Cost of a heavy drinker is felt at home, work, and on street

Alcohol has become a hazard to health and productivity in the workplace with a study showing one in seven workers suffered in the past year because of a colleague’s drinking.

The chief difficulties for workers were having their own work disrupted, having to take on extra work to cover for the problem drinker, or having had an accident or a close call because of that drinker.

One in 10 having difficulties because of a drinking colleague reported having to take days off work due to the situation. Reports of problems in the workplace were highest among young men.

The study estimates that the cost to employers of dealing with problem drinkers through loss of productivity because of absenteeism and paying for cover could run to €122.5m a year — substantially higher than previously thought.

However, drinkers do not just cause harm to people they know. The HSE-commissioned study shows that heavy drinking by strangers exacts a heavy toll on the rest of society, with just over half of those interviewed reporting they had suffered because of alcohol abuse by someone unknown to them in the previous 12 months.

The most common reported harm was being put in fear on the streets because of the presence of drunk people or being actually harassed, insulted, or pushed and shoved by them.

One in four reported being kept awake at night by the drunken behaviour of people outside their home, and one in 12 had their personal belongings or property damaged. One in 100 had been physically harmed and one in 200 had been the victim of a traffic accident involving a drunk driver.

Men were more likely to report physical harm and unwanted encounters from drinkers in public but women were more likely to feel afraid to be in public places because of the presence of drinkers.

The study estimates that Garda call-outs to deal with alcohol-related incidents costs €50m a year but it also looks at a wide range of other financial costs.

While it has been estimated that the total annual economic burden to society of dealing with alcohol-related illness, crime and other effects, could run close to €3bn, the cost specifically to people affected by the drinking of others has been harder to calculate.

The study comes to a figure of €863m, which includes out-of-pocket expenses incurred by people dealing with a family member’s drinking, as well as loss due to damage to belongings and property and the theft of money or valuables.

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