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Help for Professionals

Some professional people avoid seeking help for alcohol-related problems for fear that if their alcohol problem becomes known, their job will be in jeopardy. Actually, their job will eventually be affected if the problem continues untreated.

Moderate alcohol use is normal, but alcohol abuse or dependence is a serious problem. Too much alcohol affects the central nervous system and how the brain functions. It affects perception, thinking, and coordination. It impairs judgment, reduces inhibitions, and increases aggression. Those who abuse alcohol are more likely than others to engage in high risk, thoughtless, or violent behaviors.

Alcohol Warning Signs

The presence of any of the following indicators suggests that an individual may have a serious alcohol problem or be at high risk for developing one. Any one indicator is not conclusive evidence of a serious problem, but it is relevant circumstantial evidence and should be noted.

  • Drinking is causing or exacerbating a persistent or recurring social, work, financial, legal, or health problem.
  • Individual has tried unsuccessfully to cut down the extent of alcohol use. Or, once the person starts drinking, he/she sometimes loses control over the amount consumed.
  • Individual commonly drinks while alone. Regular solitary drinking, as compared with social drinking, indicates potential current or future alcohol dependence.
  • Individual drinks to relax prior to social events, as compared with using alcohol at social events.
  • Individual drinks first thing in the morning as an “eye-opener” or to get rid of a hangover. This is a strong indicator of dependence.
  • Individual claims a high tolerance for alcohol, for example, makes statements such as: “I can drink a lot without it having any effect on me, so I don’t have to worry.” High tolerance is an indicator of alcohol dependence—it takes more and more to have the same effect on the body.
  • Individual uses alcohol as a means of coping with life’s problems. This indicates possible psychological or emotional problems and greatly increases the likelihood that alcohol already is or will become a problem.
  • There has been a recent increase in individual’s drinking.
  • There is a family history of alcohol abuse. Genetic studies indicate that alcoholism tends to run in families and that a genetic vulnerability to alcoholism exists.

Alcohol problems are often manifested in the areas of family, health or law enforcement before they affect work-related behaviors. The problem may be far advanced before symptoms are observable in the workplace.

The most frequently encountered workplace indicators of alcohol problems include absences, especially on Mondays, and tardiness. Declines in quality, timeliness, and quantity of work relative to previous levels, as well as irritability and incidents of emotional disagreement with co-workers and supervisors, are also noted. Occasionally, an employee’s use of alcohol is apparent in the length of the lunch break and changes in mood observed in the afternoon.

Getting Beyond Denial

Most alcohol abusers and alcoholics deny they have a problem. As they develop dependence on alcohol, denial, a defense system, allows them to ignore the problem. They want to blame their problems on something or someone else—bad luck, a misunderstanding spouse, a supervisor who doesn’t like them, etc.

Recognizing and accepting that an alcohol problem exists is the first, crucial step toward solving the problem. If you have an alcohol problem or if you are concerned about a family member, friend or co-worker who has a problem, share these thoughts with that person.

  • Alcoholism is an illness, not a moral weakness. Blaming yourself, blaming others, or feeling ashamed about your drinking are all stumbling blocks to receiving help.
  • You are not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates 14 million Americans—one of every 13 adults—either abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. Each year about 600,000 patients enter treatment for alcoholism.
  • Don’t push away the messengers. People who worry or complain about your drinking can be a key to your recovery. They care enough about you to be concerned. If you are an alcoholic, you’ll need their support.
  • The earlier the treatment, the more successful it is likely to be. Don’t wait until the health effects are irreversible, you have lost your job, or your marriage has suffered to the point of breaking up.
  • Heavy drinking has serious health consequences. It increases the risk of cancer and causes liver damage, immune system problems, brain damage and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. It also increases the risk of accidents and mental problems.

In the workplace, alcohol abuse or dependence is a concern when it affects an individual’s ability to perform job duties.

Treatment

Alcohol abuse or dependence is a treatable illness, but successful treatment requires the active participation of the employee, a professional alcohol counselor, the employee’s supervisor, and family members or friends. Treatment may involve one to four weeks of intense rehabilitation at an outpatient or inpatient treatment facility following by six to twelve months of “aftercare” consisting of periodic individual, group, or family counseling. The recovery process typically requires the employee’s regular participation in a community-based self-help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

One key to successful treatment is admission of the problem and motivation to seek recovery. Relapse is a common occurrence after all addiction treatment, but the risk of relapse diminishes with the passage of time and continued abstinence. The first relapse occurs most commonly during the first three months after completion of treatment. If one gets through the first three months without relapse, the chances for long-term abstinence improve dramatically, and the chance of a relapse that affects work performance is small.

An Employee Assistance Program, family doctor or local alcohol treatment center can provide additional information on alcohol abuse and treatment options.

If you suspect that you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, or you know someone who does, use our confidential contact form, contact CASAC at 664-3608 or call The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).