Is Your Co-worker Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol?

Is your co-worker addicted to drugs or alcohol? Learn how to spot the signs and address addiction in the workplace for a healthier work environment.

Leora BH Staff
April 9, 2024

Identifying Substance Abuse at Work

It is important for employers and colleagues to be able to recognize the signs of substance abuse in the workplace. Identifying these behaviors and signs early on can help provide the necessary support and intervention for individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.

Behaviors Indicative of Substance Abuse

Certain behaviors may indicate that an individual is struggling with substance abuse. These behaviors can vary depending on the person and the specific substance being abused. While it's important to approach these observations with caution, they can serve as potential red flags that warrant further attention and evaluation.

Some common behaviors indicative of substance abuse in the workplace, as highlighted by SureHire, include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior: Employees who exhibit uncharacteristic changes in behavior, such as increased irritability, mood swings, or aggression, may be struggling with substance abuse. It's important to pay attention to significant shifts in their demeanor and interactions with others.
  • Decline in performance: Substance abuse can impact an individual's ability to perform their job effectively. Employees might experience a drop in overall performance, difficulty concentrating on tasks, decreased reaction time, and reduced mental sharpness. These changes may be noticeable through missed deadlines, errors, or a decline in productivity.
  • Attendance and punctuality issues: Frequent unexplained absences, tardiness, or an increase in unscheduled breaks could potentially indicate substance abuse. Individuals struggling with addiction may struggle to maintain consistent attendance and punctuality.
  • Changes in social interactions: Employees who isolate themselves, withdraw from social interactions, or exhibit disinterest in workplace relationships may be experiencing substance abuse issues. They may avoid team activities or conversations and may seem disconnected from their colleagues.

It's important to approach these observations with empathy and sensitivity, as there may be underlying personal or health-related issues contributing to these behaviors. If you suspect substance abuse, it's crucial to follow appropriate procedures and guidelines established by your organization.

Signs of Drug or Alcohol Addiction

In addition to behavioral changes, there are also physical and speech indicators that may suggest an individual is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. These signs can provide further insight into a potential substance abuse problem.

According to SureHire, some physical and speech indicators of drug or alcohol addiction in employees include:

Indicator Description

  • Impaired Motor Function: Individuals affected by drugs or alcohol may appear unsteady, have slow movements, or exhibit poor coordination. These physical signs can be noticeable during work-related tasks.
  • Lack of Interest in Clothing or Grooming: Employees struggling with substance abuse may display a general disinterest in personal appearance. They may neglect grooming habits or wear clothing that is inappropriate for the workplace.
  • Smell of Alcohol or Chemicals: The presence of an alcohol or chemical odor on an individual's breath or clothing can be indicative of substance abuse. However, it's important to exercise caution before making assumptions and consider alternative explanations.
  • Watery or Bloodshot Eyes: Bloodshot or excessively watery eyes can be a sign of drug use. However, it's important to note that other factors, such as allergies or fatigue, can also cause similar symptoms.
  • Dilated or Constricted Pupils: Changes in pupil size, such as dilation (enlargement) or constriction (narrowing), can be a physical indicator of drug use. However, it's important to consider lighting conditions and other factors that may affect pupil size.
  • Slobbering or Chewing Gum: Excessive saliva, slobbering, or the use of gum to mask the smell of drugs or alcohol may be observed in individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Recognizing these signs can help employers and colleagues take appropriate action in providing support and assistance to individuals who may be affected by drug or alcohol addiction. It is essential to approach the situation with sensitivity, respect, and a commitment to maintaining confidentiality.

Addressing Potential Substance Abuse

When confronted with the possibility of a co-worker struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it's important for employers and colleagues to address the situation in a compassionate and supportive manner. Addressing potential substance abuse requires careful consideration and appropriate intervention strategies. Two common approaches include the "Escalating Email" approach and implementing workplace intervention strategies.

