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Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace: How to Help Struggling Employees

Addiction in the workplace is an issue many employers deal with. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependency, of the more than 14 million people who use illegal drugs, 70% are employed. Substance and alcohol abuse in the workplace affects everything from office dynamics to absenteeism and productivity. It can raise cause for grave concerns like injuries and fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 13% of Americans said they had started or increased their substance use to cope with the stress and isolation of the pandemic. With more and more employees returning to the workplace, this sharp increase presents a new challenge to business owners and human resources professionals.

Drug and alcohol abuse is costly to employers, adding up to over $80 billion annually in lost productivity, healthcare, and turnover costs. To reduce the impact on their workplace, and most importantly, know when to seek help, employers should learn the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.

Substance abuse signs to watch out for

  • Changes in behavior. One of the first signs of a substance issue is a change in an employee’s normal behavior or demeanor. Dramatic shifts such as lashing out at colleagues or lying are easy to flag, but other behavioral changes may be more subtle. Is a typically social employee becoming withdrawn? Someone who is always on time is now chronically late? While not all these behaviors mean the person is abusing a substance, it is crucial to have a conversation with the employee to determine the reasons behind their actions, and whether it is a substance abuse problem.
  • Decreased quality of work or productivity. Another potential sign of an employee’s drug abuse is a change in job performance. If you start to see a noticeable dip in an employee’s productivity or unusually poor quality in their work product, seek out the cause. However, for some professionals in addiction, their work is the last area to slip, so if your ordinarily reliable employee shows signs of decline, don’t wait to address it.
  • Increase in absence. Studies show that employees with untreated substance use disorders miss more work than their counterparts — taking an average of two weeks more time off. People struggling with addiction tend to lose control of their daily lives and schedules as their dependence increases, making excessive absences from work an indicator of a potential issue.

Employers can be proactive in addressing substance abuse issues in the workplace and ensuring that their employers have options for getting the treatment they need. Many Employee Assistance Plans and addiction treatment providers offer training and resources for human resources professionals to help them spot the signs of abuse, seek help, and maintain compliance with Drug-Free Workplace requirements.

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Misty Resendez Woods
Misty Resendez Woods
Misty is a former member of the Purple Ink team. She is passionate about developing professionals so that they have the tools necessary to enhance their personal drive for success throughout everything they do.

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