Substance use disorder

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

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Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Employee substance abuse in the workplace is a very real problem, with approximately 1 in 12 workers [1] dealing with an untreated substance use disorder. In this article, we will take a look at how one can spot signs of drug use at work. You'll learn when to report drug use in the workplace, as well as what can be done to help reduce and resolve the issues it causes.

Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse at Work

There are a number of physical and behavioral signs of drug use at work, that might indicate that an employee is struggling with drug addictions and alcoholism. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Smell of Alcohol

If you consistently smell alcohol on an employee’s or colleague’s breath, it could be because they have been drinking before coming to work or discreetly during work hours. Though in the early stages of addiction, individuals might be able to conceal their usage of alcohol with things such as breath mints, as their addiction gets progressively worse, it will become harder for them to conceal.

Unusual Scent or Smell

Strong and unusual smells on the person or their belongings can suggest drug use. Cannabis, for example, has a distinctive, pungent odor that is often described as skunky, earthy, or herbal.

Frequent Tardiness or Absenteeism

Consistent late arrivals and unexplained absences without valid reasons are indicators of drug and alcohol-related issues. Such individuals may also take frequent breaks and/or extended lunches. Mondays, in particular, are when absenteeism can be most expected since a worker may have had a whole weekend of binge drinking. The National Safety Council reports that workers with substance use disorders tend to miss two more work weeks annually than their peers.

Decline in Work Performance

Reduced productivity, missed deadlines, frequent mistakes, and a decline in work quality may be noticeable. An addict's inability to perform means that colleagues may have to take on board some of their workload, putting a strain on them. Having a worker or workers who cannot fulfill their job responsibilities properly can lead to decreased productivity for the entire company.

Impaired Judgment and Decision-making

Being under the influence of drugs and alcohol can lead to impaired judgment, negligence, and compromised decision-making abilities. Individuals can also experience difficulty staying focused and recalling details or information. Depending on the nature of the job, this can create increased safety risks causing dangerous incidents or near-misses.

Stealing, Borrowing Money, and Financial Issues

Frequent requests for loans or financial assistance, coupled with unexplained financial problems, suggest that something might be going on. An estimated 80% of drug users finance their growing addiction by stealing from their place of work. They may, for example, take money out of a petty cash box, thinking that this will go undetected.

Isolation and Withdrawal

An alcoholic employee may withdraw from social interactions with colleagues and become increasingly isolated. One reason for this isolation is that substance abuse is often accompanied by a desire to keep the addiction a secret, so individuals will avoid being around other people when they don’t have to.

Neglect of Personal Appearance

A decline in personal hygiene and appearance may be noticeable. An individual may become so enwrapped in their addiction that they either forget about personal grooming or lose their ability to stay on top of it.

Changes in Behavior

Sudden and significant changes in behavior, such as aggression, irritability, and/ or rapid and unpredictable mood swings, may indicate a substance use disorder. Alcoholics may become defensive, aggressive, and even violent when confronted about their behavior.

Other Physical Signs

Bloodshot or glassy eyes, slurred speech, tremors, shaky hands, poor coordination, and being unable to walk straight are other physical indicators of alcohol abuse.

One of these factors alone may not be sufficient to identify a substance abuse problem (and may be indicative of other issues in the individual’s life). However, when a worker exhibits many of these factors over a sustained period, and especially when a number of colleagues pick up on it, is evidence that they are likely struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. Recognizing signs of substance abuse in the workplace can be crucial for early intervention and support. When the addiction isn’t dealt with, individuals become more of a hindrance than a help in their workplaces. It is not uncommon for them to be sent home or ultimately fired. In fact, researchers estimate that drug abuse and addiction cost American companies $81 billion every year!

How to Deal with Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Companies have a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment. If an employee's substance abuse leads to an accident or harm to others, the organization may face legal liability.

One solution to this is setting up an Employees Assistance Programs (EAP) [2]. An EAP is designed to alleviate and assist in eliminating a variety of personal and work-related issues that might negatively affect an individual’s well-being and job performance. Above all, it emphasizes employee work performance and a healthy and productive work environment as central themes guiding all program practices and services.

How do Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) Work?

EAPs typically provide a range of services and resources that include prevention, intervention, and support measures. These may include:

Employee Education

Educational materials and workshops on various health and well-being topics.

Management Training

Equipping managers with the skills they need to address performance or behavioral concerns with their employees in a professional and effective manner.

Short-term Counseling

These can be in-person, over the phone, or online, with licensed professionals like psychologists or social workers. Counseling services help employees deal with personal problems such as bereavement, managing finances, stress management, and balancing work and family life.

Referral to Treatment

If an individual is not able to resolve their problem by working through it with a counselor, referrals can be made to specialized services to connect workers with the help that they need.

Creating a supportive and non-stigmatizing environment can encourage employees to seek help and reduce the negative impacts of substance abuse on both themselves and the organization as a whole. EAPs are designed to be confidential and voluntary, so employees can seek assistance without fear of reprisal from their employer or colleagues.

Support for Substance Abusers

Substance abuse is a serious problem that can disrupt the work environment, negatively affecting colleagues and harming team dynamics and morale. Colleagues may feel frustrated, worried, or burdened by their coworker's behavior.

If you are an employee with substance abuse issues or an employer or colleague of someone you suspect may be using drugs and alcohol in the workplace, don’t hesitate to contact Avenues Recovery. Our team has extensive experience in dealing with many different types of substance abuse and addictions, and can help reinstate the safety and sobriety to your workplace. A trained professional will handle the situation with sensitivity, guiding you through the available options for help and recovery while respecting confidentiality and privacy throughout. 




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