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After-work Drinking: When Does It Get Out of Hand?

Time for beer with friends in the pub

Not counting caffeine, alcohol is, perhaps, the one substance that brings more work colleagues together, especially off the clock. For those Americans who follow traditional work setups, there is very little indication that this alcohol-centric work culture will change in any meaningful way. Interestingly, even those who work from home are not entirely free from work pressures to consume alcohol.1,2,3

Granted, the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is comparatively low for most American workers who do drink after work.3 Cumulatively, however, the effects of alcohol consumption present one of the most serious threats to American labor productivity, accounting for billions in losses each year.1

Here, we’ll lay out reasons why Americans in the labor force turn to alcohol, how you could identify the potential signs of an alcohol use disorder in yourself or a work colleague, as well as treatment options typically available for working Americans. Get in touch with our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to learn about AUD treatment programs in the Greater Boston area.

Why Do American Workers Drink After Work?

Drinking after work or in other professional contexts can have a number of different causes. Some of these include:

  • Social pressure. It can be very difficult to avoid the cultural and social pressures to drink, especially when one already considers drinking to be a pleasurable experience. While social drinking is not a serious issue in most cases, certain circumstances related to work can raise one’s risk of problem drinking, especially binge drinking. Workers with low hierarchical status or less job security may feel the pressure to engage in these behaviors more acutely. Workplaces and industries with an alcohol-centric subculture may also further add to these risks.2,4,5
  • Stress and anxiety. These and other mental health issues may not always be related to workplace conditions, though they often are. When one adds a group dynamic where everyone is stressed about the same things and everyone enjoys alcohol, the chances of frequent after-work drinks to ease tension increase. Consequently, the risk of binge drinking or developing an AUD also rises, particularly on weekends.1,2,3,4
  • Depression. People who experience depression, whether related to work or not, are at an elevated risk of developing an AUD. People with depressive disorders may be more likely to drink alone or engage in binge drinking in the guise of social drinking.1,2,3,4
  • Trauma. Trauma is also related to elevated levels of alcohol use both alone and in social settings. Work-related issues such as constant stress, a dangerous work environment, witnessing injuries or death on the job, and exposure to illnesses can be a cause of trauma. Likewise, organizational issues like job insecurity, bullying, gaslighting by managers, having one’s performance ignored or diminished can also contribute to an employee’s trauma and subsequent risk of problem drinking behavior.1,2,3,4

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

Drinking after work does not necessarily mean one has an AUD. However, if you’re concerned with your drinking behavior or that of a work colleague, here are 11 symptoms to look out for:6

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Strong cravings for alcohol
  • Failed attempts at drinking less
  • Gave up hobbies and interests to accommodate drinking
  • Spent more time drinking or recovering from hangovers
  • Engaged in risky behavior because of drinking
  • Personal or professional problems because of drinking or hangovers
  • Continuing to drink even at the expense of personal and professional relationships
  • Drinking despite emotional issues resulting from drinking
  • Developing a higher than usual tolerance to alcohol
  • Experienced withdrawal symptoms including but not limited to: tremors, anxiety, nausea, irritability, and extreme discomfort

Experiencing two or more of these symptoms within the past 12 months may be a reason for a physician to diagnose an alcohol use disorder. More symptoms are often indicative of a more severe AUD.6 If any of these symptoms apply to you, please get in touch with a qualified mental health specialist immediately for full diagnostics.

What are The Treatment Options for Employees With AUD?

Treatment options for currently employed individuals include the following:3,7

  • Outpatient Treatment. Outpatient programs involve periodic visits for treatment and therapy sessions at specialized clinics. These allow participants to continue working as they are treated, which makes them feasible for individuals who cannot afford to lose income as well as for those who do not want to have an unexplained absence from work.3,7
  • Intensive Short-term Residential Treatment. These generally involve less than 3 months of residential treatment, with some programs having periods as short as 2 weeks. Participants may then transition to an outpatient program to complete treatment. This may be a good option for employees with mild or moderate AUD whose employers can offer a short leave of absence.3,7
  • Long-term Residential Treatment. Long-term residential treatment is done in a special facility, usually offering room and board as well as 24/7 patient monitoring. Long-term residential programs may last 3 months or longer and are more often recommended for severe AUD cases. Continued employment may be a challenge, as residential programs rarely offer a means to facilitate this. This means having a sabbatical, an extended leave of absence, or resigning from one’s job are often necessary conditions for entering long-term programs.3,7

As an employee seeking treatment for AUD, you may have certain rights and protections afforded to you under state and federal laws. You may want to consult with a qualified legal expert to learn more before divulging any information about your condition to your employer.3

Find Help for Employees With AUD in Boston

Employees with AUD or other substance use disorders may face recovery challenges specific to the circumstances of their employment. If you’re in New England, you can call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193 to find programs in the Greater Boston area that work with workers and businesses to deliver personalized care for AUD.

Resources:

 

  1. Centers for Disease Control. (2019, December 30). Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy.

 

  1. Centers for Disease Control. (2021, March 19). Alcohol and Substance Use: Basics of excessive alcohol use

 

  1. United States Office of Personnel Management. (n.d.). Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors.

 

  1. Ames, G. M., & Grube, J. W. (1999). Alcohol availability and workplace drinking: mixed method analysesJournal of studies on alcohol60(3), 383-393.

 

  1. Yang, M. J., Yang, M. S., & Kawachi, I. (2001). Work experience and drinking behavior: alienation, occupational status, workplace drinking subculture and problem drinkingPublic Health115(4), 265-271.

 

  1. Hasin, D. S., O’Brien, C. P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, K., Budney, A., Compton, W. M., Crowley, T., Ling, W., Petry, N. M., Schuckit, M., & Grant, B. F. (2013). DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale. The American journal of psychiatry170(8), 834–851. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12060782

 

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). Types of Treatment Programs.