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Dependent on alcohol - drink is affecting my work, what do I do?

Published 19/01/2010

In the UK over 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress. It is believed that stress triggers 70% of visits to doctors and 85% of serious illnesses . Add to this the fact that one in ten of us are now falling victim to workplace bullying as a direct result of the recession and it is no wonder that people are reaching for the bottle to calm their nerves.

Although for many, work is the biggest source of stress in their lives, choosing to manage that stress via alcohol could make things even worse. Sue Allchurch, director of Linwood Group, explains further: "Not only does drinking alcohol act as a depressant, making everything at work seem even more pressured, but drinking heavily has also been linked to self-harm, suicide and psychosis ." Some could argue that as long as the drinking is kept to the weekend then that is okay. In fact, one psychologist, Prof Anna Van Wersch, created quite a stir in the media last year following her survey that endorsed binge drinking in the UK. She was quoted as saying that "Britons drink to excess at weekends because they work so hard and bottle up their emotions during the week.....If people didn't have the 'big night out with friends' to look forward to, what would they do and feel like at the end of the week? We don't want a nation on Prozac, do we? "

Although this argument might seem to make sense, managing work related stress via alcohol, whether during the week or at the weekend is a recipe for disaster both mentally and physically and can lead to a person becoming dependent on alcohol to manage life in general. So, how can you tell if your drinking is affecting not only your personal, but professional life and how can you go about getting alcohol under control?

1. Do you have a drink problem? If you are regularly struggling with ‘Monday morning' hangovers, thinking about that after-work drink throughout the working day, or having a ‘swift half' at lunch to cope, then you are beginning to use alcohol to manage your stress levels. This will have an impact on your work and not only your professional, but your personal life will begin to suffer.

2. How much is too much? Government guidelines for safe drinking suggest that 21 units for a man and 14 units per week for a woman are safe. This works out at 2-3 units of alcohol per day for a woman and 3-4 units for a man. This should also be spread out over a week, rather than over one Friday or Saturday night!

3. What if drinking is expected with my job? For a lot of people in business, drinking is part of the relationship building expected with clients. What starts out as a working lunch can lead to after-work drinks with clients and the frequency can increase to unhealthy levels. However, the need to entertain for work doesn't mean you have to drink to excess. Pace is the key here. Ensuring that you drink whilst eating and interspersing an alcoholic drink with one or two soft drinks will ensure you are able to keep within safe weekly drinking limits.

4. After work stress buster? Do you find yourself going out regularly after-work for that ‘swift-half' to ‘wind down'? Although having a chat with mates over a drink is fine, how much do you actually end up drinking? If that one drink becomes five more often than not, then you will need to look at altering how you spend your time after work. Why not make the decision to ‘stress bust' in a way that is better for your body and mind? This could mean making the commitment to go to the gym or organising a regular game of footy/badminton/squash with mates. However, if you are set on socialising, then choose to meet with friends or work colleagues at a restaurant (once you have gone home to change), rather than going to a bar straight from work. Not only does this give you some time to unwind before going out, but minimises the amount of drinking time available to you on an empty stomach.

5. Trapped in a cycle of stress and drink? If you find that you are drinking too much to cope with work and life pressures, then what can you do? Well the first step is to realise that you are drinking too much and need to make some life changes. How you go about this will depend on why you are drinking in the first place:

• If it is because of bullying at work, then you will need to seek help from HR and gain support from trusted individuals to tackle this problem head on
• If it is due to the stress of the job, then you will need to talk to your line managers to see what can be done to ease the stresses
• If you find that you are becoming dependent on alcohol to relieve a variety of professional and personal stresses, then you will need to seek professional help. Make an appointment to see your GP or practice nurse for information on support groups and professional help available to you

If you or a loved one is stuck in a rut of being dependent on alcohol and need confidential advice and support then why not call the Linwood Group? Free and confidential help is only a call away on: 0800 066 4173 or if you are calling from a mobile phone or from overseas, call +441226 698 054.

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