Dealing With an Employee’s Drug Addiction

drug addiction in the workplace

Drug addiction doesn’t have boundaries. It doesn’t stay on Skid Row or only affect the homeless, uneducated or unemployed. Many addicts are fully functioning members of society. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 75 percent of adults who abuse drugs are employed full-time. Whether or not you want to do it, you may be forced to deal with an employee’s drug addiction.

Drug Addiction in the Workplace: The Basics

Drug addiction ruins the lives of everyone it touches. And it’s not just the addict who suffers; friends, family and co-workers often pay the price for the addict’s behavior. For employers, this price tag can be a hefty one, thanks to on-the-job injuries, lost productivity, absenteeism and other factors.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees who abuse substances are 25 to 30 percent less productive and miss work three times more often than non-abusing employees. Drug addiction in the workplace also results in significantly higher safety risks, with 65 percent of all accidents on the job related to drug or alcohol use. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of all U.S. workers who die on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol. Knowing the signs of addiction can help you combat the negative effects of drug addiction in the workplace.

Drug Addiction in the Workplace: Signs to Look for

Recognizing an employee’s substance abuse problem isn’t always as easy as watching him stumble to his desk, slur his speech or talk about his party lifestyle. Some addicts have months or years of experience hiding their substance abuse problems, and are very good at hiding them. Employers should never attempt to diagnose an addiction problem, but there are some signs that could be red flags of addiction. Some of these signs of employee addiction are:

  1. Frequent tardiness
  2. Unexplained or unauthorized absences from work
  3. Extended breaks or lunches
  4. Avoidance of supervisory contact, especially after breaks or lunch
  5. Accidents on or off the job
  6. Excessive use of sick leave
  7. Many excuses for missed deadlines or incomplete assignments
  8. Careless or sloppy work
  9. Poor personal hygiene or grooming
  10. Unusual weight loss or gain
  11. Unmet production quotas
  12. Strained relationships with co-workers
  13. Attitude changes (mood swings, anxiety, belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered behavior)
  14. Erratic or unusual behaviors, such as extreme talkativeness, paranoia, sleepiness, tremors, sleeping on the job
  15. Noticeable financial problems, such as the employee borrowing money from co-workers or frequently asking for paycheck advancements

Just because an employee exhibits one of these signs, does not mean that he or she is a drug addict. However, if the employee is exhibiting performance and conduct problems in addition to several of the signs above, then it is time to refer the employee to your company’s HR department or Employee Assistance Program for assessment.

Drug Addiction in the Workplace: When and How to Step In

It can be difficult for employers to know how to handle an employee with a drug problem. Do you mind your own business? Or do you step in and offer help? The answer depends on if the employee’s drug use directly affects their performance at work and their relationships with co-workers. If an employee exhibits more than one of the signs mentioned above, then it’s time to step in.

The first thing employers, supervisors and co-workers should do is stop enabling the employee. This means holding the employee accountable for his or her actions and not allowing them to continue their self-destructive behavior at work. Examples of this include no longer covering up for the employee, making excuses about the employee’s behavior, lending the employee money, shifting the employee’s work to other employees, or letting them get away with tardiness or absenteeism.

The next step is referring the employee to your HR department or Employee Assistance Program. Here the employee will receive the proper disciplinary actions as well as a proper assessment for determining if they have a drug problem. Once a problem has been identified, the employee will receive education and encouragement about seeking drug treatment.

The final step may be staging an intervention. One of the main symptoms of drug addiction is denial, so many of the steps mentioned above may prove fruitless for someone with a severe problem. If this is the case, an intervention may be the only way to get through to the individual. In an intervention, the employer can schedule a meeting with the employee where, unbeknownst to the employee, several people significant in his or her life are present, including family, friends, co-workers and supervisors. During the intervention, a trained professional will lead the group in confronting the employee about how his or her drug use has affected their lives and what the consequences will be if the employee continues using.

Drug Addiction in the Workplace: Types of Help

People who are addicted to drugs rarely recover without outside help. If you have an employee with a drug abuse problem, there are a number of treatments you can encourage, including Narcotics Anonymous, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and drug detox. With your encouragement and support, your employee may be able to get the help he or she so desperately needs.

Studies show that when compared to non-substance abusers, employees who abuse substances are more likely to change jobs frequently, be late to or absent from work, be less productive, be involved in a workplace accident, and file a workers’ compensation claim. This adds up to billions of dollars a year in lost money for U.S. businesses. In addition to the drain on employers’ wallets, it also drains the morale and productivity of non-abusing coworkers.

