Drinking at work: not a healthy trend


Clinical Psychologist

“They say a man’s work is never done. They say you can’t mix business with pleasure. They say that good things come to those who wait. It’s a good thing they don’t work here.”— Anheuser Busch Super Bowl 2012 commercial.

That’s the voice-over in an ad promoting Bud Light Platinum, a new beer from Anheuser Busch. The ad shows mostly thirty-something men and women drinking Bud Light Platinum in what is clearly an office environment. The message is unmistakable: you can mix business with pleasure, and why wait until you leave work to have that first drink?

Anheuser Busch may be capitalizing on what is already an emerging workplace trend. An article by Bloomberg.com reports that companies like Twitter and Yelp stock beer in office refrigerators. “We treat employees as adults,” Twitter spokesperson Jodi Olson told Bloomberg.com, “and they act accordingly.”

Emerging workplace trends aren’t necessarily good ones.

Not just for Mad Men

Drinking on the clock is nothing new. As William J. Sonnenstuhl writes in his book, Working Sober, “throughout American history, drinking and work practices have been closely intertwined and some occupations continue to regard drinking at work as an acceptable practice.”

Although drinking on the job may not be as widespread as portrayed on the hit TV show Mad Men, it is still with us. A report for the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicates that about 8% of full-time employees report having five or more drinks on five or more occasions a month. That’s edging into what most experts now call “risky drinking.” A survey of 6,540 employees at 16 workplaces representing a range of industries showed that 23% of upper-level managers reported drinking during work hours in the prior month. According to that study, both heavy drinking the night before work and drinking immediately before or during working hours contributed to work performance problems.

Almost alcoholic

Excessive drinking costs $223 billion a year, or about $750 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. These costs come mostly from reduced workplace productivity, health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking, law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption, and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving.

Some of these costs are generated by the nearly 18 million Americans who are alcoholics or have alcohol-related problems. But there’s another group that also contributes. My colleague, Dr. Robert Doyle, and I call the people in this nearly invisible group “almost alcoholics.” Though none fit the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse, they may be slowly veering in those directions.

As we describe in our forthcoming book,  Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?, many people in the “almost alcoholic” group have declining job performance and/or declining health, though most don’t yet link their problems to their drinking.

Clear boundaries needed

Given that so many Americans have trouble with alcohol, we could use fewer opportunities to drink, not more of them. Relaxed corporate policies toward drinking on the job could nudge more employees into the almost alcoholic zone or beyond. When it comes to drinking and work, there should be a clear boundary between business and pleasure. To riff on the Anheuser Busch commercial, good things don’t necessarily happen to those who don’t wait.

Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., is a nationally known clinical psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience working with individuals and families. With psychologist Barbara Okun, he wrote Saying Goodbye, a 2011 book from Harvard Health Publishing. His next book for Harvard Health Publishing, Almost Alcoholic, written with Robert Doyle, M.D., will be published in April 2012.

Related Information: Alcohol Use and Abuse


  1. marygoss

    Drinking alcohol is affecting the countries work productivity and causing many health problems to workers. Awareness should be done by employer. employers and workers should work in hand to hand to reduce drinking during work.

  2. best tv

    It is true that Many workers have declining job performance and declining health because of that. Thanks for making me aware of that.

