Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

Trends, impacts and solutions

What are the impacts of alcohol abuse in the workplace?

Can I prevent alcohol from plaguing my company?

What are the best practices in alcohol testing?

Many people find it uncomfortable to talk about the impact and prevalence of alcohol abuse in the workplace.  Nevertheless, it is an issue that we can’t simply overlook.

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about $276 billion dollars in expenditures on workplace injuries, disability payments and health care (not including productivity losses) are caused by substance and alcohol abuse.

No wonder why many companies across the globe are investing a fortune on alcohol testing and other preventive measures.

A Growing Trend

Over the years, there has been a growing trend on using alcohol for “professional purposes”. Consider John’s experience for example.

John works as a Graphic designer at a renowned tech company in New York City. Although he don’t drink alcohol, many of his bosses and clients would often ask him to have a drink with them for “professional purposes”. Also, his company holds Friday “epic” happy hours where they play drinking games and booze is prevalent.

Putting alcohol into your company’s culture may sound fun and cool but that’s just mere fantasy. In reality, it is destructive and could drive away potential talents and smart creatives.

The growing trend of “alcohol culture” among companies (especially in tech start-ups) calls for appropriate measures like alcohol testing to mitigate or eliminate the issue before it affects the entire workforce. Alcohol abuse often do more harm than good, leading to bad decisions and broken relationships.

Jeff Atwood perfectly summarizes my point regarding this matter:

“I think it is very, very unwise for companies to have a culture associated with drinking and the lowered inhibitions that come with drinking.

I’ve heard some terrifyingly awful stories that I don’t even want to link to here. Men, plus women, plus alcohol is a great recipe for college. That’s about all I remember from college, in fact. But as a safe work environment for women? Not so much.

If you want to drink, be my guest. Drink. You’re a grown up. I’m not the boss of you. But don’t drink in a situation or event that is officially connected with work in any way. That should absolutely be your personal and company policy – no exceptions.”

The Need for Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

Why is it important to subject your employees to random alcohol testing? To answer this question, let’s discuss some of the biggest impacts of alcohol abuse in the workplace.

According to studies, 60% of adults who work in the workplace have problems with alcohol

According to studies, 60% of adults who work in the workplace have problems with alcohol. For employers, the biggest challenges come when alcohol use leads to addiction or dependence.

When this happens, business owners can expect:

  • Increased number of disability claims
  • Increased number of workers asking for compensations
  • Increased health care expenses due to illnesses and injuries
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Reduced performance and lowered productivity

Can you see why alcohol testing is important? If left unchecked, employees suffering from alcohol dependence can cost your company a fortune — not to mention the safety of your workers.

Although there’s no simple test that shows who will become addicted to alcohol and who won’t, there are several warning signs to look for.

Let’s divide these indicators into 4 basic categories: (1) Attendance, (2) Performance, (3) Relationships and (4) Physical.


  1. Increased tardiness
  1. Patterned absents like the day after payday or Friday sickness
  1. Abusive use of sick leaves
  1. Unauthorized or unexplained absences
  1. Unannounced absences due to emergencies like car problems, household repairs, legal problems, etc.


  1. Faulty or poor analysis
  1. Not meeting production quotas
  1. Missed deadlines with several excuses or justifications
  2. Incomplete, careless or sloppy work


  1. Unhealthy relationships with fellow workers
  1. Increased loner behaviours
  1. Increased confrontation and belligerence in the mornings of after holidays or weekends
  1. Avoiding contacts or interactions with supervisors
  2. Financial problem (i.e. borrowing money from co-workers, collection companies and creditors)


  1. Increased energy
  1. Excessive mood swings
  1. The smell of alcohol
  1. Staggering
  1. Dilated pupils and blood shut eyes
  1. Increased talkativeness
  1. Excessive use breath mints or mouthwash
  1. Tremors
  1. Sleeping at work
  1. Lack of proper personal grooming
  2. Bruises and physical injuries

Industries that Need Alcohol Testing Right Away

According to a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration last April 16, 2015, industries in the U.S. with the highest rates of heavy alcohol use among full-time workers between the ages of 18 to 64 are mining (17.5%) and construction (16.5%).

There’s no surprise here because workers in these industries often turn to alcohol to socialize and relieve stress.

Other industries with prevalent alcohol use include:

  • Entertainment, sports and media
  • Maintenance, repair and installation
  • Sales
  • Food preparation and serving

Increased alcohol dependence among these industries are usually caused by the following reasons:

  • Easy access to alcohol (like in the food preservation and serving industry)
  • High stress
  • Lack of supervision
  • Low job satisfaction
  • Boredom
  • Shift work or irregular work hours
  • Routine tasks
  • Fatigue

Best Practices for Managing Alcohol Testing Programs in Your Company

Are you ready to subject your employees to alcohol testing? Great! But before you that, take time to read and study these 6 best practices first.

Make it Random

Alcohol testing must be done in random. To do it, employers must use a statistically valid random generator to make sure that every worker subjected to alcohol testing has the same chances of being selected for each round of testing.

Limit the Time between

Very advance notice and predictable alcohol testing schedules give your employees ample time to take preventive measures to avoid detection.

I strongly recommend to limit the time between notifications and testing to the amount of time it takes your employee to travel from the office to the testing center. Non-compliance within the given time frame should be considered a refusal.

Be Familiar with Your Clinic Policy

In order not to jeopardize alcohol testing results, you should be familiar with your clinic’s policy and working hours. For instance, it is not ideal to send an employee off to a testing center at 4:45 PM when the clinic closes at 5 PM.

Obey Government Regulations

The laws governing alcohol testing varies from state to state. It is important that you should be familiar with local regulations to avoid any legal issues.

Fine Tune Your Testing Procedure

Every company is unique. It is important that you fine tune your alcohol testing program to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Document Everything

You want to standardize everything. To do it, you need to document the entire process. Keeping a record will also protect your business from litigations and audits.


Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.