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Identifying Substance Abuse in the Workplace

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Unfortunately, drug and alcohol addiction are on the rise in America. This is a problem for individuals and their families, but it also impacts the economy on a national and local level. Many businesses today either employ people with substance abuse issues or struggle to recruit quality workers because of the compromised labor pool. Managers need to know how to identify workers who have these issues because employing them will create problems that can be difficult to solve. So it’s important to be able to spot the patterns of substance abuse in the workplace.

What are the Signs of Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Addicts are very good at hiding their addictions. Friends and family members will often not suspect that their loved ones struggle with addiction until things have spiraled out of control. It can be even harder for coworkers and managers to identify substance abuse in their coworkers because their relationships are not as close. Still, there are signs you should look for, including:

Sudden complaints from other employees – One of the biggest tells for a manager is when an employee who was getting along with his coworkers suddenly doesn’t anymore. Managers can’t be there to witness everything, but an addict will inevitably begin to behave irresponsibly and ask for favors or require others to help or clean up after him. For a short period of time or for a good reason many people will pull together to help out a colleague, but not if they feel taken advantage of repeatedly and over time. If that is the case, the coworkers will eventually grow resentful and loud about it. Many complaints from multiple people is a huge red flag for any manager that substance abuse may be the underlying problem.

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Absenteeism and tardiness – Addicts spiraling out of control will take more and more absences from work, often giving flimsy excuses. They will call in sick more often and/or show up late for work. They’ll forget meetings or appointments and be late in meeting deadlines – and not for good reasons.

Disparities in performance – People with substance abuse problems often still perform on the job, but they tend to perform more and more erratically. One day they may be fine or great. The next day they’ll barely be able to function. It might vary from morning to afternoon. They’ll make mistakes on simple things they should have no problem doing, or they’ll make poor decisions because of bad judgment. They may appear confused, have difficulty concentrating, or forget what they should be doing even when the task is simple.

Changes in appearance – Excessive drinking or drug taking deteriorates both health and appearance. Over time, people with addiction problems may lose weight and begin to look ill. They may look exhausted or complain about being tired all of the time. Addicts don’t take as much time with their appearance or their hygiene, so they may come to work looking unwashed or smelling. Drug users may begin to wear long sleeves all of the time to cover up marks on their arms.

Secretive behaviors – Sneaking away for period of time or lying about behavior or events is often a sign of substance abuse.

Items gone missing – If you or your employees begin to notice items or money going missing regularly, you may have an addict who is stealing to pay for his habit.

Identifying addiction is really only the first step of dealing with this problem in the workplace, but it’s a very important first step. In the next blog, we will talk more about what happens after you’ve identified them and how you deal with the substance abusers on your payroll.