Alcohol Fuels Bad Behavior

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

From sexual antics with co-workers to acts of violence and embarrassing text messages, alcohol fuels a number of "bad behaviors" at workplace and family holiday parties, according to a new study commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers, one of the nation's leading non-profit addiction treatment centers.

The survey, "Party Drinking or Drinking Problem?" was commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers and conducted by Harris Interactive. This online omnibus poll was based on a nationwide sample of 1,973 adults in the U.S. aged twenty-one years and over. Based upon survey findings and the institution's vast experience with this issue, a package of free educational materials and tips was developed and can be viewed at

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"When alcohol prompts bad behavior at holiday celebrations, that can indicate something more serious is lurking," said Dr. Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., Regional Vice President of Caron Treatment Centers. "From an unstable economy to technology that bombards us with information, the state of the world today only increases vulnerability to holiday alcohol abuse and longer-term problems."

This holiday season, nearly 70% of U.S. adults will participate in holiday parties. According to the 81 percent of respondents who attend work holiday parties, these parties can be a hotbed for alcohol-induced "bad behaviors" ranging from flirtations with co-workers or supervisors to aggressive behavior and drunk driving. For example, one respondent reported that an intoxicated colleague drove into the president's parked car at a work-related holiday gathering.

Sixty-four percent of those who attend work holiday parties said they have seen displays of inappropriate behavior at workplace holiday parties by people who were under the influence of alcohol. Fifty-six percent of those who attend family holiday parties reported that a family member exhibited inappropriate behavior after consuming too much alcohol at a family holiday party. Other key findings from the survey included:

Dangerous and Inappropriate Behavior

Among those who observed inappropriate behavior at workplace holiday parties by individuals who were under the influence of alcohol:

* 58% observed a co-worker drive even though he or she was drunk
* 49% observed a co-worker flirting with another co-worker or supervisor
* 47% observed another co-worker using excessive profanity
* 44% observed a co-worker share inappropriate personal details about themselves or other colleagues

Among those who observed inappropriate behavior at family holiday parties by individuals who were under the influence of alcohol:

* 57% observed a family member starting a family argument
* 44% observed a family member using excessive profanity
* 43% observed a family member "falling down" or "becoming clumsy"
* 35% observed a family member become overly aggressive

"Dangerous and inappropriate behavior can certainly lead to injury or even death in the case of drunk driving, for example, but it can also lead to a damaged reputation, termination from a job, destruction of relationships, health problems and much more," said Dr. Stratyner. "One respondent even commented that her colleague had sex in the bathroom with the supervisor while intoxicated during a work holiday party."

How much is too much?

According to medical experts at Caron Treatment Centers, one drink could make someone severely impaired even if their blood alcohol is technically legal. If a person consumes one drink every hour, he might not be legally intoxicated, but it still may be enough to trigger behavior he would otherwise not engage in. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's guideline for moderate drinking is up to one drink a day for women and up two drinks a day for men. The USDA also indicates that most people still retain some alcohol in their blood up to three hours after one drink.

However, when asked for the acceptable number of alcoholic beverages for a person to consume at a workplace holiday party, one third (34 percent) of the respondents felt that it was acceptable to consume three or more drinks at a work party:


* 23 percent of the sample responded that consuming three to six drinks is acceptable, as long as they can "hold their liquor."

* 11 percent believed that it is okay for people to drink as much as they want as long as they are not driving

* 45 percent found it acceptable to drink three or more drinks at a family party:

* 23 percent of the sample responded it is acceptable to consume three to six alcoholic beverages as long they can "hold their liquor."

* 22 percent believed that it is okay for people to drink as much as they want at a family holiday party as long as they are not driving

Having fun vs. having a problem

Fifty-four percent of respondents who observed a family member drinking what they considered an inappropriate amount of alcohol during the holiday season believed this behavior indicated that their family member might have a drinking problem. However, at a workplace holiday party, only 34 percent made the same observation that their co-workers' inappropriate level of drinking might indicate a drinking problem.

"Social drinking is so interwoven into the fabric of American society that many people fail to recognize it may be the sign of a chronic illness," said Dr. Stratyner. "During the holidays, people are particularly vulnerable to drinking in excess and others are willing to look the other way to keep the atmosphere festive."

Physical symptoms of substance abuse include poor physical coordination, loss of appetite, increase in appetite or any changes in eating habits, bloodshot or watery eyes, consistently dilated pupils, fatigue and speech pattern change. A complete list of signs and symptoms is available at Caron.

People Want To Help

Seventy percent of those who observed a co-worker drinking more than they think is appropriate during a work holiday party agreed they would take action if they witnessed the same co-worker drinking more than they think is appropriate during a future workplace holiday party. "Taking action" included:

* Arranging for transportation: 63%
* Direct confrontation: 14%
* Talk to someone in HR: 6%
* Recommend counseling: 5%

"The most immediate action one can take, such as arranging transportation home, is a kind and possibly life-saving gesture," said Dr. Stratyner. "However, sending someone home in a cab does not change their behavior and is simply not enough. It's important to assess if there is a behavioral issue that needs to be addressed."

Thirty-nine percent of those who have observed a family member drinking more than they thought was appropriate during the holiday season felt it was their responsibility to help and said they would take action. "Taking action" included:

* Confront a family member directly: 62%
* Get several family members together to express concerns and set limits: 35%
* Inform spouse/parent/loved ones about the problem: 28%
* Recommend counseling: 20%
* Recommend 12-step program: 11%

Empowering People to Act

As a result of this survey and Caron's ongoing commitment to public education, the organization has developed free tips and tools to help address the issue of responsible holiday drinking. Armed with information and resources, people in work and family environments can be better prepared to handle the challenges of alcohol abuse and have safer, happier and healthier holiday celebrations.