Addiction in the Workplace

Addiction in the WorkplaceDrug or alcohol addiction does not discriminate; you can find people struggling with substance abuse in just about any type of work environment. According to an analysis of drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics, the positivity rate among American employees was 4.2 percent in 2017, which suggests that people are using drugs and alcohol on the job more than many people would like to think.

The analysis also reports that the types of drugs people are using at work are changing. In the past, opiates were commonly found in drug tests, but the rates for that classification of drugs have dropped. Instead, cocaine and methamphetamine use has risen. Unsurprisingly, marijuana use has also gone up in states where it has been legalized.

As startling as it may be to think that someone who works for you or alongside you could be using cocaine or alcohol on the job, it is important to move past the stigmas associated with addiction. Instead, it is more productive to focus on the positive changes that can be made in the workplace when everyone puts an effort into ending the cycle of addiction.

Be Aware of the Risk Factors for Developing a Substance Use Disorder

While addiction can happen in any work environment, there are certain professions that are more likely to deal with these issues. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, just over 12 percent of people in managerial positions reported illicit drug use in the month prior to the survey, and those within the mining and construction businesses reported the highest rates of heavy drinking.

This makes it clear that people at all levels of a company may struggle with a drug or an alcohol problem, and it brings to light the potential work challenges that could cause a person to turn to substances to cope. For instance, a person who works long hours, such as a pilot or doctor, may attempt to use drugs to be more alert on the job. Alternatively, someone who works a heavy manual labor position may start off using painkillers to address their chronic pain but end up developing an addiction. In some cases, substance abuse begins simply from proximity. Health care workers such as pharmacists and senior caregivers who have access to medications may fall prey to temptation.

Understand the Negative Effects of Substance Use at Work

The use of drugs or alcohol in the workplace generates a wealth of problems such as a loss of productivity and an increased risk of accidents. However, it is also important to understand that negative effects occur even if a person does not use drugs or alcohol directly on the job. For instance, a person who engages in drug use or heavy drinking every night may not have time to metabolize the alcohol and be fully sober by the time that they leave for work. This can cause poor job performance as well as place them at risk for having an accident since they may feel well enough to think that they are capable of performing job duties such as driving heavy equipment.

People who struggle with addiction may also deal with withdrawal symptoms that affect their work. Headaches, nausea and increased anxiety can all get in the way of a person being able to properly perform their job duties. A person who knows that they have a problem may also avoid contact with their colleagues when they are under the influence of an illicit substance. This can cause them to come in to work late, leave early or skip important meetings.

Depending upon the culture of the workplace, employees may also engage illegal activities such as selling drugs to their co-workers or other people who come to the job site. This opens up substantial safety concerns since it means more people may be attempting to work under the influence, and any criminal activity at a job site increases the risk of violence.

When people use drugs or alcohol in the workplace, they are also more likely to cause accidents. For instance, an employee may forget to put up a warning sign after mopping a floor if they are experiencing the side effects of marijuana such as short-term memory loss. Alternatively, a forklift operator could run into another vehicle or person if they are too drunk to stop in time. Even office jobs are hazardous when a person is under the influence since all it takes is a fall down the stairs to generate a serious injury.

Recognize the Signs of Addiction in the Workplace

Some people with an addiction are considered high-functioning. This means that they are typically capable of performing their work responsibilities to the point that other people might not notice when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the signs of addiction eventually begin to show, and every employer and employee should be aware of these behaviors and situations that signify a need to take action.

  • Chronic lateness or leaving work early
  • Complaining about financial problems despite having a well-paying job
  • Having problems at home such as a divorce or an on-again, off-again relationship
  • Failing to complete assignments on time or according to known standards
  • Experiencing frequent accidents, especially ones that are preventable
  • Frequent physical complaints without an obvious cause
  • Smelling of drugs or alcohol

Know the Rights Provided to Employees With Addictions

While seeking help for addiction has less stigma today than it ever has before, some people still fear telling their employer about their need for treatment. For this reason, it is important for both employers and employees to understand the different laws that are in place to protect everyone’s rights. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that certain employers are required by the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 to provide a written policy regarding drug use in the workplace. Employers may also engage in pre-employment drug testing provided that they comply with the laws, and they are encouraged to establish an open atmosphere that makes it possible for employees to reach out for help.

