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The Facts About the Impact of Problem Drinking

Seventy-five percent of heavy drinkers are employed. In fact, nearly 9.6 million people or 9.1 percent of full-time workers ages 18 and above drink in ways that put them at high risk for alcohol-related health problems and reduces their productivity on the job.

Just look at the facts. According to a federal government survey1, people with alcohol problems:

  • say they call in sick or skip work an average of 11 days per year, thirty percent more than those who don't have drinking problems
  • seek emergency room attention 33 percent more often than the rest of the population
  • stay in the hospital over a day and a quarter longer

Who are people with alcohol problems? More often than not, they're young and male, but alcohol-related problems affect people of all ages and women as well as men. Workplaces that actively discourage employees from heavy drinking experience fewer alcohol-related problems. Heavy drinking at night or on weekends often means that employees call in sick, arrive late, leave early or fall asleep on the job. If they work in safety-sensitive positions, impaired job performance due to hangovers can endanger their own lives or those of their colleagues and the public. These consequences of heavy drinking are pervasive: 20 percent of workers say they have been injured, have had to cover for a coworker, or needed to work harder because of coworkers' drinking.

Heavy drinking also affects employee health. It greatly increases the chances of unintentional injury—both on and off the job. Over time, heavy drinking contributes to many serious medical problems including liver disease, stroke and cancer. In fact, according to government estimates, alcohol problems add $36 billion to the nation's health care bill. American business absorbs much of this cost in the higher premiums it pays for employer-based health insurance as a result of unidentified and untreated alcohol problems.

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. 2004. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002. Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute.