How Does Drinking Impact Your Career? Alcohol and Work in the 2020s

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Looking back at the 1950s and 1960s, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know that work lunches were heavily fueled by a martini or two. Back then, alcohol was simply a part of normal United States work culture.

But, with time, drinking during work hours became increasingly taboo. Employers learned that having alcohol at work could disrupt workplace morale and depress productivity. Employees may have also noticed that drinking at work was negatively impacting their careers. By the 80s and 90s, drinking during your lunch break (or any point during the workday) was seriously frowned upon.

Then, the pandemic happened. More and more people started working from home, just as many companies were rethinking workplace policies. And now, drinking on the job, especially for remote workers, could be making a comeback.

But is it really any better to be drinking at work in the 2020s than in the old days? How can alcohol use actually impact your career? Let’s take a look at how excessive drinking can get in the way of workplace success, and why you might want to cut back on how much you consume.

COVID-19: Its Impact on Alcohol Use and Work

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a significant percentage of American workers were impacted by alcohol in the workplace. An article from 2006 revealed that 15 percent of U.S. workers either drank at work or came to work hungover.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the use of drugs and alcohol across the country. One study revealed that almost one third of Americans who drink alcohol had increased their consumption since the pandemic started.

In addition, depending on the type of work you have, it’s possible that you began working from home during the pandemic.

Unlike in a traditional office setting, where you’re more easily supervised, home is slightly different. The lack of supervision can make drinking at work more tempting. In fact, one study found that nine out of 10 home workers admitted to drinking on the job.

These factors help explain why more and more employers are currently focusing on ways to reduce workplace drinking.

Can Alcohol Misuse Affect You In The Workplace?

The short answer to this question is yes. Having a drink or two in your free time isn’t likely to hurt you. But heavy alcohol use, on and off the job, can make it challenging to get promoted and keep your job.

Excessive drinking can lead to more frequent call-offs, poorer decision-making, lower quality work, and strained workplace relationships. It can also start to deteriorate your mental and physical health, which could cause workplace safety issues.

This is especially dangerous if you work in the trades, or any job that involves difficult physical tasks and attention to safety. But even in the office this can lead to inappropriate behavior, and if you are noticeably intoxicated you can certainly face disciplinary action.

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Freelancers, Excessive Drinking Can Affect Your Work Too

Just because nobody can see whether you’re drinking on the job doesn’t mean the impacts will go unnoticed. Freelancers can also face negative consequences for drinking at work, even if they are working from home.

Drinking alcohol at work could affect a freelancer’s ability to meet tight deadlines, and the product that they submit could be substandard. This may result in lessened demand for their services and a drop in their income level, which could also lead to a downward and slippery spiral of stress and further drinking.

It’s also tricky enough to maintain your motivation when working for yourself, from your own house. Even getting slightly tipsy might hurt your time management, make it easier to procrastinate, and impact your bottom line.

Read more: Drinking While Working From Home

Drinking, Socializing, and Career Development

beverages on table office party
Photo by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash

Of course, the paradox in all this is that alcohol is often involved in career networking. Gatherings like holiday parties and other workplace events may also have open bars where alcohol steadily flows. You may feel that abstaining in these situations puts you at a disadvantage.

But even in these contexts moderation is key. After all, no one wants to become known as the person who did X, Y, or Z at last year’s holiday party. Sharing drinks may sometimes be a bonding activity among coworkers, but you should always keep your sense of professionalism.

Of course, this can put unfair pressure on you if you’re in recovery, or trying to abstain from drinking. Being presented with alcohol while trying to practice sobriety or cut back can make it hard to say no or control yourself. You may also feel like you’re being judged for not drinking or missing out on the festivities. Here, having some good excuses for not drinking ready, or simply holding a nonalcoholic drink as a prop, can help you out.

2 Big Signs that Drinking Is Negatively Impacting Your Career

There are numerous potential signs that drinking could be negatively affecting your career, but here are two major ones.

#1 Tardiness: It Is Harder and Harder to Respond to Your Alarm

One sign that drinking is getting in your way is that you are frequently coming to work late. You may begin struggling with the effects of binge drinking the night before, or drinking during your lunch break may slow you down. As you might imagine, repeated tardiness could impact your chance of promotions, and in severe cases could even lead to termination.

#2 Easy Tasks Are No Longer Easy

A second sign that your drinking is getting in the way of your career is that you’re struggling with tasks that were once easy. This could be happening because you are hungover at work or drinking on the job. Or you could be distracted by thoughts about your next drink, instead of what your job calls for. Over time, poor performance could also lead to termination.

Sometimes, these problems can fly under the radar for a long time. However, supervisors may notice them and call you out about these issues. When done correctly, these call-outs will come with offers of help for you, such as some of the options highlighted below.

How to Get Help If You Are Struggling with Your Drinking

coworkers giving a high five
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Many people who notice their drinking is becoming a problem delay getting help—out of denial, shame, or simply not knowing where to start. As a consequence, they find themselves caught up in a spiral of continued drinking. Don´t be one of those people.

One way to get help and break the cycle of drinking is to look at the benefits that your company may offer. For example, some companies may provide mental health and addiction counseling services.

Going to your HR department for advice may be a great first step, since they are often bound by confidentiality not to disclose these issues to others at your company. However, this approach isn’t always comfortable. Many people still fear that their reputation won’t be protected if they disclose this information, and they choose silence.

Ask About Telehealth Services

If you’re struggling with drinking on the job, another option to consider is telehealth. Unlike traditional inpatient rehab, online programs like Ria Health allow you to continue working while getting the support you need. They are also discrete, which can avoid the problems of shame and stigma that still unfortunately exist in many workplaces.

More and more companies are offering telehealth as a benefit, and you may qualify for this approach free of charge, or at low cost. And if not, it is still cheaper than many mainstream forms of treatment—and much cheaper than losing out on work or damaging your career,

Learn more about how Ria Health’s program works, or get started today

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Written By:
Jessica Thomas
Jessica Thomas’ career expertise spans health education and communication, aging studies, quality improvement, and program development. Jessica holds degrees in Health Administration and Public Health. She has worked in various roles in the healthcare field and enjoys educating others on health and wellness topics. When not indulging in a good book, Jessica is spending time with family, collecting Bath & Body Works candles, or planning a vacation.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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