Secondhand drinking – the other side of alcohol misuse – the coping with the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others – directly affects 90 million Americans. These are the husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, boyfriends, girlfriends and co-workers who repeatedly deal with another person’s drinking behaviors.
They represent approximately one-third the population; up to 40% of a workforce and five times the number of people whose drinking patterns are causing drinking behaviors.
These drinking behaviors include: verbal, physical or emotional abuse, driving while impaired, domestic violence, committing a crime or sexual assault, to name a few.
Drinking behaviors are not intentional. Rather they are what happen when the ethyl alcohol chemical in alcoholic beverages changes the way the brain works.
Through contact with people directly affected by secondhand drinking, millions more Americans are indirectly affected. Co-workers, classmates, in-laws and extended family members, roommates, teachers, law enforcement officers and the like typically fall into this group.
In other words – Secondhand Drinking – the Other Side of Alcohol Misuse – poses a significant cost to companies and public agencies; costs very similar to those imposed on the workplace by persons who misuse alcohol.
The Known Workplace Costs of Alcohol Misuse
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Features page, Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion [annually], last reviewed April 17, 2014, the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S. is $223.5 billion. Excessive alcohol consumption refers to drinking patterns that include binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Contrary to popular assumptions, the CDC’s report states, “Almost three-quarters of these costs were due to binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more standard drinks on an occasion for women and 5 or more for men “and is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States.”
Relevant to the workplace costs of alcohol misuse are these two figures:
- workplace productivity (72% of the total cost) – over $160 billion
- health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11% of total) – over $24 billion.
Workplace productivity costs are related to unsafe work practices, workplace accidents, absenteeism, late arrivals, early departures and the impacts on co-workers’ product output and workloads, as examples.
Health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking include depression, anxiety, heart disease, sleep disorders, digestive problems, high blood pressure, learning and memory problems.
Extrapolating the Workplace Costs of Secondhand Drinking
The root cause of secondhand drinking’s impacts is stress. The chronic activation of the brain’s fight-or-flight stress response system (FFSR) when confronted by ongoing drinking behaviors results in stress-related ailments and quality of life impacts that include:
- sleep difficulties
- anxiety, depression
- digestive problems
- skin problems
- changes in eating habits, causing obesity or weight loss
- memory impairment
- sleep disorders
- heart disease
- losing friends, dreading social events, trying to keep track of a steady stream of white lies and cover-ups for a loved one’s drinking behaviors
- social and work difficulties
- feelings of helplessness / hopelessness
- having to deal with the fall-out of someone driving while impaired, whether that be a death, injury or ticketed DUI
- questioning oneself and believing somehow there was something they did to provoke the drinking behavior or can do to make it stop
- relationship changes; divorce
- developing an alcohol misuse problem, having turned to alcohol to relieve the stress.
My article appearing in the University of Texas Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addiction’s CNRA Connections, “Secondhand Drinking” (begins on pages 7-8),” shares more on this concept of Secondhand Drinking-related stress.
Given secondhand drinking impacts have not been measured in the same manner as those for alcohol misuse, we can only extrapolate SHD-related workplace costs.
We do know that SHD’s stress-related workplace impacts mirror those of alcohol misuse in terms of lost workplace productivity costs and increased health care expenses for problems caused by SHD-related stress.
Thus it is not a stretch to estimate the bottom line workplace costs associated with secondhand drinking will range from equal to or five times more than the costs associated with employee alcohol misuse.
What Can Be Done?
Help your employees understand secondhand drinking, alcohol misuse and the tools they can employ to self-elect changing how they cope with SHD-related stress or use alcohol.