Addiction in the Workplace – What to Do If an Employee Has an Addiction

Office boardroom

The costs of substance abuse can be devastating to businesses. Employees who abuse either alcohol or drugs will be likelier to make mistakes while on the job, miss work, get injured, and have conflicts with co-workers and supervisors. It’s therefore important that employers have a drug-free policy in effect at the workplace. What’s more important, however, is a compassionate attitude towards those who abuse drugs or alcohol.

The stigmatization of addiction reverberates in just about any setting, private or professional: it’s no wonder it can be such a daunting task for any manager to take up the issue of alcohol or drug abuse with an employee. When dealing with an employee with an addiction, keep one very important thing in mind: addiction is a disease. It’s a disease that could affect just about anyone, even your most committed and accomplished employees.

As an employer or manager, you have the power to address the problem and find help for your workers. Helping your employees go through a comprehensive rehabilitation program can help save your business quite a lot of money. It could also save your employee’s life.

The First Step: Establishing a Drug-Free Workplace

Adhering to the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is mandatory for organizations that do business with the federal government. But there’s no need for a business to be a government contractor in order to establish its own drug-free policy. You can use the guidelines of the Department of Labor to create a policy that both discourages abuse and addiction, and endorses rehabilitation. A good policy should attempt to accomplish the following:

  • Educate employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Make employees aware of available counseling and rehab services
  • Provide access to both health insurance and substance abuse treatment
  • Create awareness of the consequences of substance abuse in the workplace

Identifying Employees Who Need Help

Employee meetingHow can you tell if an employee has a substance abuse problem? It’s not always easy to tell. After all, most of them aren’t going to be telling you – the stigma is too strong, and they’ll likely be afraid to lose their job.

One thing to remember is that many drug or alcohol users may in fact be high-functioning workers. Plus, employees will often not use alcohol and drugs at work. However, they may frequently call in sick, or be unfocused or aggressive at work.

There are some other warning signs you should be on the lookout for, such as:

  • Poor hygiene
  • More time to work on familiar tasks
  • Behavioral or personality changes
  • Bad judgment or poor decisions
  • Not showing up to appointments
  • Failure to meet deadlines
  • Sudden bouts of confusion or forgetfulness

Many of these signs can also be indicative of a different health concern, like anxiety or depression. It’s vital for an employer to use good judgment, empathy, and sensitivity in order to get to the bottom of what their employee’s issues are.

Speaking to the Employee

Once you’ve come to the understanding that an employee is indeed grappling with an addiction, speak with them. Begin with a private conversation. Make sure to express empathy and concern before you ask any questions about drug use. “You missed a few shifts this month. Are you doing OK?” Ask about changes in behavior or mood. Make sure not to pry into the employee’s medical history.

Once you start talking about drug use, keep your tone compassionate, but not patronizing. Display your awareness of the fact that addiction is a disease, not a lack of willpower or a moral weakness. Continue to employ a caring and flexible approach, but expect to encounter defensiveness and denial. Do not moralize or present judgment, but make the employee aware of the effects of their drug use on their colleagues, company and themselves. Finally, tell them that if they accept help, you will support them.

Help for Employees

As we mentioned earlier, addiction is a disease that is heavily stigmatized, to the point where it is often not identified so much as an illness as a moral failing. However, the first step to help your struggling employees is to be cognizant of addiction being a health condition, and to make your employees aware of this fact as well. Addiction is a problem that can be addressed and even resolved with treatment, like any other health problem. You can help your employees find affordable assistance.

Employees with substance addiction problems should be provided the opportunity to seek treatment confidentially, without having to fear negative repercussions. The act of receiving help should not be stigmatized, but presented as a courageous step to becoming better. It can also be helpful to have a group health insurance plan in place, one that covers counseling and substance abuse treatment. If there’s one thing that should never be able to get in the way of rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment, it is financial troubles. Employers should have a plan in place to pay for the costs of treatment – it’s vital to the success of your drug-free policy.

How to Support Your Employees As They Recover

Your employees can find it difficult to seek help for drug abuse. It may prove necessary for employers to be part of an intervention with counselors and family members in order to convince the employee to go to drug rehab. Drug addiction and alcoholism are marked by denial – it can take a great deal of time, even years, for substance abusers to admit they have a problem. That’s why patience and empathy are such important tools during this time.

Once your employee does agree to seek help, encourage them every step of the way, and make sure to uphold confidence. Even as you are supportive, however, you also need to be firm. Hold your employee accountable if they refuse to seek treatment or continue to abuse drugs. Your employee should understand the consequences they could face if they do not get treatment.

After the addiction treatment program, follow up with your employee. An employee who has been through recovery may have some very specific needs: they may have to be transferred to a less stressful position, or to use leave (paid or unpaid) to attend group meetings and counseling sessions. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center offers confidential support to anyone who needs it. Call us today to find out which treatment programs and aftercare plans are best for your or a loved one’s particular situation.