Addiction in the Workplace: How to Tell if Your Employee Is on Drugs

Drug use in the workplace costs companies $417 billion annually in expenses related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care. An estimated $74 billion is lost every year just because of excessive alcohol consumption from absences, reduced work output, premature retirement or death and reduced earning potential. 

Addiction in the workplace is serious business. Both employers and employees should understand the warning signs and learn how to spot them.

1. Missed Work

Excessive absenteeism is often among the first signs that something isn’t right with an employee. This extends far beyond the typical 5-10 absences a year due to colds or the flu. An employee might develop a reputation for Monday and Friday absences with little or no explanation.

Workers with substance use disorders miss nearly 50% more work days than their peers and can miss up to six weeks a year. These missed days will be noticeable to their employers and their co-workers. Excessive absenteeism doesn’t always mean drug use, but it’s something that employers should take note of.

Many companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a voluntary service to help workers with issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, like alcohol or prescription drug abuse. An EAP can help addicts find a rehab or other community resources for emotional support and treatment. 

2. Personality Changes

A once-pleasant employee may begin acting irrationally or may withdraw from contact with his peers. He may decline to join others for lunch, instead choosing to leave the office for an extended period of time. Again, employers should pay attention to a change in behavior, not the behavior alone. Some employees simply like to take their lunch away from the office. 

An employee might begin to neglect his appearance and personal hygiene. Alcohol, for example, is a depressant.  It’s not unusual for someone who consumes an excessive amount of alcohol to stop bathing regularly. He may come to work in the same clothes as the day before. 

If an employee is using drugs in the office or work site, he may also become secretive as he tried to hide his stash in a drawer or locker. 

3. Physical Signs of Drug Use

An employee may exhibit signs specific to the drug he’s using. For example, someone using marijuana may have bloodshot eyes, show signs of confusion or lethargy and may become dangerously uncoordinated. 

A worker abusing alcohol may slur his words, stumble or smell like booze. He may become uncomfortably jovial, exhibiting behavior better suited for a bar or nightclub.

4. Addiction in the Workplace Can Manifest in Reduced Productivity

This can show up in a couple of ways. An employee may come to work hungover and be unable to perform his job well or on time. He may experience withdrawal symptoms, like shakiness, nausea, and vomiting. He may also take an abnormally high number of breaks, especially if he’s using drugs on site. 

Help for the Addict

In many cases, an employer or co-worker will be the first to spot an employee with a drug problem. Just as it’s vital to know how to spot addiction in the workplace, it’s also important to encourage the employee to get help.

Often, people who struggle with addiction have an underlying mental health problem like anxiety or even post-traumatic stress disorder. Employers can help steer their employee to facilities that can treat both.

Creating a work environment that encourages open communication can help both the employee struggling with addiction and the co-workers who spot the warning signs. You can read more about creating a safe work environment in this blog on our website.