According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), “24% of workers report drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.” The costs of alcohol use to the US economy annually top $223.5 billion dollars or $746 for every man, woman, and child. The cost of illicit drug use is estimated at $193 billion annually and the numbers on excessive prescription drug use are less clear but are estimated at over $70 billion dollars annually of which at least $53 billion are due to the misuse of prescription opioids alone. Whether due to binge drinking or alcohol or drug dependency issues, the effects of substance use are undeniable and, perhaps, you may be experiencing substance use issues that are affecting your career and life too.
Are you slipping into alcohol or drug related behavior patterns such as going to happy hour every day after work, stopping at the local liquor store on your way home, or filling the prescription pain killer you are dependent on long after its intended use? If you are noticing your increased substance intake is negatively affecting areas of your life, including your career, read on.
While heavy substance use will probably not destroy your career overnight, drugs and alcohol can slowly destroy your career over time. Some people, however, do not notice their career slowly slipping through their fingertips or the quality of their work quietly diminishing. You may not perceive you have a substance use problem or you don’t want to admit that drinking or drug use is affecting you and your career. If you notice that you aren’t being promoted or advancing in your career, or have been spoken to several times about tardiness or work performance by a manager, your substance use could be problematic.
There are a few ways that substance use can slowly destroy your career:
- Lack of sleep over time due to alcohol and drug use can destroy your career and your body.
If you are unable to sleep at night, you may have been told that a shot of whiskey will knock you out. Ultimately, alcohol use can have a very negative impact on your sleep cycle. One of the most important things your body needs is to achieve a proper REM (Rapid Eye Movement) with a resulting deep sleep cycle. While alcohol can help you initially fall asleep, “it impairs sleep during the second half of the night and can lead to a reduction in overall sleep time. As a result, it can also be associated with daytime somnolence.”
Some people turn to substances to get to sleep, to remain awake and productive, or alternate both uses. If you are chronically using substances, your sleep is being impacted; it will eventually catch up to you and show through your work performance. Depending on the substances you are using, your body may need to detox to achieve a normal and restful sleep cycle. Alcohol mixed with substance use is very dangerous and the cumulative effects can depress the central nervous system even to the point of death.
- Alcohol or drug use can also lower the overall quality of work you produce.
Lack of sleep due to alcohol or drug use will not only make you feel miserable in the morning, but also can affect your productivity, work performance, and quality of work. Depending on the field of work you are currently in, working under the influence could lead to accidents or injuries on the job. In fact, according to the NCADD, “breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of emergency room patients injured at work.” Alcohol has also been related to workplace fatalities showing “at least 11% of the victims had been drinking”
Those who work a regular desk job are also at risk. Heavy binge drinking or drug use at night can lead to a nasty hangover the next day at work creating physical and mental side effects. A hangover may cause you to feel extremely ill and, in turn, work less productively. In fact, 75% of the cost to the US economy due to excessive alcohol use was due to binge drinking, including loss of work productivity from hangovers.  Substance use can result in a lack of concentration and reaction time. Whether it is a work related injury from slowed reaction times or a loss of concentration allowing for errors in accounting or other economic losses, substance use has an enormous impact on the workers in many industries.
- Substance use can impact your overall attitude at work.
It’s not surprising that most people who are sleep deprived become irritable and dealing with co-workers in a chronically sleep deprived condition can cause major conflicts at the workplace. Arguing with coworkers or maintaining a bad attitude at work can certainly sabotage your career. While you can’t exactly be fired for creating a negative work environment, you may begin to be perceived in a poor light by managers.
If you truly care about your career, it would be in your best interest to decide, what is more important to you: substance use or your profession? While alcohol and drug use may provide temporary relief to stress, unhappiness, or ongoing life struggles, it will not pay your bills or keep a roof over your head. The good news is it’s never too late to make changes and start your life out in a new direction. Many substance users have found success in non-treatment alternatives to rehab as most 12 Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have very low success rates. If you are truly ready to make the life changes necessary, speak to your Human Resources department about benefits or supports available to you through your employer. Remember, change can only come from you, but when you’re ready, life can start again.