Watching for, reporting, and responding to drug or alcohol abuse in the workplace is important. Executives, managers, and all levels of employees must be vigilant about this growing problem. 

In a 2019 survey from NIOSH, 75% of employers said that opioid abuse affected their workplaces, and drug overdose deaths from non-medical use in the workplace accounted for 5.8% of occupational injury deaths. While workers with substance use disorders missed an average of 14 workdays, those with prescription drug abuse struggles missed an average of 29 days.

Alcohol abuse is also a common problem in the workplace. In 2019, excessive alcohol use cost Americans $249 billion, and about 72% of the total cost was tied to lost productivity in the workplace It is important to know what to look for to recognize signs of substance abuse at work if people are not openly using substances.

Recognizing Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Substance Abuse

Statistics show that more than 75% of active drug users are employed. The first signs may be subtle and become more noticeable over several weeks. For example, it is normal for people to take periodic breaks, and those who have health issues may take more breaks or longer ones. However, when long or frequent breaks occur with other signs, the individual may have a substance abuse problem. These are some common signs of alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace.

Physical Signs

Depending on the substance, the person, and other factors, there are several signs that may be noticeable by observation. These are some examples of physical signs that coworkers or managers may observe in a person with a substance use disorder:

  • Sweating
  • Sleepiness
  • Runny nose
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shaking hands
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Rubbing eyes or nose frequently

Behavioral Signs

Since substance abuse affects the brain and how people perceive or react to their environment, behavioral changes are also common. They can vary depending on the substance. For example, stimulants cause people to be more energetic, and alcohol causes people to be less energetic. These are some signs to watch for:

  • Anger outbursts
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Irritability or defensiveness
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Unusual talkativeness or manic behavior

Work Performance Signs

Employees or managers who abuse substances are often late for work. They miss more days than healthy employees, and their reasons may vary widely or sound strange. Also, their work performance usually suffers because of physical and behavioral changes. They may make more mistakes, overlook important deadlines, or do other things that hurt customers or coworkers. 

Long-term substance abuse can also damage the brain and lead to impaired judgment. If the person makes bad choices with business activities, the potential effects are vast. Poor choices or emotional choices can damage the company’s reputation, hurt other coworkers, affect finances, and more.

Substance Abuse in the Work Place

Other Signs of Addiction in the Workplace

To notice other signs, it is usually necessary to talk to the person. Since many people with addiction tend to demand privacy and can act defensive about personal questions, this takes time. One common sign is that the individual always needs money. Watch to see if the person asks others for money. 

When a person becomes addicted to a substance, it changes their brain and behavioral responses. One of those changes is an increased desire to seek the drug when they get cravings, and this means that they are not hesitant to ask others for money.

Instead of asking for money, some people will steal at work. They may take supplies or inventory that they can sell for money to buy drugs or alcohol. Some may steal computers or other expensive property from the workplace. Employers can also sometimes identify people who have substance abuse problems by their job resumes. 

For example, if someone is missing work and displaying signs of substance abuse, it may help to look at their resume to see if there is a history of several lost jobs with employment gaps. They may also have locked boxes, purses, or bags that they guard vigilantly.

Environments That Cultivate Workplace Substance Abuse

Since every person is unique, what triggers them can also be unique. However, there are certain conditions that can fuel addiction in the workplace. In many cases, important benefits or features that a workplace lacks are what make it a riskier environment. 

These are some ways that employers can create an environment that does not cultivate addiction in the workplace:

  • Developing a workplace-supported recovery plan.
  • Being aware of and sensitive to social disparities.
  • Minimizing all forms of adverse working conditions.
  • Creating a supportive and stigma-free workplace culture.
  • Maintaining a supportive environment for those who are in recovery.
  • Outlining the steps for employees to report a problem anonymously.
  • Providing training and access to resources about addiction treatment.
  • Creating a safe environment for workers to ask for help and get treatment.
  • Making clear policies about consequences for substance abuse on the job.
  • Improving employee engagement and organizational citizenship behavior initiatives.

Professions With High Rates of Substance Abuse

According to statistics, some industries have higher rates of substance abuse. This is because the conditions or demands of some jobs have greater risks and other negative factors that are hard or impossible to avoid. 

According to SAMHSA, these are the top industries with the highest rates of substance abuse:

  • Utility workers have a rate of 10.3%.
  • Construction workers have a 16.5% rate.
  • Hospitality workers have a rate of 11.8%.
  • Miners have a 17.5% rate of substance abuse.
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation workers have an 11.5% rate.

The wholesale trade, management, manufacturing, agriculture, and retail industries also have substance abuse rates of about 10%.

Substance Abuse in the Work Place: What Are the Treatment Options?

If you notice signs of substance abuse in the workplace, it is important to help the individual. Well-meaning help attempts can sometimes go wrong, so it is beneficial to contact a professional interventionist or an addiction treatment center to develop a good strategy.

Detox is the most important step that some people try to do alone. Since detox has unpleasant side effects, people are more likely to relapse and take a dangerous size of dose if they detox alone. Medical supervision is critical for management and observation of side effects, which can be dangerous depending on the type of substance. 

These are some forms of detox programs:

  • Residential treatment to monitor and support people 24/7 in an inpatient setting.
  • Outpatient treatment to support people with varying levels of needs.
  • Online treatment to support people who want discretion, cannot meet in person, or have a limited budget.
  • Executive treatment to support professionals in high-stress jobs.
  • Holistic treatment to help heal the spirit, mind, and body.

After detox, addiction counseling helps. Therapists often use CBT, DBT, EMDR, or other therapies to help people learn about their behaviors, triggers, and environments. They help people with addiction learn ways to cope with past trauma, avoid triggers and regain control of their lives. 

Also, addiction treatment centers help people connect to recovery groups as they maintain sobriety and work toward their goals.

Taking Time Away From Work for Treatment

Recognizing Substance Abuse

The Affordable Care Act made coverage more affordable and accessible to many people, and it mandated that all insurers that participate in the Health Insurance Marketplace must consider addiction treatment as a necessary health care service. This means that people who have a health plan usually have some degree of coverage.

For those who have coverage through an employer, HR workers can provide this information. Addiction is a serious health condition, and the FMLA allows a certain amount of qualifying leave time for treatment of a serious medical condition.

When is a Career Change Necessary?

The answer to this question depends on the person and can vary for each individual. If the workplace is toxic, a change can be helpful for anyone. However, some triggers may not be part of a toxic workplace. Through CBT and DBT from an addiction counselor, many people can learn to avoid or deal with some triggers that may exist in any workplace. 

Also, a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or anxiety, may affect a career change decision. Someone in a high-stress job who has anxiety and a drug addiction may decide to find a lower-stress career. Therapists can help individuals learn how to make these critical choices for themselves.

Finding Support for Alcohol or Drug Abuse in the Workplace

When people use substances at work, it is a strong sign that they need prompt help. If you or someone you know needs help overcoming addiction, it is important to detox with medical supervision first. After a successful detox, it is easier to develop an effective treatment plan and maintain long-term recovery. Please contact us to learn more about treatment for substance abuse in the workplace.