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Problem Drinking Among White Collar Workers

Published 05/10/2007

Alcohol dependence among the professional classes is more widespread than many employers are prepared to acknowledge.

In fact, recent research conducted by the UK Health and Safety executive suggests that certain professions have higher than average alcohol consumption -- and experience more alcohol-related problems as a result.

These include not only those in the hotel, catering and drinks industries, but also the shipping industry, the military, doctors, lawyers and journalists.

The explanation of the high incidence of alcohol abuse problems in white-collar occupations is believed to involve factors such as ease of availability of alcohol at work-related functions; social pressure to drink with colleagues and clients, and lack of supervision.

The stress experienced by career-motivated professionals in highly responsible jobs is also thought to be a major factor in alcohol dependency.

Given that white collar employees are often answerable for the safety and welfare of others, it's a problem that needs to be nipped in bud, says Sue Allchurch, director of the Linwood Manor Group.

"Problem drinkers can often be identified in the workplace by poor performance, high sickness absence and disciplinary problems. In the case of white-collar professionals, alcohol abuse can have a direct and severe impact on the clients and patients that they are paid to serve," she says.

At the recent British Medical Association (BMA) annual conference, for example, it was estimated that as many as one in 12 doctors are abusing alcohol and/or other drugs and that increased stress is driving some doctors to suicide and mental breakdown.

In response, The BMA has set up a 24-hour telephone helpline for doctors suffering from stress and addiction problems. Likewise, a Lawyers' Assistance Programme (LAP) to aid members of the profession with alcohol problems is also being planned. A similar scheme is already available to dentists.

The good news is that workplace programmes to prevent and reduce alcohol-related problems among white collar employees have considerable potential, says Allchurch, whose Linwood Manor Group are experienced in supporting organisations to develop a drug and alcohol policy.

For example, because these employees spend a lot of time at work, co-workers and supervisors may have the opportunity to notice a developing alcohol problem.

"In addition, employers can use their influence to motivate career-conscious employees to get help for an alcohol problem that might affect their professional reputation," she says.

Either way, alerting the employee to concerns over their drinking and offering to help them find an appropriate alcohol treatment programme is the responsible thing to do - for the sake of the professionals themselves and for those who use their services.

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