If you suspect that employee is abusing drugs, there are some steps you can take. Here’s how to deal with an employee’s drug addiction and get your employee — and your company — back on track.

How to Deal with an Employee’s Drug Addiction

Dealing with an employee’s drug addiction isn’t easy. How do you know when you should mind your own business or step in to help? The answer depends on if the employee’s drug use has impacted his performance or relationships at work. If your employee exhibits any of the signs above, it’s probably time to step in.

The first step employers should take is to implement a drug policy and have a plan for addressing drug addiction in the workplace. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly a third of illicit drug users said they would be less likely to work for employers who conducted random drug testing. Employers with successful drug-free workplace programs report improvements in morale and productivity, and decreased absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover and theft. The standard components of drug-free workplace program should include a written policy statement, drug and alcohol testing, supervisor training, employee education and awareness, and employee assistance for providing help.

The second step to dealing with an employee’s drug addiction is to stop enabling the employee and start holding the employee accountable for his or her destructive behavior at work. This means no longer letting your employee get away with tardiness or absenteeism, shifting the employee’s work to other employees, or making excuses for the employee’s behavior.

The final step to dealing with an employee’s drug addiction is to offer your employee assistance in seeking a drug rehab. Research suggests that addiction treatment costs less for employers than replacing an employee. With the proper treatment and support, an employee can return to work more productive than ever.

Finding a Drug Rehab for Employees

There are a number of drug addiction treatment options for employees, including detoxification, residential and outpatient treatment, and 12-step support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous. Call a drug rehab today and ask how you can help your employee get the help he or she so desperately needs.

Dealing with an employee’s drug addiction is, unfortunately, a problem that many employers will have to face. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 3 million full-time workers meet the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, and 10.5 million are dependent on or abuse alcohol. Ignoring your employee’s drug addiction not only harms the morale of everyone in the office, but also harms your company’s bottom line. Employee addiction costs U.S. companies billions of dollars a year in lower productivity, higher turnover rates and higher healthcare costs. Research suggests that addiction treatment costs less for employers than replacing an employee. Finding a drug rehab for your employees can help them return to work more productive than ever

Finding a Drug Rehab for Your Employees: Outpatient vs. Inpatient

You have two choices when it comes to employee drug addiction treatment: outpatient or inpatient drug rehab. Outpatient treatment is usually the first stop for people who have never received treatment before and is a suitable choice for individuals who are not in the later, more serious stages of drug addiction. Outpatient treatment will allow your employee to maintain some of their responsibilities within the office while receiving the help they need. The downfall of outpatient treatment is that the employee will still be exposed to temptations and triggers for using.

Inpatient (or residential) treatment is best for employees who have tried outpatient drug rehab before without long-term success or are living in an environment that could jeopardize their sobriety. Inpatient programs are very structured and usually involve 24-hour supervision with limited exposure to family, friends and outside distractions and temptations. Inpatient treatment programs can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days or more, depending on the severity of your employee’s disease. This means your employee will be unable to interact with work and clients for a period of time. The upside is that residential treatment will help your employee completely focus on his or her recovery and concentrate on the healing process.

Finding a Drug Rehab for Your Employees: Traditional vs. Alternative

There are many different types of drug rehabs available to employees, each with it’s own philosophy and methods of treatment. Traditional drug rehabs are usually based on the 12-step model of recovery and behavioral modification therapy. Traditional drug rehab is always a good choice, but recent research suggests that when traditional treatments are combined with alternative treatments, the chances of long-term sobriety increases. Alternative, holistic treatments will focus on not just your employee’s physical health, but their mental and spiritual health as well.

Alternative methods of drug treatment include a range of treatments, including yoga, equine therapy, and more.

Finding a Drug Rehab for Your Employees: Preventing Relapse

Relapse will be an unfortunate reality of your employee’s recovery. When choosing a drug rehab for your employees, choose one that offers aftercare programs to help your employee maintain his or her sobriety. Aftercare programs can include weekly or monthly check-ins by phone or in person, or continuing outpatient therapy and counseling sessions.

Placing your employee in a sober living home may also be an important final step in your employee’s recovery. Sober living is often recommended for people who have just completed residential treatment and are at risk for relapsing if they return home. It will provide a drug-free environment for your employee to live in during the delicate first months of recovery.

Find an Employee Drug Rehab Today

Don’t let addiction continue to destroy your employee and everyone around him or her. Call a drug rehab today and ask them to guide you through the process of placing your employee in the most effective form of drug addiction treatment.



This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.