Why share these three facts about alcohol misuse with employees?
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), “Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace:”
Alcohol and drug use among employees and their family members can be an expensive problem for business and industry, with issues ranging from lost productivity, absenteeism, injuries, fatalities, theft and low employee morale, to an increase in health care, legal liabilities and workers’ compensation costs.
“The impact of alcoholism and drug dependence in the workplace often focuses on four major issues:
- Premature death/fatal accidents
- Injuries/accident rates
- Absenteeism/extra sick leave
- Loss of production
“Additional problem areas can include:
- Tardiness/sleeping on the job
- After-effects of substance use (hangover, withdrawal) affecting job performance
- Poor decision making
- Loss of efficiency
- Lower morale of co-workers
- Increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers/supervisors or tasks
- Preoccupation with obtaining and using substances while at work, interfering with attention and concentration
- Illegal activities at work including selling illicit drugs to other employees
- Higher turnover
- Training of new employees
- Disciplinary procedures
“In addition, family members living with someone’s alcoholism or drug use may also suffer significant job performance related problems — including absenteeism, lack of focus, increased health-related problems and use of health insurance.”
To reduce the workplace costs associated with employee alcohol misuse and/or employees coping with secondhand drinking, sharing these facts can be a key factor in an employee’s decision to self-elect change, and for the most part, they are little known or understood because the research explaining these facts is new.
Just as advancements in technology resulted in an explosion in social networking opportunities in the past 10-15 years – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Smartphone, Pinterest, Instagram – so too have advancements in imaging technologies; resulting in an explosion in brain and alcohol misuse-related research. These imaging technologies, such as fMRI and SPECT, allow scientists and medical professionals to study the live human brain in action, over time, with mental illness, during and after alcohol misuse, with medications, during development and so much more. It is replacing old myths and assumptions with scientific facts that can help employees understand, prevent, intervene and treat alcohol misuse.
And now to the three key facts:
Drinking is Not Just “Normal” or “Alcoholic”
There is the common belief that drinking is either normal or alcoholic and thus people often continue misusing alcohol in the belief they are not an alcoholic. They still go to work, help with the children, aren’t mean when drunk, thus they must not be an alcoholic, or so they and their loved ones think. Yet over time the continued misuse can result in a person’s drinking pattern crossing the line from misuse to dependence (alcoholism). When that occurs, the person has developed the chronic, often relapsing brain disease of alcoholism (aka addiction).
Why/ how is it a brain disease?
Disease by its simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way. Cancer, for example, can change cells in an organ, such as the breast, prostate or colon; these changed cells change the health and function of that organ.
Alcoholism changes cell health and functioning in the brain, which makes it a brain disease.
Alcoholism is a Developmental Brain Disease that Starts With Alcohol Misuse
Not everyone who drinks too much will develop alcoholism (one of the brain diseases of addiction). But alcoholism is a developmental disease. People are not born alcoholics nor do they choose to become one.
Alcoholism starts with alcohol misuse (aka alcohol abuse), which chemically and structurally changes the brain as one sees in the SPECT scan comparisons above.
It is these changes that make one person’s brain more susceptible to the five key risk factors for developing the disease of alcoholism (addiction). These risk factors include: genetics, social environment, childhood trauma, mental illness and early use. The more risk factors a person has the more likely they are to cross the line from alcohol misuse to alcohol dependence. This is an important distinction.
While still in the misuse phase, it is possible for a person to change their drinking patterns to fall within “low-risk” or “normal” limits. With alcoholism, it is not possible for a person to drink ANY amount because of the brain mapping that’s occurred around a person’s risk factors and the characteristics of this brain disease (cravings, tolerance, loss of control, and physical dependence).
My 10-minute video explains these concepts further:
To learn more about “low-risk” drinking limits and tips for cutting down, suggest employees visit NIAAA’s website, Rethinking Drinking.
For more on the development of alcoholism, suggest employees check out my eBook, Crossing the Line from Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence.
Additionally, it’s important employees know that alcoholism is a very treatable disease for which there is NO one-size-fits-all method of treatment. For more on what makes treatment effective, suggest they check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)’s “Principles of Effective Treatment.”
An Individual’s Alcohol Misuse Has an Impact on Family Members, Friends and Co-Workers
When a person has been immersed with trying to get a loved one to stop or cut down on their drinking, spending months or years engaging in seemingly endless deal making, wanting to believe “this time is different,” accepting plausible explanations as excuses – it changes that person. This concept is known as secondhand drinking and the consequences are related to chronic activation of the fight-or-flight stress response system. Understanding secondhand drinking can help employees get the help they need for themselves, which in turn can help them better help their loved ones.
Suggest employees check out my ebook, Quick Guide to Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions.
Sharing these three key facts with employees can help employees self-elect change, whether that’s changing a drinking pattern or how they cope with someone’s drinking. The “self-elect” aspect of this is so important because the stigma, misinformation and shame associated with alcohol misuse and alcoholism keeps people from understanding they have a problem and seeking the help they need, and it keeps those grappling with secondhand drinking from doing the same.
Thus helping employees in this manner helps them improve their individual health, wellness and quality of life, and in the process, save employers billions of dollars annually in the associated reduced workplace costs of employee alcohol misuse, alcoholism and secondhand drinking.