What are the Dangers of Drinking at Work?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited :October 15, 
| 3 Sources

Drinking at work doesn't only negatively impact an employee's productivity, it also poses risks to the employer, the employee, and other people in the workplace as well. There are numerous risks for employers who have employees who drink while on the clock. The risk is tied to the individual drinking, their co-workers and their environment.

Employees who drink before they arrive at work, drink during lunch time and those who are still intoxicated from the night before have a safety risk. For further information on the Alcohol Effects on the Body, please follow the link. As noted above, individuals who are intoxicated at work do not only risk their own safety, but that of the individuals around them as well. 

Alcohol related issues include:

  • Safety
  • Absenteeism and tardiness
  • Poor performance
  • Bad behavior
  • Impacts on the morale of co-workers
  • Negative image for the company

If an individual is observed drinking at work, or observed intoxicated on property, the employer has an opportunity to take action.

Many employers will explicitly state in their employee handbook that drinking on the job will not be tolerated. This is often followed by a description of possible consequences to these behaviors.

drinking-on-the-jobPhoto by Tiger Lily

Drinking on the job displays a loss of control over alcohol, and may well be a sign of alcohol dependence. Maybe it's time to take an alcoholism test.

Drinking On The Job

Residual Effects from Drinking the Night Before

It is important to understand that heavy drinking can have an impact on our functioning the following day. Our blood alcohol content, or BAC, can remain elevated hours after we stop drinking. If this is the case, the person would not be hung over or be experiencing any withdrawal symptoms.

The other option would be that the person is no longer intoxicated and instead is experiencing a hangover resulting from the night before. Common hangover symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Decreased concentration
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

So how can these symptoms impact a person’s job performance?

One thing to consider, would be how they got to work if they do in fact still have an elevated BAC? If a person was to drive with an elevated  blood alcohol content, they can still meet legal requirements for driving impaired which can lead to legal concerns.

Being impaired is known to cause a decrease in a person’s coordination and result in poorer judgement which could lead to dangerous driving situations.

All of the symptoms combined are likely to decrease a person’s productivity at work. This is more concerning for individuals who have safety sensitive jobs compared to a non-safety sensitivity.

One would increase the physical risk of harming yourself and/or someone else. No matter what your job is, having any of these symptoms while at work would be uncomfortable.

Alcohol is known to impact our regular sleep cycle which can lead to tiredness. Sleep disturbances can also impact our memory which can have a negative impact on our ability to do every days tasks. Inadequate sleep or disturbed sleep can lead to a multitude of concerns including:

  • Impaired ability to concentrate
  • Impaired alertness
  • Increase risk for health concerns such as heart disease and strokes
  • Increase risk for depressive symptoms
  • Can lead to memory impairment
  • Contribute to weight gain
  • Impairs judgment

Drinking During a Work Shift

There are a few ways that this could look. Alcohol can be kept in a person’s car, or in an office. In some situations, the employer may offer alcohol during work hours. A holiday party could be an example of a special occasion.

The question would then be what is the purpose of drinking? It may be a sign that drinking may be a concerning behavior.

Consuming alcohol during work and/or during a lunch break would impact a person’s effectiveness when they return to work. Having an elevated BAC when arriving at work would likely have a similar impact.

The concern of safety arises if the person drinking is driving, and if they are driving with others in their vehicle. Drinking during a break can lead to poor concentration, poor coordination and poor judgments which can all have a negative impact on a person’s job performance.

As noted above, when we address drinking at work, it is important to look at the particular situation and understand the purpose of drinking.

What an Employee Can Expect If Caught

In some cases, a company may handle things in a more lenient manner, particularly if they believe an employee is of value to the company and will be hard to replace or have a personal connection. In this case the employer may require the employee to go to a residential alcohol treatment center or undergo outpatient alcoholism treatment. This may also include continued monitoring once the recommendation for treatment is fulfilled.

An employee get an official warning or be placed on probation with the understanding that continued impairment at work can lead to more serious consequences.

The above attitude to drinking at work is relatively rare and many companies will terminate the work contract of any employee found drinking at work.

For many, employers do not change the consequences based on how much is consumed. This means that an individual who had a beer at lunch could receive the same consequences as an individual who got drunk while at the office. 

Some careers do have unions that workers belong to. Unions, in some situations, are able to help mediate the consequence’s which can help the employee keep their job. In most cases, the Union will become involved in the consequences the person faces. 

Minimally, drinking incidents are usually noted in an employee’s personal file. Common consequences would be a condition for treatment. Treatment recommendations can vary from Detoxification, Inpatient Treatment and Outpatient Treatment.

Some companies may have a suspension process set up, similar to what you will find with the police or fire department. These employees are likely to face suspension which usually occurs without pay for a decided amount of time before being able to return to work.

This too may come with a recommendation or requirement for substance abuse treatment.

Drinking At Work Affects Your Performance

If you can identify with individuals who have a drink or two at lunch time, have you taken time to think about the impact this can have on your ability to do your job?

Research has shown that alcohol has a negative impact on our coordination and reflexes. This can lead to poor decision making which can have a negative impact on your job performance. Since alcohol is a depressant, you are more likely to not be as productive as you usually would be. 

Having your reflexes impaired, you are more susceptible to injuries. Accidents are more likely to occur. This can lead to consequences at work as well as permanent injuries. 

It is also possible that you could injure a co worker and lead cause a permanent disability. This would likely lead to an intense feeling of guilt which may be hard to cope with. This would also open the door for a lawsuit addressing the co-workers injury.

Many of us can relate to having the thought,  “it won’t happen to me”,  at one point or another. This thinking tends to make us feel less guilty about doing something that we know we shouldn’t be doing, such as drinking on the job.

Even if your job does not have the risk of hurting yourself or others, you’re still putting yourself at risk for unemployment and all that would come with that.

Warning of a Larger Concern

If you are, or know someone, who drinks on the job or is impaired at work often, it is a logical thought that drinking may be a concern. Specifically, an addiction to alcohol.

Many individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction can identify the negative impact that their drinking had on their job. This can be on their performance, or even in their ability to be at their scheduled shifts. As noted above, there are consequences that follow being caught drinking on the job.

If a person loses their job as a result of their drinking, it may be worth considering talking to your Primary Care Physician about your concerns. It would be unfortunate for history to repeat itself and for a person to continue facing consequences for drinking on the job.

Treatment options that may be beneficial for a person in this situation would be Detoxification, Inpatient Treatment or Outpatient Treatment. Many alcoholics find benefits from engaging in social support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery

"If you're unsure whether alcohol may be a problem, speak with one of our supportive counselors. With many having first-hand experience they understand the struggle. The free chat is confidential & they are available 24/7."

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


A resource for employers regarding employee drinking behaviors: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/alcoholism-in-the-workplace-a-handbook-for-supervisors/ 

Statistics regarding alcohol abuse: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics 

A clinical article that compares the drinking behaviors of individuals who are working to those who identify as unemployed: https://peerj.com/articles/8774

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