Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Workplace and Alcohol Problem Prevention

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

The Workplace and Alcohol Problem Prevention

Article excerpt

Workplace programs to prevent and reduce alcohol-related problems among employees have considerable potential. For example, because employees spend a lot of time at work, coworkers and supervisors may have the opportunity to notice a developing alcohol problem. In addition, employers can use their influence to motivate employees to get help for an alcohol problem. Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) as well as educational programs to reduce employees' alcohol problems. However, several risk factors for alcohol problems exist in the workplace domain. Further research is needed to develop strategies to reduce these risk factors. KEY WORDS: workplace-based prevention; Employee Assistance Program; intervention referral; relapse prevention; alcohol or other drug (AOD) education; health promotion; workplace AOD policy; identification and screening for AOD use; occupational stress; stress as an AOD cause (AODC); social detachment

As a domain for alcohol-problem prevention, the workplace holds great promise. In the United States and, increasingly, around the world, the majority of adults who are at risk for alcohol problems are employed. As described here, employers have several well-defined means at their disposal for intervening with problem drinking. Those methods serve not only the interests of the employer but also those of the employees and their dependents. Furthermore, the potential for a preventive impact is worldwide. Western styles of workplace organization and employment relationships have spread to influence global practices, setting the stage for the diffusion of workplace interventions and for addressing emerging economies increasing alcohol problems (Masi 2000; Roman in press).

Despite these possibilities, the development of prevention programs in U.S. workplaces has slowed considerably in recent years and, in fact, may be in need of revitalization (Roman and Baker 2001; Roman in press). The decline in workplace attention to alcohol problems illustrates the need for creating and maintaining an infrastructure for sustaining alcohol interventions in settings not typically associated with the delivery of health care.

This article will first review the opportunities workplaces provide for preventing alcohol problems-people spend a large amount of time at the workplace and employers may use their leverage to motivate an employee to seek help for an alcohol problem. The article also will discuss the use of employee assistance programs (EAPs) and complementary programs to reduce employee alcohol problems and then examine risk factors for alcohol problems that exist in the work environment.


The significant presence of alcohol problems in the workforce was most recently documented in a 1997 national survey, indicating that about 7.6 percent of full-time employees are heavy drinkers (i.e., they consumed five or more drinks per occasion on 5 or more days in the month prior to being surveyed) (Zhang et al. 1999). According to that study, about one-third of the heavy drinkers also used illegal drugs.

Workplaces have introduced programs to prevent and treat alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse among employees, especially over the past 25 years. The goal of many of these programs has been "human resource conservation"; that is, the programs strive to ensure that employees maintain their careers and productivity (Roman and Blum 1999). Although the programs vary considerably in their structure, they may include health promotion, education, and referral to AOD abuse treatment when needed. Most of these programs focus on early identification of a problem or helping those already affected by a problem (i.e., secondary prevention) rather than targeting the general population (i.e., primary prevention). Three separate studies show that the majority of American employers offer EAPs, which potentially may provide services to help eliminate drinking in the workplace (Zhang et al. …

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