In this section you will find more resources to support you in your role in the workplace.

Impact of drugs and alcohol in the workplace

With around 1 in 4 employee drinking at a level that is putting their health at risk, businesses’ alcohol and drugs related costs are mounting:  absenteeism and sickness absence, lateness, accidents and injuries at work, ‘presenteeism’ and poor productivity, low team morale, damaged customer relationships, adverse effects on company image  as well as  recruitment and training costs.

It is estimated that between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of all absences are due to alcohol.


Should what employees do in their lives outside work concern employers? Yes, if the level of substance use has an impact on attendance or performance, e.g. increasing the risks of accidents, or have an impact on the health and safety of the public.

Many employers are now recognising the significant benefits that can be made by improving employees’ health and well –being.

It is also important to recognise that the work environment itself can contribute to levels of substance misuse:  stress caused by high workload or periods of change, pressures from difficult clients, tasks overload, distressing situations, a workplace culture that is encouraging of alcohol misuse etc…

See our website sections  on alcohol and various drugs for the health impacts linked to misusing substance.

How do you find out if there is a problem in your workplace?

You may want to explore carefully some key areas of your business:

  • Sickness record – are there any periods of unexplained or frequently taken absence?
  • Behavioural changes – what behavioural changes have you noticed in any employee (see Box
  • Productivity: are there any unexplained dips in productivity?
  • Accident records/near misses – have the number of accidents or near misses increased or involved particular employees?
  • Disciplinary problems – have you noticed particular performance or conduct problems with any employees?

Legal issues

The health and safety case

Failing to address factors that make a workplace unsafe can place an employer in a serious position so far as health and safety legislation is concerned. While risk assessments on machinery, production processes and manual handling and lifting are commonplace and relatively well understood, there is less awareness about the risks associated with the use of alcohol while at work and in the hours leading up to starting work.

A major responsibility is placed on the employer to ensure that risks within the workplace are kept to an absolute minimum and failing to act would undoubtedly reflect badly should an incident occur that was linked to the consumption of alcohol.


Legislative Requirements.

The following key pieces of legislation are relevant to the issues of alcohol and drugs in the workplace:


Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

The principal legislation in the UK for controlling the misuse of drugs. If you knowingly permit the production or supply of any controlled drugs (unless prescribed), the smoking of cannabis or certain other activities to take place on your premises you could be committing an offence


Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This places a duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and others who may be affected by the organisation. Employees have a duty of care to safeguard their own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by their actions.

Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Follow this link to a brief guide. The regulations state that employers have a duty to assess the risks to the health and safety of their employees, including risk assessing stress-related ill health at work. This may include the use of alcohol as a response to workplace stress.

Employment Rights Act 1996

The act requires employers to provide written information about their disciplinary rules and procedures; a drug and alcohol policy should also be available in this context.

Data Protection Act 1998

This covers how organisations hold and use information about employees. Any employer who undertakes alcohol testing in the workplace must comply with obligations under this act, in particular in relation to the collection and processing of information on the results.

Road Traffic Act 1988

This Act states it is an offence for drivers to be unfit because of alcohol use. This has particular relevance in the work situation where employees drive in the course of their work duties.

Transport and Works Act 1992

This Act makes it a criminal offence for specified jobs to be undertaken by those unfit through alcohol. Employers may be liable unless they can show due diligence.

Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations

These regulations require employers to assess any additional risk as a result of using work equipment.

Possible indicators of drugs/alcohol misuse

Signs of drug misuse which you might look for include:

  • Sudden mood changes;
  • Unusual irritability or aggression;
  • A tendency to become confused;
  • Abnormal fluctuations in concentration and energy;
  • Impaired job performance;
  • Poor time-keeping;
  • Increased short-term sickness absence;
  • Deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers or management;
  • Dishonesty and theft (arising from the need to maintain an expensive habit).

Remember: all the signs shown above may be caused by other factors, such as stress, and should be regarded only as indications that an employee may be misusing drugs or alcohol. Some prescribed drugs can also affect someone’s ability to work, especially if the job requires a high level of concentration or alertness.

