Excessive Drinking by Employees: Major Impacts on Health and Productivity

Posted on December 30, 2013 by VITAL WorkLife

An article with the un-sensational name "State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption, 2006" in the latest edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine tells a story that is more than a little concerning.

Consider these facts and findings from the study about excessive alcohol consumption:

  • It's responsible for an average of 80,000 deaths in the US each year with 2.3 million years of potential life lost each year.
  • At a cost of $223.5 billion ($1.90/drink) in 2006; the median state cost of excessive drinking was $2.9 billion (range: $31.9 billion for California to $419.6 million in North Dakota); and the median per capita cost was $703 (range: $1662 for the District of Columbia to $578 for Utah).
  • Most of the costs were due to binge drinking.
  • Productivity losses represented the largest share (median 70.5%) of total state costs of excessive drinking. Healthcare costs represented 11.6%, and other costs such as alcohol-related criminal justice system costs, motor vehicle crash, and crime-related property damage represented 17.0%.

The authors note that estimates were most likely substantially underestimated as, for example, the estimate for reductions in workplace or household productivity did not include women, for technical reasons. It also omitted the likely impact of excessive alcohol consumption by nondependent drinkers (binge and heavy drinking) on other forms of lost workplace productivity (e.g., presenteeism, such as attending work while "hung over"). The mortality, morbidity and associated lost productivity estimates were based on only the primary cause of death or illness and did not include contributing causes that were related to alcohol.

What Does it Mean for Your Organization?

The study's finding that productivity losses were responsible for 70.5% of costs is a wake-up call for organizations. But, numbers like this are often so large that they are almost incomprehensible.

We often refer managers to the Alcohol Cost Calculator, developed by the George Washington University Medical Center, to get an estimate of what alcohol problems are costing your organization, based upon norms for your industry, state and other variables. For example, a manufacturing company with 1000 employees in Wisconsin shows that there would likely be 91 employees who were problem drinkers—and an additional 136 dependents. The cost? Over $26,000 in excess emergency room expenses alone, and just over $34,000 in excess missed work days. The companion Substance Abuse Disorder calculator is also instructive.

How We Can Help

As your EAP, there are a number of ways that we can assist you in dealing with the misuse and abuse of alcohol by your employees. First, do you and your managers and supervisors know what to do if you suspect an employee is struggling with alcohol abuse issues? We have training that we can provide on Reasonable Suspicion—from making sure your organization has adequate policies in place to steps to take to confront employees who you suspect of alcohol abuse.

For those with full-service plans, we offer unlimited telephonic managerial consulting, and under the "Manager Resources" section of your member portal, under the "Performance-Based Referral" tab, you'll see links to a "Reasonable Suspicion Observation" form and also one for "Chemical Dependency Referral and Release" which can be used to refer an employee to us to meet with a counselor and, if appropriate, have a chemical dependency evaluation, which is free with your plan. This evaluation is also available to family members of your employees.

Even better yet is prevention. Please feel free to call us at 800.383.1908 and one of our EAP consultants can consult with you on ways to educate your employees on the costs and impact of alcohol abuse and how to get help before things get out of hand. Our work/live website also has a wealth of information—just look at the "Balancing" tab at the top and then click on the "Addiction and Recovery" topic from the drop-down menu.

Pathways to Well Being call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App

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