How to Deal with an Alcoholic Colleague

Dealing with an alcoholic co-worker can make your work life miserable and stressful. If your coworker’s ability to do their job properly has been heavily impacted by alcohol consumption, then it may be time to take action. Ignoring the problem will only prolong everyone’s distress and discomfort.

In order for you to better recognise this issue, keep an eye out for the following signs before you make any accusations and decisions:

  • Smell of alcohol
  • Mood changes
  • Dishonest behavior
  • Negativity
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Skips social events
  • Lack of focus
  • Missing deadlines
  • Frequently calling in sick
  • Shakiness
  • Paranoia

Having to report concerns about a colleague can make you feel disloyal, especially if you have a close friendship with this person. So how do you deal with an alcoholic coworker?


Before you decide to report to higher management, try to confront your coworker. Be careful not to be too abrasive and aggressive when discussing the matter. Tell your colleague that you are genuinely concerned about them but make sure not to be too judgmental or accusatory. You have to adopt a caring and civil approach like you would with any friend so instead of saying "I think you drink too much", perhaps say "I smelled alcohol on your breath this morning. Have you been drinking?” Some alcoholics may have a short temper or they may get easily defensive so be careful what choice of words you use. For example, use the word ‘problem’ instead of ‘addiction’.

It’s vital that you don’t start pointing the finger and you offer solutions instead of accusations. Perhaps mention a friend or family member that you know has suffered with the same problem and tell your coworker that they have sought help. Bring up touchy subjects like family and health. Open your coworker’s eyes by telling them to realise how their behavior can have an effect on their family too. It’s important your colleague knows the serious consequences and that their job could be on the line. Recommend that they go to the company doctor/therapist or a rehab clinic to receive treatment and assure them that you will support them if they accept any help.


If you notice that your coworker’s drinking is out of control and the alcohol is interfering with the employee’s ability to perform duties, then another option is to call for an intervention. This can be very useful as it will help give your coworker evidence of their poor behavior. Eventually, he/she will be put into a position where they have to make a choice. This way, the alcoholic can hopefully recognize that his/her job is at risk and without any help or improvement, he/she could face serious consequences like losing his/her job. If the alcohol addiction is extremely serious and you think that your help will not persuade your coworker then you can even bring an addiction specialist in.

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Employee assistance programme

Another way for you to help your coworker is to contact an employee assistance program. This confidential service will provide short-term counselling and they will be referred to a treatment program, if necessary. It’s also a great idea for the human resources or employee relations department to offer some advice to your coworker about treatment. It is critical for companies to have policies in place to deal with alcohol abuse and drinking on the job.

What to expect

When dealing with an alcoholic coworker, you should expect denial, refusal and defensiveness. Alcoholics have the tendency to lie and reassure themselves that they do not have an addiction problem therefore it’s recommended that you pay attention to your coworker’s actions rather than focusing on what he/she says. You may find that your colleague resents you for confronting him. If this happens, do not second guess or doubt yourself for not trusting him/her.

A good employee is key to the company’s operation therefore by helping them; you are helping your own company. Not only will your alcoholic coworker make the atmosphere tense at work, but they will be damaging their own life, too. Offering help and advice, organising an intervention or an employee assistance program can potentially save your employee’s career and health.