Money For Lunch – When Co-workers Drink

When Co-workers Drink

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Attend one meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and one factor becomes abundantly clear: Addictions affect every socioeconomic level in the country, from the poorest among us to the wealthiest. No race is spared. No income bracket is spared. No particular job is spared. No age group appears to be spared, either, except for the very young.

With this in mind, persons with entry level jobs, mid-level jobs, positions of management and those in the front office can also be addicted to prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol. The co-workers you depend on, the supervisor who is in charge of others … could all be caught up in a private struggle with addiction.

In fact, roughly speaking, one third of the country never drinks alcohol, another third drinks responsibly and a third have problems with alcohol defined as an addiction issue.

The Web site CASA Columbia reports that “40 million Americans ages 12 and older – or more than 1 in 7 people – have addiction involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs. There are more alcoholics in the country than there are people with heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million).”

What should you do about it?

The first thing you should do is learn how to recognize it. There is, after all, a difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, given a teenager could abuse alcohol once, wake up with a hangover and never drink again. Obviously, that is abuse, not dependence.

But such a situation hints at what is a primary indicator that dependence exists, which is the repeating of a behavior despite negative consequences. One walloping hangover should be enough to convince anyone that over-indulging in alcohol has negative repercussions. So, anyone who repeats the behavior that ends up hurting them is showing signs of dependence.

That makes work, typically, a very important environment regarding an assessment of alcoholism. At home, your family may overlook you sleeping late from time to time, but at work being late has negative consequences.

There are negative consequences at work for making mistakes that could have been avoided. There are consequences for working slowly or for calling in sick repeatedly. Due to the relatively strict and structured environment jobs present, alcoholism often shows up at work before it shows up at home, where various behaviors are shrugged off.

For example: Operating machinery while under the influence of alcohol.

In this situation, the negative behavior might not be tangible until the operator – or the driver of a car – has an accident. In this case, a supervisor may not be privy to the information that a worker had a drink or two at lunch, but co-workers, for many reasons, might know that the driver usually has a drink or two and that his choosing to operate dangerous equipment is taking a dangerous risk.

Alcoholics are sometimes also more likely to speak to co-workers about problems with their relationships at home or money problems. Regular drinking, in addition to difficulties on the home front can indicate addiction issues.

Co-workers may also be aware of substance abuse by taking note of why a co-worker is drinking. Do they drink out of boredom? Do they drink when they are angry or sad? Do they drink when they are alone? Do they drink in secret? Or do they simply drink day after day?

It is often said that the first person to realize that they are an alcoholic is the drinker themselves. True enough. But often the last person willing to admit it is that same drinker. Co-workers can get a sense of denial or concealment, minimizing, outright lying and other behaviors meant to conceal and addiction.

One of the universal human needs is dignity. According to this article by Futures, a recovery program based in Palm Beach, Florida, “Often executives struggle with issues of integrity in their career.” At work, when higher ups have addiction issue, the need for concealment is acute, because their very jobs were obtained in part because they were respected in their field.

There are variables to consider, but this often means persons higher up in the chain of command at a company will have a harder time admitting a dependence problem than others. If they are in the front office, they might also have access to resources that can help them conceal their addiction – lawyers who keep them out of jail if they get pulled over for driving while intoxicated, for example.

Now what can you do about it?

This may be hard to hear, but often the strategy that works best for persons struggling with addictions is to point out the pain they are in. Since alcohol numbs the pain or puts off taking care of problems, addicts carefully weave a reality for themselves that looks more tolerable than it really is.

Friends and co-workers can point out that the problems and pain are real that they hurt. Alcoholics can shrug off the point that they failed to get a promotion, but it may be worth pointing out that family members were counting on that promotion, as well.

Coworkers can also directly tell addicts where treatment is available. They can try to normalize the vocabulary to get past the initial embarrassment. They can point to successful stories of recovery.

It takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes it takes a community to help an addict take that first critical step towards a clean and sober life.



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