Using the "Escalating Email" Approach

The "Escalating Email" approach is a method that can be used to express concern and offer support to a co-worker who may be struggling with addiction. This approach involves sending a series of emails, starting with a general expression of concern and gradually escalating the level of intervention if necessary [1].

The first email can be a gentle inquiry expressing concern for the individual's well-being and offering support. This initial email should maintain a non-confrontational tone and emphasize that the intention is to help rather than judge. If there is no response or improvement, subsequent emails can be more direct, highlighting observed behaviors and their potential impact on work performance and relationships.

The "Escalating Email" approach allows for an ongoing dialogue and provides the individual with an opportunity to seek help and address their addiction. However, it's important to remember that this approach may not always be effective, and professional intervention or workplace policies may be necessary.

Strategies for Workplace Intervention

Workplace intervention strategies can be implemented to address potential substance abuse among employees. These strategies aim to create a supportive environment that encourages individuals to seek help and provides resources for addiction treatment.

One effective strategy is to establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers confidential counseling services and support for employees facing personal challenges, including substance abuse. EAPs can provide professional guidance, access to treatment resources, and referrals to specialized addiction services. By offering these resources, employers can demonstrate their commitment to supporting their employees' well-being and recovery.

Additionally, promoting a culture of open communication and destigmatizing addiction can encourage employees to seek help without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Employers can provide educational programs and awareness campaigns to increase understanding and empathy towards addiction issues. Training managers and supervisors to recognize the signs of substance abuse and providing guidance on how to approach and support affected employees can also be valuable.

By implementing appropriate workplace intervention strategies, employers can create an environment that supports employees struggling with addiction and helps them on their path to recovery. It is crucial to approach these situations with sensitivity, empathy, and a focus on providing resources and support rather than punitive measures.

Recognizing and addressing potential substance abuse in the workplace is essential for maintaining a safe and productive work environment. Employers and colleagues play a vital role in supporting individuals in need and helping them access the assistance necessary for recovery.

Workplace Violence Awareness

In any work environment, it is crucial to be aware of the potential for workplace violence. Understanding the definition of workplace violence and recognizing the risk factors associated with it can help create a safer and more secure workplace.

Definition of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence, as defined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), refers to any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in their employment. This definition encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including spreading rumors, verbal abuse, pushing, theft, physical assaults, and bullying. It is essential to note that workplace violence can occur not only within the traditional office setting but also in off-site business-related functions, social events related to work, clients' homes, or away from work but resulting from work, such as threatening telephone calls.

Risk Factors for Workplace Violence

Certain work factors, processes, and interactions can increase the risk of workplace violence. Recognizing these risk factors is crucial for proactively addressing and preventing incidents. Some common risk factors include:

  1. Working Alone: Employees who work alone are more vulnerable to potential acts of violence, as there may be fewer witnesses or sources of immediate assistance.
  2. Working Late at Night or Very Early in the Morning: Shifts that fall outside typical business hours may pose a higher risk due to reduced visibility, limited access to support systems, and potentially encountering individuals who may be more volatile during these times.
  3. Working with People Who May Be Volatile: Certain professions or job roles may involve interactions with individuals who are more likely to exhibit aggressive or violent behavior. These can include individuals dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or individuals in high-stress situations.
  4. Working in High-Crime Areas: Employment in areas known for high crime rates can increase the risk of workplace violence. Such environments may require additional safety measures and security protocols.

It is important to note that workplace violence is not limited to traditional office settings. It can extend to individuals working from home, salespeople, real estate agents, home care providers, and more. Different work practices can be adopted to reduce the risk of violence in these settings as well.

By understanding the definition of workplace violence and recognizing the risk factors associated with it, employers and employees can work together to create a safe and secure work environment. Implementing preventive measures, such as workplace design, administrative practices, and work practices, can help minimize the risk of workplace violence. These measures may include workplace layout, use of signs, adequate lighting, employee education, fair performance evaluations, and making reasonable adjustments to employee workload or stress levels [2]. By adopting these preventive measures, organizations can take meaningful steps towards maintaining a safe and violence-free workplace.