  3. Julio

    I AM WRITING A PAPER ON ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND HOW IT RELATES TO SLEEP. If you could answer these qisetuons I would greatly appreciate your input. Thank you for stopping by and reading this:)Why do you think other people drink alcohol?1. To relax2. Improve sleep3. Increase confidence4. For the taste5. Socially acceptable6. Religious belief7. To make them attractive8. Romantic/Sexual reasonsYour answer (select one # from above list) _____________1 Do you feel you are a normal drinker? ( normal drink as much or less than most other people)2 Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?3. Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that youcould not remember a part of the evening?4. After heavy drinking have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.’s), severe shaking, visual orauditory (hearing) hallucinations?5. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?6 Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?7. Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in arow because you were drinking?8. Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?9. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?10. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?11. Have you been arrested more than once for driving under the influence of alcohol?12. Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?13. Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?14. Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?15. Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?16. Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours because of other behavior while drinking?(If Yes, how many times____________)17. Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?18 Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?19. Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?20. Do you drink before noon fairly often?21. Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman or mental health clinic for help withany emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?22. Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?WITHIN THE LAST MONTH HAVE YOU:Please respond “Yes” or “No” for each question.23 Did you hold your breath, have breathing pauses, or stop breathing in your sleep?24 Did you snore loudly?25 Did you have restless or “crawling” feelings in your legs at night that went away if you movedyour legs?26. Did you have nightmares, or did you scream walk, punch, or kick in your sleep?27. Did the following things disturb you in your sleep: pain, other physical symptoms, worries,medications, or other (specify)?28. Did you feel anxious29. Did you fall asleep unintentionally or have to fight to stay awake during the day?30. Did work or other activities prevent you from getting enough sleep?31. Did you have repeated rhythmic leg jerks or leg twitches during your sleep?32. Did you have difficulty falling asleep?33. Did sleep difficulties or daytime sleepiness interfere with your daily activities??USING A SCALE FROM 1=“not at all untypical of me” TO 5=”very typical of me” FOR EACH BELOW1=NEVER 2=RARELY 3=SOMETIMES 4=OCCASSIONALY 5=OFTENWrite the number from the above list that most likely represents your behavior.33. Many situations make me worry.34. I worry about projects until they are all done35. Once I start worrying, I cannot stop.36. I worry all the time.37. If I do not have enough time to do everything, I do not worry about it.________38. I know I should not worry about things, but I just cannot help it.39. As soon as I finish one task, I start to worry about everything else I have to do.40. When I am under pressure I worry a lot41. I do not tend to worry about things.__________42. I notice that I have been worrying about things.43. I never worry about anything44. I never worry about anything.45. I am always worrying about something.46. I find it easy to dismiss worrisome thoughts47. I have been a worrier all my life.48. When there is nothing more I can do about a concern, I do not worry about it anymore.49. My worries overwhelm me.__________

  4. Anonymous

    Thanks for making me aware of that. Most time we really don’t realize that we are contributing to work performance problems. It is true that Many workers have declining job performance and declining health because of that.

  5. Electrician Brisbane

    Drinking in moderation message doesnt appear to be getting across, my wife stop drinking when we got pregnant, i also quit to make it easier for her, we never took it up again, if it was’nt for something as monumental as a child on the way im not sure i could have stoped.

  6. John Judge

    I found this article very interesting and would like to thank you for the information. Drinking is becoming a social problem that leads to all social ill’s.

    If one needs to drink at work then you are very much on your way to dependancy and other health problems like urinary issues, kiddy, bladder, and the like.

    Many thanks…john!

  7. Brian Louden

    Using drink as a form of relief from stress is dangerous at work. Everybody knows that drinking during the day at work clouds judgemnt,increases risk taking and puts you over the drink drive limit at the end of the day.

    After work it is also too easy to go for a drink,which leads to another and then you forget to go go home.Domestic issues arise when drinking at work. Everybody likes a drink but not a drunk.Many a promising career has came to an abrupt end through drinking to excess at the office party.

  8. Multivitamin for Men Review

    Thanks for making me aware of that. Most time we really don’t realize that we are contributing to work performance problems. It is true that Many workers have declining job performance and declining health because of that.

  9. Kunzang Tenzin

    I have a father in law who is diabetic an he does not want to avoid junk food that might be so dangerous for him. what should be done to get him free form this?

  10. Athena Rock

    I am a believer that almost everything in moderation is okay, even having a cold one at the office. It can help the relationships among coworkers that they wouldn’t normally get without some time spent socializing with each other.

  11. Mike

    Thanks for sharing such a nice information. Even in my cafeteria there is Wine Bar and afternoon many of my friends go there for drinking. As per them they need relax as being pressurised by Managers.

  12. Adam Flath

    I would worry more about over worked employees who get stressed out and hate their job. That is probably more unhealthy than having a cold one in the afternoon.

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