The business case for tackling the issue of alcohol and drugs at work

We currently live in a society in which the recreational use of alcohol and drugs is generally accepted in most European cultures. Substances of all kinds are widely available and people these days are much more tolerant of even high levels of useage.Although some types of organisations, such as the transport industry, ban the use of alcohol and drugs, many other sectors still permit employees who have consumed alcohol and / or drugs to be in work. For example, in many organisations it is still acceptable to drink alcohol during lunch time and still work in the afternoon.

The effect of alcohol and drugs on work performance can be difficult to measure. Excessive use of substances can impact on performance e.g. quality of work can be lower, timekeeping can be irregular and absence from work can increase. This is in addition to the effect on job duties that are health and safety related e.g. driving as part of the job or operating machinery. All this can be costly to a business.

According to the UK Government’s Strategy Unit (i), the alcohol-related output loss to the UK economy was up to £6.4 billion a year due to:

  • Increased sickness absence (women drinking seven or more units, or men drinking 14 or more units a week, raises the likelihood of absence from work through injury by 20%)
  • The inability to work (unemployment and early retirement)
  • Premature deaths among economically active people (people of working age).


The economic and social costs of Class A drug use in England are estimated to have been around 22.3 billion Euros in 2003 / 04 (ii).

Workers who misuse alcohol in the UK are believed to be 2 to 3 times more likely to be involved in an industrial accident and it is estimated that alcohol is involved in 1 in 5 accidents and 1 in 2 fatal accidents in work.

A survey carried out in December 2007 for Norwich Union Healthcare (iii) found a third of employees admitting to having been in work with a hangover and 15% reported having been drunk at work.

Many managers have had to deal with an employee who they know has been drinking excessively or is taking drugs. But some people keep their alcohol and / or drug use well hidden; there are equally many managers who have had to deal with ‘problem’ employees where they are not always sure what the problem is; it could be an inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs brought on by acute stress for example.

Not tackling issues where employees drink or take drugs inappriopriately can be costly to the business. In the best case, it might mean that an individual has more time off work, or isn’t working productively when in work; in the worst cases it can mean major mistakes, lost business or contribute to an accident at work.

Putting in place a positive approach to alcohol and drugs not only ensures that every employee knows what is or is not expected of them in terms of drinking and / or taking drugs at or before work, but it can also result in reduced absenteeism, reduced accidents and fewer mistakes for the business.

In demonstrating that the health of wellbeing of its staff is important to the organisation, a well thought out corporate approach to alcohol and drugs where the employees have been involved in its development and one that is tailored to meet the requirements of the business, is vital; it is good for the employee and it is good for the business.

Ava Fine
work2health ltd
9 June 2011


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