Managing an employee with suspected drugs and alcohol problem

Useful flowchart to highlight the procedure for dealing with the issue:


  • keep accurate, confidential records of instances of poor performance or other problems
  • interview the worker in private
  • concentrate on the specific instances of poor performance that have been identified
  • ask for the worker’s reasons for poor performance and question whether it could be due to a ‘health’ problem, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs in the first instance
  • if appropriate discuss the organisation’s alcohol and drugs policy and the help available inside or outside the organisation
  • agree future action
  • arrange regular meetings to monitor progress and discuss any further problems if they arise.


The Mepmis project offers a very useful training tool for employers . This training resource (web based & face to face) for trainers and managers in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)  will equip them with the appropriate skills and sufficient knowledge and understanding to enable them to deal both proactively and reactively with the issue of substances and their impact on work / employment. Access needs to be requested via

Support and services for employees wanting to address their alcohol/drug use

Local services:

Please see the services section on this website

Websites: offers anonymised feedback on your drinking to get anonymous feedback on your drug use Register for support to address alcohol use. Confidential online treatment and recovery programme for problem alcohol and drug use Includes a unit calculator and drink diary. Helps people find out more about their relationship with alcohol and how they can cut down. Helps to assess drinking patterns, learn about the effects, helps identify reasons behind drinking and support to cut down. Is an online platform to help people address a range of health related issues (weight, smoking, alcohol, activity etc.. with links to local services and help setting effective goals)

Phone apps

Include  DrinkAware, Drinkstracker and AlcoDroid – see the ‘getting support’ section.

What can businesses and organisations do

See our free online E-Learning course and resources (available to everyone) and our free Identifying and Managing Staff with Alcohol and other Drugs training course for managers. (available in B&H)

An effective heath promotion approach should include:

  • Measures to ensure employees have a good level of alcohol awareness including: knowledge of typical alcohol unit content in a variety of common drinks; an understanding of recommended guidelines; the risks of drinking above these and where to get further help and information.
  • Staff in appropriate roles that are suitably trained and equipped to deliver evidence based ‘Identification and Brief Advice’ (IBA). Occupational Health roles are particularly well placed to deliver IBA but staff in employee assistance role, Union Representatives or other roles may also be well placed to deliver this support.
  • A clear recognition and understanding among managers of the importance of preventing alcohol and drug misuse through promoting a healthy workplace. Although not all managers will be ideally placed to directly deliver IBA, most can readily provide crucial drug or alcohol-related information, resources and support to their staff.
  • A health and wellbeing strategy that recognises environmental and other determinants likely to affect employee’s alcohol use, and engenders a range of activities and structures to promote physical and mental health.
  • A suitable workplace alcohol policy that clearly sets guidelines for managers and staff on a range of alcohol-related areas including managing dependence as well as supporting approaches to improve health and wellbeing.

Developing a workplace drug and alcohol policy

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their staff and a good employer will also want to assist any employees who have a drug or alcohol problem.

However, many employers do not have a drugs and alcohol policy to support them in managing this issue.Many employers see drug use as a matter for the law and alcohol abuse is often considered a personal matter unless it starts becoming disruptive. Negotiating an agreed policy can help ensure that the issues are dealt with as legitimate workplace matters in a way that will aim to support any workers who have a problem. Under no circumstances should a drugs or alcohol policy be part of a disciplinary policy.

Developing a comprehensive approach to helping employees to recognise and reduce alcohol misuse is likely to positively impact on health and well-being, and thereby on business effectiveness by:

  • Reducing levels of absenteeism
  • Increasing productivity
  • Preventing the early loss of skilled employees due to chronic ill health

In addition, further business impacts can be reduced such as alcohol-related accidents or injuries, damaged customer relationships or team morale. Addressing these issues can therefore result in significant cost savings to employers, individuals and the wider economy

It is important that managers and staff all know how the organisation will deal with drug and alcohol related issues. It will also help staff gain the confidence to come forward and seek help either for themselves or others without fear of disciplinary action. Unfortunately many line managers are not equipped to deal with these issues and line manager training and support is an important part of any policy.


Here are some examples of drugs and alcohol policy:

Sources of support and information

  • Alcohol and the workplace -Institute of Alcohol Studies factsheet  Available from
Translate »