Alcohol and other drugs in the workplace
The use of alcohol and other drugs can impact on workplaces in a number of ways, including affecting relationships, safety and productivity.
The following statistics demonstrate the extent of this impact in Australia:
Having a hangover or coming down from drugs at work can be just as problematic as being intoxicated. Headaches, blurred vision, irritability, problems concentrating, lost voice and extreme tiredness can all create problems for you and your co-workers.
Sobering up takes time. As a guide, an average person in good health can process one standard drink per hour.
Hangover cures like cold showers, doing exercise, strong coffee or being sick will not speed up the process. These cures may make you feel better, but they don't change your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
There is always a level of risk when using any drug including prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Drug reactions vary from person to person. If you are taking a drug you haven't had before, you won't know how it will affect you. It's important to follow your doctor's advice when taking prescription drugs and discuss any side-effects and how this might impact on your work.
The effects of prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax®) can have an impact on your work and you should discuss these with your doctor. Long term use in particular may become problematic.
An alcohol or drug problem isn't necessarily measured by how much, how many or what type of drugs a person uses, but by how the drug affects the person's life and the lives of those around them. It's often a matter of personal perception.
Here are some examples of a drug problem:
If a co-worker's use of alcohol or other drugs is affecting you then they do have a drug problem. This person may not be aware their drug use is affecting those around them, so you need to talk to them or the most appropriate person in your organisation such as a manager or someone from human resources.
Find out the facts
If you are concerned that a co-worker is intoxicated while at work, it is important to be very sure that the person is actually under the influence of drugs – and not unwell – before you take any further action. It is very difficult to know if someone is impaired by the use of drugs or if someone is misusing them. Read through the drug facts pages to find out about the effects of different drugs.
If you are concerned that a co-worker's drug use is affecting their work and/or the safety of others, it would be helpful to document evidence of incidents.
If your workplace has an alcohol and drug policy, follow the procedures outlined in that document.
If your workplace does not have an alcohol policy you may wish to discuss the issue with:
It's important to consider how your use of alcohol or drugs may impact on your co-workers because the OHS Act imposes a duty on all workers not to recklessly endanger any other person in workplaces.
Different industries and workplaces may have more specific rights and responsibilities for employers and employees detailed in a policy. For example, some industries and workplaces may require people driving vehicles to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.00. Others may have policies about testing employees for alcohol.
Make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities around alcohol within your workplace and/or industry.
Your employer has a legal obligation to address alcohol and other drug issues in the workplace through the 'duty of care' provisions in the OHS Act. These provisions require employers to take all reasonable or 'practicable' steps to ensure the health and safety of all workers and any other people who may be affected by the actions of the employer, such as contractors or clients.
The Australian Drug Foundation works with employers to help them develop alcohol and drugs policies, train employees about alcohol and drugs, and organise safe parties. If you think your workplace could benefit from these services, put your manager or human resources department in contact with the Australian Drug Foundation's Workplace Services.
Unions: If you are in a union, you should contact them for assistance.
Your local doctor, other health professional, or workplace Employee Assistance Program should be able to provide you with confidential advice or refer you to a more appropriate service.
1. Manning, M., Smith, C. & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. 454. Canberra: Institute of Criminology.
2. Roche, A., Pidd, K. & Kostadinov, V. (2015). Alcohol – and drug-related absenteeism: a costly problem.
3. Dale, C. & Livingston, M. (2010) The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace, Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.
Last updated: 29 June 2016