Preventing Workplace Violence

In any workplace, it is crucial to prioritize the safety and well-being of employees. One significant aspect of ensuring a safe work environment is preventing workplace violence. By adopting preventive measures and safe work practices, employers can minimize the risk of workplace violence incidents. Let's explore the categories of preventive measures and the importance of adopting safe work practices.

Categories of Preventive Measures

Preventive measures to reduce workplace violence fall into three main categories: workplace design, administrative practices, and work practices [2]. These categories encompass various strategies and actions that can be implemented to create a safer work environment for all employees.

1. Workplace Design:

  • Layout and Physical Security: Evaluating the workplace layout to ensure it promotes safety and minimizes opportunities for violence. This includes the use of security measures such as access control systems, surveillance cameras, and alarm systems.
  • Signage and Lighting: Implementing clear signage and proper lighting to enhance visibility and create a more secure environment.
  • Secure Areas: Establishing secure areas within the workplace, such as controlled entry points or restricted access zones, to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering sensitive areas.

2. Administrative Practices:

  • Employee Education and Training: Providing comprehensive training programs to educate employees on recognizing signs of potential violence and how to respond appropriately. This includes training on conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques, and reporting procedures.
  • Fair Performance Evaluations: Conducting fair and consistent performance evaluations to reduce frustration and prevent potential triggers for workplace violence.
  • Effective Communication: Encouraging open lines of communication between management and employees, allowing for the reporting of concerns or incidents promptly.

3. Work Practices:

  • Adjusting Workload and Stress Levels: Ensuring that employees' workloads and stress levels are manageable and reasonable. This can help minimize frustration and prevent potential triggers for workplace violence.
  • Task Rotation: Implementing task rotation to reduce monotony and potential conflicts arising from repetitive tasks.
  • Workplace Culture: Fostering a positive workplace culture that promotes respect, inclusivity, and a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence.

Adopting Safe Work Practices

Workplace violence is not limited to traditional office settings and can occur in various work environments, including remote work and client-facing roles. To prevent workplace violence in these diverse settings, adopting safe work practices is essential [2].

Safe work practices encompass a range of actions and behaviors that contribute to a secure work environment. Some key practices include:

  • Establishing Clear Policies: Implementing policies and procedures that outline expectations for employee behavior, conflict resolution, and reporting mechanisms for potential incidents.
  • Risk Assessment: Conducting regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards or situations that may increase the risk of violence. This allows for targeted preventive measures to be implemented.
  • Working in Pairs or Groups: Encouraging employees to work in pairs or groups, especially in high-risk situations or when working in isolated or unfamiliar locations.
  • Establishing Emergency Response Plans: Developing and regularly practicing emergency response plans that include procedures for handling potential violent incidents.
  • Encouraging Reporting: Creating a culture that encourages employees to report any concerns or incidents related to workplace violence. Providing multiple reporting channels, including anonymous options, can help ensure employees feel safe reporting potential issues.

By adopting preventive measures and safe work practices, employers can significantly reduce the risk of workplace violence. It is crucial for organizations to prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees, fostering a secure work environment that allows everyone to thrive.

Recognizing Signs of Drug Abuse

When it comes to identifying drug abuse in a co-worker, it's important to be observant and aware of potential behavioral and physical indicators. Recognizing these signs can help employers address the issue and provide appropriate support. In this section, we will explore behavioral changes in employees and physical and speech indicators that may indicate drug abuse.