Employees who are struggling with an addiction should also know that they have some legal protections regarding their employment. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers from discriminating against people who have a history of substance abuse and have undergone treatment. Employers are also prohibited from firing or disciplining someone who chooses to seek treatment while they are working for the company. Keep in mind, however, that these laws only apply to someone who is actively addressing their addiction and not using drugs in the workplace. In most instances, an employer does have the right to remove an employee from their position if they are found to be using drugs or alcohol while performing their job duties.

How Employers Can Cultivate a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Work Environment

The company culture, professional practices and benefit packages offered all play a role in how well employees are able to stay off of drugs and alcohol. While most jobs have some type of stress associated with each position, employers should strive to make sure that each employee feels supported by each member of their team. Managers at the company should be alert for signs of stress among employees as well as the symptoms of substance abuse so that they can direct anyone in trouble to an appropriate source of help.

Employers should also have policies in place to help people who do need to seek treatment for their addiction. Naturally, every company should stay in compliance with federal laws that govern family and medical leave. However, it is also possible to go one step further by offering accommodations to people who need treatment such as flex time or the ability to work from home on days that they need to go to therapy.

The company culture should also make it clear that drug and alcohol use on the job is not to be tolerated, yet there should also be a compassionate stance toward those who seek help. For instance, employers who know that people in their field or industry are at greater risk for substance abuse can offer information seminars on how to cope with stress and addiction. If someone does need to take time off for treatment, then they should be welcomed back to their job when they are ready without feeling judged by their employer.

Actions to Take as an Employee Concerned About Substance Abuse

Employees of a company are obligated to do their part to maintain a safe and drug-free environment. For those who suspect that a person might be using drugs or alcohol on the job, it is important to know how to report things that are witnessed. Ideally, the company should include in its policy a reporting procedure to follow for events that pose a safety risk. For instance, noticing that a co-worker has the scent of alcohol on their breath requires making a report to the manager before said co-worker gets behind the wheel of a construction vehicle.

In some cases, an employee may need to make an anonymous report. This is common if someone witnesses a drug deal take place on company property or if they fear retribution from someone who holds a position of power within the company such as a manager. In this type of case, it may be possible to contact a member of the human resources department to report the concern.

It is also common for an employee to realize that they have a problem with substance abuse at their job. In many cases, substance abuse starts off slowly with a person drinking or doing drugs at home. In the earliest stages, it may not even affect their job. However, the effects on their job tend to increase as the addiction gets worse. Often, a person’s first realization that they have a true addiction is when it begins to affect their job performance. Once this happens, it is important to immediately stop using drugs or alcohol in the workplace. If the withdrawal symptoms or cravings are too strong to cope with alone, then it is imperative to seek professional treatment.

Treatment Options for People Who Need to Preserve Their Job

While dealing with an addiction is upsetting, there are many different types of treatment available that a person can choose from to maintain their career. For instance, intensive outpatient treatment programs allow a person to attend therapy during the day, and this is often a great way for people to continue to work their evening shifts. Traditional outpatient programs also involve therapy sessions, but they may be offered in the evening so that a person can go after their normal workday ends. In some cases, residential treatment may be needed. If so, an employer may be legally required to provide time off for this type of care depending upon factors such as a person’s length of employment with the company.

When planning for treatment, it is important to note that employees may be required to follow specific protocols to make sure that the employer does not experience undue hardship. For example, proper notice may need to be given before a person takes several days or weeks off for inpatient treatment, or certain types of documentation may be required. Following the company’s required procedures helps make sure that the person seeking treatment will still have their job available when they are ready to come back to work.

Opening up a dialogue about addiction in the workplace is critical for making sure that every member of the company or organization is safe and comfortable in their work environment. Now that more is known about the nature of addiction, it is understood that there is no shame in reaching out for help. By working together, employers and their employees can all make sure that everyone enjoys the opportunity to work in a drug- and alcohol-free environment that demonstrates compassion and integrity.