Returning to the Office: The Pandemic’s Effect on Employees and Addiction

September 16, 2021
Young professional chatting with co-workers in the office

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the lives of everyone around the world were drastically affected, including those with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just two months into the stay at home order, it was recorded that out of 5400 people polled, nearly 13% voiced that they started using substances, or their previous substance consumption escalated due to the stress and uncertainty the pandemic produced. 

With a vaccine now available and as the world slowly starts to adjust to its new normal, we begin to see the effects of this rise in substance abuse as employees start making their way back to the office. Where in the safety of one's home it may have been easier to hide or manage, heading back to the office may exacerbate an individual’s addiction, complicating an already stressful transition.

Undetected Addiction During a Pandemic 

Man hungover with headache, drinking water.

With the world turned upside down and the great uncertainty of what this virus and stay-at-home order would bring, substance misuse became a coping mechanism for many with and without AUD. 

People were forced to rapidly and drastically change their lives: unable to see loved ones, forced to work from home, masks and hand sanitizer on their person at all times. This stress resulted in relapses for many in recovery and a higher level of alcohol dependency in those exhibiting symptoms of AUD. Across the board, the anxiety of the pandemic resulted in more adults turning to alcohol for comfort and the ability to forget, even just for a moment, the chaos that was taking place outside their doors. 

Working from home, however, made hiding one's addiction much more manageable for some. Though 31% of people who use alcohol admitted to drinking at a higher level once the pandemic started, according to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, many were able to keep their employers entirely in the dark. 

Many who have AUD or those on the verge could still fulfill their roles at work without affecting productivity; they could successfully manage both their roles at work and their addiction. Some with AUD would organize their workday to fit in their drinking, or they would simply start drinking much earlier than they would have pre-pandemic as the flexibility of working from home proved to allow more freedom with their time. 

Now that many companies are calling their employees back to their offices both employee and employer must learn, together, how to navigate this stressful transition.  

Best Practices for Returning to the Office  

Woman having coffee with co-worker in office.


It is imperative that both employees and employers communicate with one another about the tribulations involved with another abrupt transition as people return to the office. 

The adjustment of returning to the office can prove to be taxing to individuals because of the many unknowns of this deadly virus and its unpredictable nature. Still, many are also returning with a recently developed or increased reliability on alcohol, causing more anxiety. 

Both those who currently battle with addiction or are now in recovery can and should take some active steps to assist themselves with staying accountable to their sobriety during this new phase. 

Self-Advocacy

Person reviewing Soberlink Compliant Test alert.

The first step to self-accountability is inquiring about recovery assistance or resources one's employer may offer. It is estimated that over 40% of employees are unaware of what types of recovery services their companies have to offer, though most medium to large-scaled companies do offer some assistance. 

Another step that can assist in recovery accountability is utilizing Soberlink's alcohol monitoring system to track one's daily use. Because of its sleek and subtle design, it is a tool that "weaves seamlessly into people's lives" while "giv[ing] an extra layer of accountability...to themselves" but also their support systems like friends and family, according to Nicola Donaldson of Pegasus Recovery Solutions.

One last step those with AUD may take in their recovery accountability is remaining consistent with AA meeting attendance or participating in an in-patient treatment program if necessary; staying vigilant about one’s sobriety can help avoid a possible relapse. 

Employer Awareness

The fragility of those returning to the office is one that employers need to be aware of. 

Specifically, according to experts, looking out for their employees and the possible behavioral displays consistent with AUD, Employers can often save their employees' health and jobs while keeping the company out of danger by noticing the possible signs of relapse or increased alcohol dependency. 

Remaining cognizant of employees' possible needs also means helping them become aware of the companies' alcohol recovery resources. Therefore, employees are in the know without having to inquire, an action that could be awkward or uncomfortable. 

Conclusion 

The need for patience, grace, and understanding from employers as the world continues to adapt and transition is vital for those struggling with AUD. The constant uncertainty and rapid changes are scary for all, and it is important to remember most everyone is simply trying to survive. 

Fortunately, there are ways to make this return to the office as smooth as possible if employers and employees commit to themselves and care for each other. While the stress of the pandemic has caused a significant rise in the use of alcohol misuse, hopefully, with respect, compassion, and awareness of each other, the transition to the office can be a smooth one.

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