Workplace drinking and stress could be turning you into a functional alcoholic - here's how to avoid drowning more than just your sorrows

Drinking at work can be fun, and it doesn't have to turn into an alcohol problem
Drinking at work can be fun, and it doesn't have to turn into an alcohol problem

A lot of the environments we are a part of - professional, social, and all in between - contribute significantly to our habits and lifestyle choices, including how we drink.

At a glance, it is understandable that spaces such as universities and work can contribute to drinking and more seriously, alcoholism because booze is used by a lot of people as a coping mechanism to deal with stress.

In fact, according to an article in, substance abuse and mental illness are closely related, with one often leading to the other. 

In many places of work, the company culture allows for employees to host and enjoy office parties or events where alcohol is served generously and freely. When there aren't any real causes for 'celebration', employees might be invited to have a glass of wine or few beers at the end of the work day to de-stress or to socialise with fellow co-workers.

Can this be this problematic? A few says yes.

There's nothing wrong with unwinding with colleagues but when the line between drinking to socialise and drinking to cope becomes blurred, you start flirting with alcoholism.

It raises the question: could your work environment be contributing to functional alcoholism? 

READ MORE: R5 more for a bottle of wine? How the 2018 budget affects you 

The gist of it

Douglas Kemp of Recovery Direct says "high functioning alcoholics is a category that could encompass the bulk of alcohol consumers in South African society today. Casual, social and any other alcohol consumers for that matter could be considered and labelled the term 'an alcoholic', however it is not about the volume of alcohol (although volume of consumption is fair indicator)". 

The tipping point of the definition of being 'an alcoholic' stems not from the daily, weekly, monthly consumption of alcohol, but more their relationship to alcohol, Douglas explains. "The question is: is the relationship to alcohol detrimentally impacting the individual well being?"

Often, people will presume that they are safe from the alcoholic tag in comparison to what they think alcoholism looks like; however, as Douglas explains, the definitions can get blurry "as societal norms in South Africa support binge and heavy drinking as part of our culture".

A good way to know, though, is through the John Hopkins self-diagnosis test, which can give you an idea of where you stand with regards to alcohol consumption. 

It's important to know where your relationship with alcohol stands so that you can take the necessary steps to overcome a looming addiction and save yourself from the collateral damage of serious alcohol abuse. 

READ MORE: "The next memory is waking up 12 hours later with stiff, aching bones and joint pains" - three real-life horror drink-spiking experiences

Every Friday, we have lunches together as the whole team. In most cases (but it hasn't happened recently), we have a bottle of wine or there are beers, and things like that. Occasionally, if one of our clients happens to gift us with bottles of wine, then during that work day, we'll have a glass or two. But usually, people measure how much alcohol they drink, because you're still at work and you just drink to loosen up a bit.
I've never had liquor at work, and I don't think I ever will, but I do like to enjoy a glass of wine or a cider when I get home in the evening. It just seems like a good way to let go after a hectic day at work. It helps me relax and it helps me sleep when insomnia kicks in.

READ MORE: How taking work home could sabotage your career instead of boosting it 

From social drinking to alcoholism 

"What we have to understand is that the norm in South Africa is one of a 'binge drinking' culture," says Douglas. "This societal acceptance translates into both our work and our social lives. High functioning alcoholics fit perfectly into this norm and in most cases fly well below the radar until the day they are standing in-front of a high court judge answering to drunk driving and culpable homicide charges."

Any form of drinking, even under the auspices of ‘workplace socialising’ can develop into dependence or addiction, Douglas adds. Unfortunately, many people could be in denial of their dependence on alcohol. "They find many excuses to justify their drinking and the problem only becomes apparent when it is too late - when their jobs, relationships and finances have suffered", says Douglas. 

If you're drinking as part of the social convention, that's okay. But if you begin to drink more often than occasionally, you need to take a look at your relationship with alcohol and why you drink. Often, if the reasons involve your trying to deal with work pressure or trying to numb anxiety and stress, then you may need to tackle the issues from the root. 

READ MORE: "Alcoholism and drug addiction run through my family" - Jada Pinkett Smith and her mom 

Here's what to do

Be honest about why you're drinking. "Is it to change an aspect of your personality, a social lubricant? Self-awareness and brutal honesty is necessary to avoid falling into the habit of alcoholism", Douglas advises. 

Seek help when you need it. If your reasons for drinking are due to stress and anxiety, seek the help of a professional to help you find better ways to cope. Alcohol is not the answer or the most effective way of de-stressing when the pressures of work get too much, there are safer and healthier coping mechanisms to opt for. 

Say no if you need to. Socialising at work is a great thing, but you don't need to be drinking to enjoy yourself with co-workers. If you know that having one drink will lead to more and ultimately lead to you developing a habit, then rather not drink at all. 

If you need support through a family member's addiction, contact the Al-Anon group; or if you are personally struggling with an addiction, contact the Alcoholics Anonymous National Helpline: 0861 HELP AA (435-722). 

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