Dealing with Addiction in the Workplace - Tips and Advice

Dealing with Addiction in the Workplace - Tips and Advice

With the number of people suffering from addiction in today’s round-the-clock work culture, it has become necessary for companies wanting to maintain a healthy office atmosphere to enact policies to prevent and mitigate drug addiction among employees. Dealing with this tough situation is no easy task, and employers are faced with the task of either terminating the person suffering outright, or giving them a chance to mend their ways within a specified time frame, followed by termination should they fail to kick their destructive habits.

The path to addiction for employees develops gradually, generally beginning with casual usage and progressing to the point where the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The effects of serious addiction not only harm a person’s workplace performance and personal life, but also have the tendency to spill over into the office environment; affecting colleagues and, in extreme cases, company operations as a whole.

It’s no secret that drug and alcohol addiction in the workplace has become somewhat common not only in America, but across the globe. Studies conducted by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, have shown that 70% of the 14.8 million Americans suffering from addiction are employed, with an alarming 24% of employees surveyed admitting to drinking on the job at least once. It has been observed that drug or alcohol addiction tends to have serious implications on employees including absenteeism, poor performance, dipping productivity levels, workplace injuries, and even road accidents. Moreover, in certain lines of work, victims of drug or alcohol addiction are not only risking their own lives, but the lives of others in their workplace.

Employers' main concern is how to deal with employees that have substance abuse issues, which we'll go over in more depth below.

How to Handle Employee Addiction Before It’s Too Late

As an employer, it’s important for you to address drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace before it spirals out of control and there are a few crucial steps you can take to help solve the problem right from the start. To begin with, it goes without saying that you should have a written company policy barring drug and alcohol use in the workplace. As soon as they’re hired, all employees should be asked to read and sign it, confirming their understanding and acceptance of the policy. Another strategy to assist promote a drug-free work atmosphere is to design an employee drug testing program. Pre-employment drug screens are now required for over half of all new workers, especially in high-risk areas like mining, construction, and public safety. 

State laws typically allow employers to test employees for drugs at random after they've been recruited, but each state has its own set of guidelines. Next, a team, supervisor, or even the employer themselves should be tasked with keeping an eye out for signs of drug and alcohol abuse in and around the workplace and among employees. Employers and workers may be educated on not just recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse, but also the procedures to take if a coworker appears to be in need of assistance. Employers may raise awareness and clarify expectations by providing education and explicit drug-free working practices. Last but not least, employers should promptly and sternly deal with employees suspected of substance abuse.

Identifying Employees with Substance Abuse Problems

Identifying employees struggling with drug or alcohol dependency is not as easy as it sounds. At the very least, you must understand what to look for. 

Some of the most obvious signs include:

  1. Absenteeism/More frequent personal or sick days. Employees affected by drug or alcohol addiction are likely to frequently show up late to work and take more personal or sick days off. In extreme cases, employees might begin calling out at the last minute or not even showing up at all - such behavior is a potential sign of addiction and one to look out for, especially if these occurrences often take place on Mondays, Fridays, or just after payday.
  2. Physical and behavioural changes. Abnormal behavior and conduct, whether on or off the job, is another tell-tale sign that an employee may be struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. Employees suffering from addiction can exhibit tell-tale physical signs like smelling of alcohol or drugs, extreme fatigue, bloodshot eyes, or slurred speech. When gripped by addiction, a person’s behavior is prone to change and they may avoid social interaction and behave in ways that seem unnatural.
  3. Lack of discipline. Drug and alcohol abuse can make even the best of employees argumentative, short-tempered or quarrelsome. Employees addicted to drugs or alcohol might stop interacting with their coworkers at lunch or during breaks and typically keep to themselves. Notice the patterns: rapid mood swings, grumpy and apprehensive in the mornings, after holidays or weekends, and gradually improving over the day some of the week.
  4. Declining work performance. Poor performance or drastic drops in performance is another indication of drug and alcohol abuse among employees. With their main focus being on their feelings and withdrawal, they are distracted. Naturally they may miss their deadlines or commitments increasingly, and their work, in general, becomes sloppy.

NOTE: If an employee is exhibiting any of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Signs are often observed in groups, and an addicted employee rarely exhibits only one. The onset of multiple signs at once, especially in groups of two or more employees, generally points toward an addiction problem. 

Tackling Addiction in the Workplace

If you suspect a co-worker of misusing drugs or alcohol, tell them what you have observed. Try to adjust expectations before. Chances are they are not going to be elated to hear your observations or concerns. But, it will plant a seed if delivered with specifics, clarity and kindness. Imagine yourself being in their shoes, feeling limited, judged or fearful. Their reaction might be rude or dismissive, it’s ok. Take the time you need to say it.

If you suspect your employee, the first thing you should do as an employer is seek and collect proof. Records should be kept by the employee's supervisor or reporting manager, who should outline any performance difficulties with specifics such as time and date. While employers are not permitted to provide obligatory drug or alcohol tests to their employees, voluntary tests can be administered in the majority of instances, such as when suspected employees deny any substance misuse.

What's Next

Addiction is a severe disorder that should never be taken lightly since it has the potential to drain, strain or harm the lives of those around the person addicted. Let us know if you suspect someone you know is struggling with addiction, and we'll do everything we can to assist. One call from a family member, a friend, or a coworker may be all it takes to save their life. But, we can talk first. Many times, a solution focused counseling appointment here can give you an idea of what to do next for your own self-care and what to do about your observations and experience with the person who could be hurting.

Please text or call us at (949) 200-7929. Answering this brief assessment and verifying your insurance are two actions that might help speed up the process if you want counseling. Taking efforts to address addiction in the workplace is a fantastic way to humanize the workplace, alleviate suffering, and avert terrible, sometimes fatal repercussions. If it’s your loved one, start with one appointment and see if they are ready for some relief.



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