We’ve all been there. You come home from a long day at the office and say to yourself, “I need a drink”. At first glance, that beer or glass of wine seems harmless. In fact, it looks pretty inviting. Whether drinking is part of your corporate culture or you’re over-worked, you think to yourself, “what’s the big deal?” But what starts out as a drink or two during happy hour each day can turn into a habit, and that habit can lead to substance abuse.
According to a study from SAMHSA, over 76% of adult heavy drinkers are employed. But how can you be sure that it’s your job that’s causing you to drink more, and not something else in your life? It’s not uncommon to experience some work-related stress from time to time, but is it the sole reason you’ve started to drink more excessively? And if it is, what does that mean for you and your career?
These are all very important questions that can impact your life, and the lives of your loved ones, in big ways. But you don’t have to figure out the answers to these questions on your own. In this post, we’re going to cover some common reasons that people drink or abuse alcohol as a result of their jobs and help you determine if work is affecting you in the same way. You’ll also learn about the connection between alcohol and stress, and how to discuss substance abuse issues with your employer.
Reasons Why Your Job May Be Causing You to Drink
A Culture of Drinking at Work
TV shows and movies have shown us just how ingrained drinking can be in all sorts of jobs. While the real world doesn’t often compare to an episode of Mad Men, the corporate culture of your job could be contributing to your drinking. Many white-collar industries have regular happy hours and set up times to drink and socialize with clients. There’s also the emerging trend of the modern work environment. It’s more common to have offices with coolers of beer and wine nights during the week.
When it comes to several blue-collar industries, the jobs can be predictable, may not be mentally challenging, and oftentimes require long hours. This combination can make an individual more vulnerable to substance abuse, especially if they come from a background where the use of alcohol or drugs is commonplace.
There’s nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation, but is your works environment encouraging you to drink more than you normally would? Here are some questions that can help you determine if your job’s culture is encouraging you to drink:
- Is alcohol available to you at the office or job site?
- Is drinking during work hours accepted or encouraged?
- Are work outings or happy hours required for you to network and get ahead in your job?
- Does entertaining clients usually involve going out to a bar or club?
- Do you face judgment or peer pressure from colleagues to drink?
If you answered yes to some or all the questions above, your workplace environment is likely causing you to drink more than you usually would. Your corporate culture is not going to suddenly change overnight. But by knowing that it plays a role in your drinking, you can adapt your behavior and start thinking about steps you can take to lower its effects on you.
Job Stress and Anxiety
Perhaps the most common reason that work can cause an individual to drink is the stress of the job. The pressure to hit deadlines, being overworked, working long hours, and feeling overwhelmed are just some of the causes. But there’s no shortage of things in life that can cause stress. How do you know it’s coming from your job? Some of the common signs include:
- You’ve had panic attacks before, during or after work.
- You’ve considered taking a sick day just to escape from your job.
- You often feel overwhelmed at work and find yourself at a loss about what to do next.
- You notice that your heart often races during work.
- You have trouble sleeping at night and feel exhausted during the day.
- You’ve developed nervous habits such pacing, shaking your legs or biting your nails.
If you’ve experienced some of these signs, chances are your work is causing you stress. But what’s the link between work-related stress and drinking?
You’re a Workaholic
The cause of your stress may not necessarily be because your company is overworking you, but rather because you’re overworking yourself. The term “workaholism” is defined as a “compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly”. Researchers have described workaholism in various way, but they all include these basic components:
- The individual feels internally compelled to work
- The individual works beyond what is reasonably expected
- The individual constantly thinks about work outside working hours
If any of the following symptoms apply to you, you might be a workaholic:
- Work is always your number one priority, taking precedence over weekends, date nights, family functions, vacations, and more.
- Your job isn’t actually fulfilling to you, causing you to feel more anxious and stressed out.
- You prioritize work over your health, and deal with issues such as sleep deprivation, emotional exhaustion, increased cholesterol, and more.
- You’re stressed when you’re not at work, and you struggle to relax even when you’re home and off the clock.
- You almost never take time off and don’t listen to others when they tell you that you should use some vacation time.
- You hide work from your loved ones, to the point where you’ll work in the middle of the night or lie about plans to go somewhere else and work.
The Connection Between Alcohol and Stress
When stress and anxiety at work become constant, white collar workers run a high risk of alcohol abuse. Stress and anxiety raise the level of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. So, it’s natural to try and find a way to normalize it. That’s where the connection between alcohol and stress comes in. The relaxing effect of alcohol can give you a temporary balance.
But that balance comes with a price. Over time, your tolerance levels will increase. You’ll need to drink more to get the same calming effect. And before you know it, a physical dependence or addiction can emerge. While alcohol can be appealing, there are better ways to cope with stress.
How to Tell Your Employer About Your Addiction
We understand that telling your employer about your addiction is difficult. Many are afraid of losing their jobs, so they avoid seeking the help they need. That’s why we would like to share our suggestions for how to tell your boss about your problem with drugs or alcohol.
Know the Company Policy
Many businesses have a policy regarding drugs and alcohol. This policy should be outlined in your employee manual or handbook. If you don’t have a handbook, your human resources department should be able to provide you with one. Before you talk to your employer about a substance abuse problem, make sure you understand the ramifications. Every company is different, so don’t assume that your employer handles addiction the same way as any other company.
Know Your Rights
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may have rights that could protect you from discrimination based on a chemical dependency. But there are caveats you need to know about. For example, the ADA does not protect you if you are currently using illegal drugs. And, while alcoholics are covered by the ADA, employers can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. The ADA is complex, so don’t assume that it necessarily applies to you and your specific situation. If you believe you were unfairly terminated because of your addiction, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may be able to help.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. During this time, your group health benefits are required to be upheld. The FMLA applies to all local, state and federal employers. It also applies to private companies with at least 50 employees. Refer to the FMLA section of the Department of Labor website to determine whether you are eligible.
Be Honest and Direct
Immediately after officially entering a long-term treatment program, you will need to tell your boss what is going on. Based on your company’s policy, you may need to speak with human resources, a department manager or your immediate supervisor. Make sure to follow the established protocol.
Remember, the ADA mandates that employers make considerations for people entering rehab – only if they are not currently using illegal drugs. Considerations can include rearranging your schedule to allow for support group meetings or allowing for an extended leave of absence while you attend an inpatient recovery program.
There is a strong possibility that your employer has already noticed signs of your addiction. Maybe you’ve taken more sick days than normal or you’re showing physical signs that something is not right. Whatever the case, you’re probably not hiding your addiction as well as you think, so there’s no point in sugar-coating the truth.
Your Health is More Important Than Your Job
No matter the line of work you’re in, your job can come with a lot of pressure. And if that pressure has gotten the better of you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t break free from the hold of alcohol. It may seem like your job is everything, but prolonging treatment for addiction won’t get you anywhere.
If you’re reading this and you’re ready to get help, contact The Raleigh House today. We can help you beat addiction and find your own path to lifelong recovery. Give us a call to speak with our knowledgeable admissions team to start on the path to recovery.