Last updated: December 4, 2023
Employers spend billions of dollars each year due to employee alcohol abuse. The breakdown of that figure includes health complications, loss of productivity, accidents, and absenteeism. Alcohol abuse in the workplace is a thorn in the side of employers. Therefore, it’s important to know how long alcohol stays in an employee’s system.
Using alcohol in a social setting has long been accepted in our country. Unfortunately, acceptance makes it an especially addictive substance. In fact, some people drink for social acceptance. They don’t realize there’s a problem until it is too late.
Further complicating matters, alcohol is often the multi-generational drug of choice within families.
You would assume that someone who uses any form of drugs in the workplace is an addict. Alcohol use is no different. If you can’t refrain from using alcohol while on the clock, odds are you are an addict.
Employees using alcohol in the workplace are a threat to everyone around them.
Determining alcohol abuse
The DOT implemented drug and alcohol testing in 1991 when the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act passed into law. The DOT requires a breathalyzer for alcohol testing. It measures breath alcohol content. It detects alcohol in the breath for up to 24 hours of drinking. When an employee tests positive, a second test is given within fifteen to thirty minutes to confirm the result.
Employers who suspect someone is using alcohol while at work and who have a reasonable suspicion policy in place are free to require a test. However, the testing method isn’t always a breathalyzer.
How, then, do employers determine if there is alcohol abuse in the workplace?
When ethanol, the intoxicating agent in alcohol, is metabolized within our body, it turns into ethyl glucuronide. EtG screening is not automatically included in drug testing panels. However, it can be added upon request to blood, hair, mouth swab, and urine tests.
Hair follicle testing
It takes about two days for alcohol use to show up on hair follicle tests. This is because the metabolites stored in the hair follicle take that long to begin to grow out into the hair shaft. That said, the hair follicle test does not determine current impairment.
Technically, the amount of time that hair follicle tests determine alcohol use depends on the length of a person’s hair. On average, human hair grows at a rate of about one-half inch per month. The length of hair used for the test is one and one-half inches, thus a ninety-day detection window is opened.
The average urine test is capable of detecting alcohol between twelve and forty-eight hours after use. However, more advanced tests measure alcohol in the urine for up to eighty hours after drinking.
These tests do not determine if someone is impaired at the time of the test.
Mouth swab testing
Mouth swab tests are becoming more widely used by employers. They have a shorter period of detection but are considered useful tools when looking for recent drug or alcohol use. Someone who used alcohol will test positive in as little as two to five minutes and up to six to twelve hours after drinking it.
Blood testing detects current impairment. Alcohol use is detected in the blood for up to twelve hours after consumption. The blood test is expensive and rarely used in the company setting.
However, many employers reserve their use for post-accident testing. It’s imperative to determine if an employee was under the influence at the time of the accident.
Varied detection time
There are determining factors relating to how long EtG tests pick up on alcohol in the system. For instance, the urine test detects alcohol for twelve t0 forty-eight hours, that’s a pretty wide range.
Your BAC (blood alcohol content) reduces at the rate of 0.016 BAC per hour. Therefore, the amount you consume plays a huge part in how long it remains in your body.
Let’s look at some other things that make a difference in the amount of time it takes your body to clear itself of alcohol.
- Body fat content
- Total body weight
- The body’s water content
- The amount of food you’ve eaten prior to or while drinking
- How quickly you consume the alcohol
Alcohol hits the bloodstream quickly. You feel the effects in as little as ten minutes. They reach their peak about an hour after consumption. Continued drinking, however, increases the BAC, however, and the effects that drinking has on your body increase as the BAC rises.
The short-term effects of drinking too much alcohol present themselves in a number of ways. The most common signs of impairment are:
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
- Lack of coordination
- Impaired reaction time
There is also a danger of alcohol poisoning when binge drinking occurs. The definition of binge drinking is consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Your liver is not able to process the amount of alcohol in your system and the consequence could be death.
Continuous use of alcohol on a regular basis over an extended period of time puts you in danger for long-term damage to both your liver and your heart. Users can suffer from depression, violent behaviors, and are at an increased risk for developing certain cancers.
Not to mention, sinking into the darkness that is an addiction.
An addict risks everything to get that next drink in hand. Often, this is at the expense of those who know and love them. Alcohol addiction destroys families.
Alcohol abuse is a huge problem in the workplace. Looking at the absenteeism factor alone is sobering. Alcoholics are absent from work four to eight times more often. Not only that, family members of alcoholics are absent more often as well.
Alcohol is a major contributor to accidents both at home and in the workplace. In fact, nearly half of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol.
Safety for all employees is something employers strive to provide. When alcohol use is suspected on the job, documenting your suspicion and testing as soon as possible is a wise idea.
Not only will it ensure the safety of those who work near the suspect, but it may also save their life.