Behavioral Changes in Employees

One of the key signs of drug abuse in employees is a sudden and noticeable change in behavior. This could include:

  • Drop in overall performance: Employees who were previously reliable and productive may exhibit a significant decline in their work quality and output.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Individuals struggling with drug abuse may have difficulty focusing on tasks, leading to decreased productivity and an increased number of mistakes.
  • Decreased reaction time: Drug abuse can impair an individual's cognitive function, resulting in slower reaction times and reduced mental sharpness.
  • Reduced motivation: Employees who were previously engaged and motivated may display a lack of interest in their work or a decrease in their overall enthusiasm.

By staying vigilant and observing these behavioral changes, employers can identify potential substance abuse issues and take appropriate action.

Physical and Speech Indicators

Physical signs can also serve as red flags for drug abuse in employees. Some common physical indicators include:

  • Impaired motor function: Individuals affected by drug use may appear unsteady on their feet, have slow movements, or exhibit poor coordination.
  • Lack of interest in clothing or grooming: Employees who were previously meticulous in their appearance may show a general decline in their personal grooming habits.
  • Odor and appearance: The smell of alcohol or chemicals on an employee's breath or clothing can be indicative of substance abuse. Additionally, bloodshot or watery eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, and slobbering or excessive chewing of gum may be signs of drug use.

In addition to physical signs, changes in speech patterns and personality can also be indicative of drug use. Some speech and personality indicators include:

  • Slurred or incoherent speech: Employees who struggle to articulate their thoughts clearly or have difficulty speaking coherently may be under the influence of drugs.
  • Slow speech: Drug use can cause individuals to speak at a slower pace than usual.
  • Drastic mood swings: Employees who experience sudden and extreme shifts in their mood, ranging from euphoria to irritability or aggression, should be monitored closely.

By paying attention to these physical and speech indicators, employers can gather valuable information that can aid in addressing potential drug abuse concerns.

Remember, these signs are not definitive proof of drug abuse, but they can serve as valuable indicators. If you suspect that a co-worker may be struggling with substance abuse, it's important to approach the situation with empathy and compassion. Engaging with the appropriate resources, such as employee assistance programs, can provide the necessary support and help facilitate a path toward recovery.

Handling Employee Substance Abuse

When it comes to addressing substance abuse in the workplace, employers have a responsibility to provide support and assistance to their employees. Handling employee substance abuse requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach. Two key steps in this process are referring the employee to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and providing ongoing support while monitoring progress.

Referring to Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) play a crucial role in addressing alcohol and drug abuse problems in the workplace. These programs offer short-term counseling, assessment, and referral services for employees struggling with substance abuse [3]. EAPs are typically staffed by professional counselors who can provide confidential assistance.

By referring an employee to an EAP, employers provide an avenue for the individual to seek help and support. It is important to emphasize that EAPs are confidential and aim to assist employees in overcoming their personal challenges. Sharing information about accessing these resources in a discreet manner allows the employee to receive the necessary support while maintaining their focus on work-related tasks.

Providing Support and Monitoring Progress

Referring an employee to an EAP is just the first step in addressing substance abuse. It is equally important to provide ongoing support and monitor progress. Following through with employees after referring them to services demonstrates a commitment to their well-being while ensuring work responsibilities are met [4].

Maintaining open lines of communication with the employee is crucial during this process. Managers should offer support and encouragement, letting the employee know that they are not alone and that help is available. Regular check-ins can provide an opportunity to discuss progress, address any challenges, and reinforce the importance of seeking help.

It is important to balance support with accountability. Clearly communicate performance expectations to the employee and provide feedback on their work. By doing so, managers can demonstrate their commitment to helping employees through difficult periods while ensuring that work responsibilities are met.

Throughout the process, it is crucial to respect the employee's privacy and confidentiality. Substance abuse is a personal matter, and it is essential to handle it with sensitivity and discretion. By fostering a supportive and understanding work environment, employers can contribute to the employee's recovery process while also maintaining productivity and a positive workplace atmosphere.


Contact Us

Leora Behavioral Health offers a comprehensive addiction treatment program to help you get your life back on track. Our trained professionals will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to Leora Behavioral Health today.

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