A recent study shows that, even before the pandemic, alcohol use disorder was causing people to miss double the amount of work days and a Hartford HealthCare expert fears it has likely gotten worse.

According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 9 percent of workers — approximately 11 million full-time workers — met the diagnostic standards for alcohol use disorder. Those who met the criteria reported missing 32 days of work annually, more than doubling the missed days for those without the disorder.

Dr. J. Craig Allen, Vice President of Addiction Services for the Behavioral Health Network and Rushford’s Medical Director Rushford, said it is known that during the COVID-19 pandemic there was increased retail sales of alcohol and consumption.

“Changes in the workplace, including decreased social interactions, flexible working arrangements and virtual meetings have increased stress, while decreasing natural social supports and restraints creating space for problem drinking,” Dr. Allen said.

Although the workplace study was about absentee rates before the pandemic, Dr. Allen said the problem has likely only increased. The data for the study was collected from 2015 through 2019 via the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Alcohol use disorder occurs when unhealthy or dangerous drinking leads to changes in the brain causing someone to experience significant impairment or distress. Risky drinking can lead to a greater chance of developing alcohol related physical problems or an alcohol use disorder.

Risky drinking occurs if you are:

  • A woman who has more than three drinks at one time or more than seven drinks a week. A standard drink is one can of beer, one glass of wine or one mixed drink.
  • A man who has more than four drinks at one time or more than 14 drinks a week.

Certain behaviors may mean that you’re having trouble with alcohol, including:

  • Not being able to quit drinking or control how much you drink, or constantly wishing you could cut down.
  • Spending a lot of time drinking and recovering from drinking.
  • Not being able do your main jobs at work, at school or at home.
  • Not doing important activities because of your alcohol use.
  • Drinking alcohol in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • Cravings or strong urges to use alcohol.
  • Feeling sick the next day after drinking alcohol or drinking alcohol to feel better.

Dr. Allen said alcohol use has its highs and lows.

“The first drink or two leads to a burst of dopamine and serotonin, which can make you feel happy, relaxed and social,” Dr. Allen said. “However, if you drink too much, depletion of those neurotransmitters, low glucose, dehydration, disrupted sleep and the neurotoxic effects of acetaldehyde, created as your body breaks down the alcohol, may leave one anxious, depressed and cognitively sluggish.

“If the next day is a work day, you might not be at your best. But if someone’s drinking has progressed to meeting criteria of mild alcohol use disorder (AUD), absenteeism increases significantly, and with moderate AUD the impact can lead to jeopardizing their employment.”

Medication Assisted Treatment Close to Home (MATCH)

If you know someone who needs substance use disorder treatment, you can offer a referral by calling our Medication Assisted Treatment Close to Home (MATCH) program at 855.825.4026 or by clicking here.

Rushford’s MATCH programs use a combination of medication options and therapy to help people in recovery from addiction to opioids, alcohol or other drugs. These treatments are offered as part of the full continuum of addiction treatment care.

Dr. Allen said the workplace offers an ideal environment to help identify at-risk drinking and offer help and support through employee assistance programs and other human resource supports.

A member of the Hartford Healthcare Behavioral Health Network, Rushford offers a full continuum of addiction and mental health treatment for adults and teens throughout central Connecticut at its locations in Avon, Durham, Cheshire, Glastonbury, Meriden, Middletown and Portland.