Alcohol Awareness Week

Business Insights

Many consider that Alcohol Awareness Week should be every week as the press feature articles highlighting the issues caused from alcohol consumption within the UK almost daily.

Despite multiple health campaigns and regular media exposure highlighting the risks of excessive drinking, too many people still regularly consume over the recommended daily and weekly intake. The NHS use the term ‘low risk’ rather than ‘safe’ because there is no safe level for alcohol consumption.


Many are still unaware of the daily or weekly recommended low risk intake; what a unit of alcohol is, and how long it takes for the body to process each unit.

Guidelines from the UK Chief Medical Officer given in January 2016, recommended that men and women should not drink more than 14 units per week, compared to the previous guidelines that recommended a weekly intake of 21 units for men and 14 units for women. The January 2016 guidelines also recommended 2 alcohol free days per week.

This weekly amount of 14 units is equivalent to 1½ bottles of decent wine or 6 pints of normal strength beer, lager or cider, with each of these units being processed as an average each hour, by someone with a healthy liver.

Many may think they can safely exceed the new guidelines by a few units occasionally, seeing their average consumption as not a problem, which may be the case, however, when their consumption regularly exceeds the recommended daily intake it may start to affect them socially, at work and increase the likelihood of family problems.

Culture Change

Alcohol consumption used to be considered the norm in the UK and could be labelled as “team building”, such as going to the pub with colleagues on Friday lunchtime, whereas now, we see a culture developing where employees will not tolerate a colleague consuming alcohol at work or coming to work impaired knowing they are a safety risk to themselves and others.

We have also seen a change in the way people drink, with more people now drinking at home due to alcohol being cheaper from a supermarket than a pub which is more likely to affect their performance in the workplace the following day

Policies within Organisations

Companies and organisations in the UK are introducing a formal Alcohol and Drug Policy supported by regular training and awareness campaigns and a testing programme which not only provides a deterrent but can also encourage an employee to come forward to seek help if needed.


An effective Alcohol and Drug Policy will make it clear what the definition of dependency is. Many polices that we review here at Hampton Knight mix the issues of misuse and dependency and try to manage them in the same way, when they are, and should be treated as separate issues. The policy should also be clear on when help would be offered, what help and support would be provided, and what the expectations are from an employee who is offered help and support.

Who manages the help and support programme?

There is a lot of conflicting advice regarding managing an employee with a dependency. Employers should be aware that although an alcohol or drug dependency is not covered under the Equality Act 2010, the cause or effect could be.

Some employers may believe it’s the employee’s responsibility to source and manage help and support programmes rather than the employer’s. By adopting this approach, the employee is in control of the help and support programme and their employer would not know if the employee is receiving counselling let alone complying with it. Also, the employer would not know if the employee is fit to remain at or return to work. If an employee with a known dependency is allowed to remain at work, the employer could be held responsible if an accident occurred.

It is recommended that HR manage the employee rather than the employee’s line manager as the manager is not usually skilled to handle the situation. HR should work with a specialist counsellor that can be sourced directly, via occupational health or via Hampton Knight.

It is also not advisable to signpost an employee who comes forward declaring an alcohol or drug dependency, to an Employee Assistance Programme, as although these programmes have many benefits, they are anonymous, therefore the employee may assume they do not need to inform the company of their dependency.

The policy should be clear that an employee who seeks help before contravening the policy or before being asked to consent to a test must do so via their manager, another manager or direct to HR for them to be offered help and support by the company.

Hampton Knight’s experience has shown that when HR manages the programme it results in a more structured approach which will either result in recovery and return to work for the employee or will highlight that the employee is not complying and therefore unlikely to recover and can be managed as a capability or conduct issue. Therefore, the cost of the programme is much less than leaving it to the employee to manage themselves.

For more information on what an effective Alcohol and Drug Policy and its supporting procedures should contain, please contact

For additional advice on alcohol consumption from the NHS, please visit