Helping a Coworker Affected By Addiction

April 10, 2019

Addiction and alcoholism in the workplace are far more common than people want to believe. The terms “functioning alcoholics” and “functioning addicts” have almost become a staple in businesses throughout the country. In some cases, addicts can form so much of a tolerance to their drug of choice that they may appear “fine” even while under the influence. It is often joked about in movies and television, but make no mistake about it: addiction and alcoholism have no place in a work environment.

Quality of work and overall performance suffer, no matter how “well” a drug addict can function while at work. As any business will tell you, a company is only as strong as its weakest link. Alcohol and drug addiction – when not identified and treated – can lead to employee turnover, poor performance, and an uncomfortable work environment.

Providing treatment options to help addicts recover and regain stability in their lives is extremely valuable, but cannot be accomplished without first identifying the addiction. As stated earlier, recognizing an addict in the workplace can be difficult.


Here are some signs to look out for if you think a coworker or employee may be struggling with drugs and/or alcohol:

1. Unexplained Workplace Disappearances:

This could include employees leaving the premises, or “hiding” for extended periods of time to succumb to their addiction. Regardless of their drug of choice, these disappearances could last as short as a few minutes and extend as long as hours.

2. Acting Tired and Unaware:

Addicts cannot think as clearly as they once could prior to addiction. Their mind and body are focused on their next high rather than work. The term “presenteeism” is often used for addicts; they’re there, but how productive are they?


3. Multiple Accidents or Injuries:

This is a high-alert priority. Whether or not an addict takes your advice regarding their substance abuse, a workplace cannot tolerate when other workers and inventory are impacted by their decision. This becomes even more essential when dealing with heavy equipment or jobs with a lot of responsibility (police officer, lawyer, teacher, etc.).


4. Missing More Work Than Normal:

We covered presenteeism. Now it’s time to cover absenteeism. Work becomes less and less important to an addict as their addiction grows. They show insecurity by not showing up to work, afraid to be called out by coworkers and superiors.


5. Forsaking Workplace Relationships:

No, every employee on your team does not have to be best friends. However, everyone should respect one another and get along in a professional manner. Addicts often abandon relationships they have formed with coworkers and can begin to isolate themselves completely from the company.


6. Unexplained Missing Company Assets:

As addictions prolong, addicts’ tolerances grow. They continue to need more and more of their drug of choice – meaning they’re spending more and more money to support their drug addiction. While missing property doesn’t always equate to someone having a drug or alcohol problem, it could point to an employee selling items to pay for their addiction.


The next step

 after identifying an addiction is to document it. Drug rehab centers and addiction treatment professionals need all the information they can get to help the person recover. Most times, addicts withhold information due to embarrassment, disappointment, sadness and other emotions.

By documenting everything, you can then approach the coworker and employee with information to present. Be sure to make them feel like you’re on their side, and are there to help them, not accuse them. Documentation can help them understand that people are not only noticing their addiction but are affected by it.

Many times, addicts who complete drug or alcohol addiction treatment can return to work. Emphasize that you aren’t “kicking them to the curb,” but instead are helping them regain stability back in their lives.


What You Can Do Now

Because you may know or suspect a friend, coworker, or loved one has a substance use disorder, you want to help. But you may not know what to do next, or have questions about how to proceed.

Fill out this form and we’ll immediately send you easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on how to effectively deal with a friend, loved one, or coworker with a substance use disorder.

Please note that, whereas most if not all of our older blog posts do not have appropriate, non-stigmatizing language – i.e., substance use disorder in place of addiction and/or chemical dependency –  all subsequent posts do and will retain language that avoids propagating negative stereotypes and biases through the use of slang and idioms.

Likewise, we have pledged to follow the guidelines set forth by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and that are conceptually and in general endorsed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASA), the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and other federal and state entities governing and regulating substance use disorder. We will therefore now use person-first language that respects the worth and dignity of all people; that focuses on the medical as well as clinical nature of substance use disorders and treatment; and that promotes the recovery process.


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