your glass. Finish your drink before you start on another one.
- Add alcohol-free drinks to the mix to decrease your overall intake.
- Quench your thirst with a glass of water before you start drinking alcohol.
- Avoid taking large gulps. Sip your drink instead.
- Select drinks that have low-alcohol content.
- Avoid drinking games and shots. You don’t have to keep up with your friends’ or co-workers' pace.
- Energy drinks and alcohol are not a good combination. You will end up drinking more alcohol.
So, what are the healthy alternatives to deal with work pressure? Let’s check them out.
Healthy alternatives to combat your stress and excess drinking
To cut down on alcohol problems, you can introduce these lifestyle changes into your regimen:
Exercise and yoga
Exercise is a good way to deal with work-related anxiety. Outdoor activities such as a walk in the park, swimming, or a game of cricket or basketball are great ways to reduce stress.
Yoga calms the mind, and makes you feel good. This will help you handle stress better.
Avoid being lonely
Reaching for a drink when you are lonely is common. However, once you are in the company of family and friends, your urge to drink automatically reduces. Being lonely, hungry, or angry can trigger a desire to drink.
Indulge in fun activities
Playing board games, watching game shows on TV with your family, or working in your garden are fun activities that reduce your urge to drink.
Once you learn how to deal with stress healthily, you can cut down on your alcohol consumption drastically. Realising that you have a drinking problem is the first step to recovery.
Also read: How to Deal with a Professional Setback