In Secondhand Drinking, Alcohol Misuse

Lisa Frederiksen writes on the comparison between drinking behaviors and workplace bullying.Bullying is widely acknowledged as a serious issue for children, but adult bullying – especially that occurring in the workplace – is also gaining traction.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey, “72% of Americans are now aware of workplace bullying,” which is defined as, “repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse.”

As you continue reading this article, you will see the connection between drinking behaviors and workplace bullying; a connection that could cost your company or public agency real problems and significant dollars.

Drinking Behaviors – An Example of Workplace Bullying

It is not uncommon for the heavy consumption of alcohol to be condoned or outright expected as a part of a workplace culture, whether that be at the office-hosted holiday party; the celebratory evening out after signing a big contract; or the after-hours, “let your hair down” cocktail hour with colleagues.

But what happens when the amount of alcohol consumed changes people’s behaviors, in other words, when it results in drinking behaviors, aka Secondhand Drinking?

Drinking behaviors are what happen when the ethyl alcohol chemical in alcoholic beverages changes the way a person’s brain works. These behaviors include:

  • verbal, physical or emotional abuse, bullying
  • physical assaults
  • illogical, circular arguments; saying mean, hurtful things
  • blackouts, not remembering what was said or done the night before
  • driving while impaired, riding in a car with drunk driver, getting a DUI
  • unprotected, unwanted, unplanned sex, sexual assault

You can imagine, and may very well have experienced, what it’s like to be on the receiving end of these sorts of drinking behaviors.

And given it takes the liver an average of one hour to metabolize (rid the body) of the ethyl alcohol chemicals in one standard drink, it’s not a surprise that some of the workplace-condoned alcohol consumption practices result in drinking behaviors.

And here’s why…

Alcohol is not digested like other foods and liquids. Rather it passes through the stomach into the small intestine and immediately into the blood stream where it travels to body organs high in water content and highly vascularized – like the brain. There it will “sit” until it is metabolized by specific enzymes in the liver. It takes the liver approximately one hour to metabolize the alcohol in one standard drink. Thus, it will take six hours to metabolize the ethyl alcohol chemicals in six beers, for example, or eight hours to metabolize the ethyl alcohol in four shots of Tequila and the four beers that accompanied each shot (even if all six or eight drinks were consumed within three hours).

By comparison, “normal” drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as:

  • No more than 7 standard drinks in a week, with no more than 3 of the 7 on any one day (for women)
  • No more than 14 standard drinks in a week, with no more than 4 of the 14 on any one day (for men).

While the ethyl alcohol chemicals are “waiting” to be metabolized by the liver, the ethyl alcohol chemicals are changing brain function, i.e., neural networks responsible for motor control, memory, judgement, emotion, inhibition… This is because the brain relies on a electro-chemical signaling process to function normally. The interruption of the normal cell-to-cell signaling process explains why a person whose had a lot to drink will do “the things they do.”

So What Happens When…

  • an evening at the hotel bar after a sales conference ends with two co-workers (one married, one not) upstairs in the same room for the night?
  • an employee leaving the company-sponsored holiday party gets a DUI and injures their passenger, who was also a fellow co-worker?
  • a scene erupts between a superior and a subordinate, with both clearly under the influence?
  • four hours after the heavy-drinking celebration ends, one of the participants reports to work to start his shift as a forklift operator?

The consequences can be many, ranging from:

  • a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment [defined, in part, by the EEOC as, “…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”];
  • a fellow-employee filling of a safety violation claim [based on Worker’s Rights Under the OSH Act, entitling workers “to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm”];
  • the development of a stressful, uncomfortable, intimidating work environment mired in co-workers’ side-glances, hushed whispers and avoidance tactics [which could result in a Harassment complaint being filed with the EEOC, if not addressed].

What Can Be Done?

Help your employees understand what it means to drink responsibly and set your company or public agency’s expectation they do so because Secondhand drinking – the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others – is real.

There are many ways this can be done. Please contact me for details or visit the link to Companies or Public Agencies for more information.


Lisa Frederiksen
Lisa Frederiksen has a 39-year career in executive management, consulting, speaking, training and writing and is the founder of and SHD Prevention. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and eleven books, including, "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," "Secondhand Drinking: The Phenomenon That Affects Millions," and “If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!” She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, trainer, and frequent guest on radio, TV, and Internet radio shows.
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