Drug Addiction in the Workplace

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 the signs of addiction isn’t always easy. Some addicts have months or years of experience hiding their substance abuse problems. Employers should never attempt to diagnose an addiction problem, but there are many signs to look for that may indicate an employee has a problem with drugs. These signs include:

Frequent tardiness

Unexplained or unauthorized absences from work

Extended breaks or lunches

Avoidance of supervisory contact, especially after breaks or lunch

Accidents on or off the job

Excessive use of sick leave

Many excuses for missed deadlines or incomplete assignments

Careless or sloppy work

Poor personal hygiene or grooming

Unusual weight loss or gain

Unmet production quotas

Strained relationships with co-workers

Attitude changes (mood swings, anxiety, belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered behavior)

Erratic or unusual behaviors, such as extreme talkativeness, paranoia, sleepiness, tremors, sleeping on the job

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 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.


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