Thinking back, we were enabling his alcoholism. We were also potentially putting patients at risk. Today, an excellent doctors’ support program is available. Such behaviour is no longer accepted.
Many definitions of alcoholic exist. Simply put, an alcoholic is someone who, on a regular basis, loses control over the amount of alcohol taken in. Once drinking starts, it only stops when the supply of alcohol runs out or the person is too drunk or sick to continue. Of concern to employers and fellow workers is how this person’s work performance is affected.
Doctors don’t really understand why some can control intake and limit themselves to a reasonable amount of alcohol, while others cannot. In most cases of alcoholism, a family history exists. Perhaps a first-degree relative (mother, father, sister or brother) has had problems with alcohol abuse. Alternatively, this relative may have avoided drinking after seeing the damage caused by alcohol abuse in other family members. There is a strong genetic inclination for alcoholism. It is considered an illness.
Like any other illness, alcoholism does need treatment. Only during the last 30 years have employers realized that alcohol abuse in the workplace or affecting job performance is more than just a discipline issue.
Unions and management recognize that alcohol abuse is an illness. Both parties are jointly responsible for helping employees to get proper treatment.
The value of employee assistance programs is now recognized. Alcoholic employees who are able to stay sober long-term are often some of the most productive workers. They serve as excellent resources and role models to help other employees with substance abuse problems. Recovering alcoholics can become productive family, community and company members. In turn, social service agencies become less burdened.
Disability insurance carriers will continue paying benefits to a worker who is off work while attending alcohol treatment programs and following recommended treatment goals. Disability carriers recognize that alcoholism is a medical illness requiring treatment.
Employees must take personal responsibility for both the problem and its solution. They cannot blame all workplace performance issues or impaired driving charges on having an illness. They must realize they are responsible both for their actions and their recovery. Those who refuse treatment can be held accountable for their behaviour.
You may work with someone who is intoxicated on the job. You do have a responsibility to help your co-worker. You must also make sure no harm comes to other workers, the general public, or the environment as a result of your fellow worker’s condition.
If your company has one, an Employee Associate Program (EAP) is a great place to start. The employee with an alcohol addiction should be made aware of any available programs within the company. If no EAP exists, talk to your manager or alternatively, to the union representative. If these people are unapproachable, get advice from another source. Perhaps another employee who is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may be able to help.
The Canadian Alcoholics Anonymous website is www.aacanada.com. It has some good links and information about local AA meetings throughout Canada. Non-alcoholics are welcome at meetings to see the work being done. AA can be a great resource. As can Al-Anon – access www.al-anon.alateen.org online. You can also do an on-line search using ‘alcoholism resources’ to find out what is available in your community.
What if the person with the alcohol problem is your boss? It is still necessary to do something. Discuss the problem with any of the above resources or with fellow employees, and try to develop an action plan.
It may seem that trying to intervene is useless. However, different drinkers must be confronted in different ways to recognize the problem. Comments from a friend or loved one, public embarrassment, or illness related to alcohol might be the sobering factor. An impaired driving charge, divorce, loss of a job, or imprisonment due to an alcohol-related crime may also force a change. Every attempt to intervene early before the potential downward spiral starts is worthwhile.
I will always remember the patient who came to see me after he had been sober for three years. He said, “Three years ago, I remembered comments you made two years earlier. You talked about me having a drinking problem. I finally decided you were right and got help.”
You may believe that intervening will not work. However, your intervention may be the key factor that motivates a fellow employee to get help for a drinking problem.