Recognizing Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Alcohol and drug abuse are major issues plaguing millions of lives across the nation. In 2019, over a quarter of the U.S. adult population reported binge drinking in the past month. With statistics like that and the rise of prescription drugs fueled by the opioid crisis, many Americans are struggling with some form of substance abuse.

Unfortunately, addiction has ripple effects, impacting all aspects of person’s life socially, emotionally, even professionally.

It is common for a person dealing with alcoholism or opioid addiction to have lingering issues which may affect their job performance. However, recognizing when a person is dealing with addiction problems can be difficult if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for.

Signs of Addiction in the Workplace

If you are an employer, manager, or even a coworker of someone you believe may be dealing with an alcohol or drug problem, it pays to know some of the behavioral changes which are common among substance abusers in the workplace, such as:

  • Abrupt declines in attendance and quality of work
  • Financial problems and/or borrowing money from coworkers
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Errors in judgement
  • Showing a lack personal responsibility
  • Increased irritability

Along with these performance and behavioral changes, physical changes are common effects of alcohol and drug abuse too, like:

  • A general decline in hygiene and grooming
  • Wearing sunglasses at inappropriate times

Substance abuse will look different on everyone and some people will be more productive than others but being able to recognize these signs will provide you with a good baseline of changes to look for when you are worried an employee or coworker is dealing with these issues.

Now what?

You’re able to identify the problem,  but you still need to do something about it.

Course of Action

If you recognize your employee or coworker is exhibiting these issues and may have a drug or alcohol problem, it is important to understand there are resources in place to help.

Many organizations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help get employees in short-term counseling or local substance abuse programs. Before speaking with the person, it is best to understand how the EAP at your company works and what it can provide. You will also want to verify the substance abuse benefits offered through your company’s health insurance. 

Along with EAPs, it can be beneficial to check out local organizations and programs that can help with substance abuse treatment. There are thousands of rehabs available across the nation, if you are curious where to start you can use SAMHSA’s treatment locator to find local help.

When looking for treatment centers, many rehabs offer Executive Programs for business professionals. These programs allow clients to continue to work during rehab. It would be similar to a work from home program, but the employee would also be receiving addiction treatment and therapy.

Once you’ve found a few options and looked into what your organization offers, you can sit down with the employee or coworker and go over these things. It is important when confronting this person to not be overbearing or pushy. You want to present some of your observations and offer a path forward, explain the EAP, and point them toward a few drug and alcohol treatment centers you may have found.

Substance abuse is dangerous and deadly. If someone you know is dealing with issues related to addiction, it is vital they get help for their problem. If the problem is severe, it may be best to reach out to a trained professional who can help in this matter.

About the Author

Joe Gilmore works for The Hope House, a luxury rehab in Arizona dedicated to providing its clients with the highest form of addiction treatment.