Identifying and Responding to Substance Abuse in the Workplace

It’s not always easy to identify a substance abuser in the workplace. They are often very adept at concealing their substance use. Often, others know
or suspect that a co-worker may have a substance use problem. Here aresome signs that may be indicators of a substance problem:
• Absences – becoming more frequent and with little explanation, often happening with more frequency both on and off the job
• Presenteeism – the abuser is physically present at work but unengaged;increasingly productivity suffers
• Personal hygiene – the substance abusing employee becomes indifferent to his or her hygiene
• Reactionary or paranoid when questioned; sometimes volatile.
• Physical signs, including: inability to focus, dehydration, tiredness, excitability, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, balance problems, or an unsteady walk
• Confession about excessive alcohol/drug use or a hang-over

Addressing the problem

A comprehensive drug-free workplace program is the best means of preventing, identifying, and dealing with substance abusers in the workplace.

A drug-free workplace program includes:

• Written policy – clearly states the prohibitions of substance use at the workplace along with the consequences for violations of that policy. The policy is supported fully from the top down.
• Drug testing – all employees including management are subject to pre-employment, post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing as a minimum. Random testing is also considered a best practice.
• Supervisor training – provides all supervisory personnel with skills to identify and deal with substance abusers.
• Employee Education – to educate employees on the harms of substance use and how it negatively affects the workplace
• Parent Awareness – Provides employees who are parents (who make up a large segment of the workforce) the resources they need to address and prevent substance abuse within their families.
• Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – EAPs provide counseling for employees andtheir family members to address a wide rangeof problems including substance abuse.The goal of an EAP is to provide the employee with the tools and resources needed to successfully remain in the workplace.

What Can You Do?

Substance abusers in the workplace create a problem that affects you and should concern you. There are a number of ways in which you can do something about it.

Don’t enable substance abusers

When you participate in concealing substance use, you are protecting the abuser from consequences and delaying the opportunity for them to receive help. You may think you aredoing them a favor, but in actuality, you and your co-workers’ safety is at risk.
Don’t ignore the problem

If you suspect drugs are being used or sold, you should confidentially notify a supervisor or a human resources professional.

Don’t stage an intervention
Despite the growing popularity of realitytelevision shows addressing substance abuseand addiction, it is a serious issue that must behandled by qualified professionals.

Don’t worry about risking a substance abuser’s job

It is normal to be empathetic about a substance abusing employee. We often want to “live andlet live.” The reality is that you will create a more dangerous working environment; causing you and co-workers to have to work harder to make up for the abuser’s poor work performance.

The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance

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