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Addiction is a chronic and debilitating condition that can lead to serious negative consequences.1 People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have difficulty controlling their use even though it causes serious problems in their lives.1
People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to experience:1,2
When a person is struggling with an addiction, it can severely impact their professional life and may put the people they work with in danger (for example, if they were to cause an accident while intoxicated).3
Whether you are a peer or supervisor, knowing how to handle workplace addiction can be difficult. This guide will help you identify the signs of a drug or alcohol problem in an employee and provide tips on how to take action.
If a colleague is using drugs or alcohol, you may notice some general physical, psychological, and behavioral signs:2,3
If you work in a medical setting, suspicious behavior in a colleague may include actions such as casually requesting prescriptions, volunteering to count medications, and disregarding safety policies and procedures. Other signs that a colleague might be abusing drugs at work include medication package that has been tampered with, missing medications, or signs that patients are not being properly medicated.2
Supervisors or coworkers who suspect a colleague is addicted may be at a loss for how to approach the situation.2 Some people may react by enabling the employee’s addiction in an attempt to help or avoid a confrontation.
Enabling involves preventing the addicted person from experiencing the full consequences of their addiction.3 Enabling is often discussed within the context of family, but enabling happens in professional environments, as well. 3
Examples of enabling at work include:2,3
Often, enabling comes from good intentions. If you care about your coworker, you may want to protect them or “rescue” them. Unfortunately, enabling may have the opposite effect in the long run—in the absence of consequences, the addiction may only get worse and an accident or injury may occur that could have been prevented by intervening early.2 Enabling an employee can also harm the morale of the whole team, especially when other employees are forced to pick up the slack for a coworker whose performance is suffering.3
Avoid enabling a coworker by covering up for their substance use. Consider reporting the issue to a supervisor or to your human resources manager. 2 Your company handbook may outline steps to take if you suspect a coworker is abusing drugs or alcohol.
As a supervisor or manager, you can also avoid enabling by holding the employee responsible for his or her behavior and taking steps outlined by the company’s policy. By allowing the person to face the natural consequences of their use, you could actually be helping them. 3
If you suspect that a coworker may be abusing drugs or alcohol, DO:2
When dealing with an addicted colleague, DON’T:2
If you work in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or doctor’s office, you may have legal and ethical responsibilities to address drug abuse by other healthcare professionals.4 Failing to take action can compromise the safety of patients under your colleague’s care.4 If you suspect that a coworker is stealing and/or dealing drugs, contact security and/or the police.4 If you are registered with the DEA and suspect that controlled substances may have been stolen, you must report it to your local DEA office.4
Addiction in the workplace can impact all team members and create an unsafe and uncomfortable work environment. As a supervisor, it is important to take action to address an employee whose drug or alcohol is affecting the work environment.5,6
If you suspect that an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol, DO:5,6
In some cases, companies may choose to conduct drug testing to confirm if an employee is abusing substances.7 While testing may occur as a part of an annual physical exam or pre-employment screening, in some cases, companies may also conduct random drug testing if they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is abusing drugs or alcohol based on a documented history of risky behaviors at work or if an employee shows signs of being unfit to work.7 Refer to your company’s policies to determine whether drug testing is appropriate in your work setting. Also check your state/local laws for questions about the legality of drug testing your employees.
An employee who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may ask to take a temporary leave of absence to get help. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a one-year period in order to receive treatment for serious health conditions, including substance use disorders.8
If an employee is taking time off but not attending treatment, then they do not qualify for FMLA.8 In cases of disability, companies should verify that there is a documented treatment plan. When an option, they may enlist the help of the EAP manager and disability plan administrators.8
When an employee is ready to return to work after taking a leave of absence, companies may develop a Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA).8 An RTWA is a document that outlines the expectations for an employee returning to work after attending treatment and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.8 It is typically developed with input from the employer, employee, EAP, union, and/or other medical or addiction professionals. An RTWA allows a company to keep valuable employees, allowing them a chance to seek treatment and return to the job. 8
If an employee tests positive for drugs or alcohol or is unable to adequately perform at work due to substance use, companies may have the right to discipline or terminate employment.5 According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers can terminate employees who violate company policies that prohibit drug or alcohol use.9
Rather than terminating employment on the first violation, many companies encourage employees to attend treatment before resorting to employment termination.
If you’re in a position to recommend treatment to a colleague, know that there is more out there than the standard 30-day inpatient rehab. Depending on your colleague’s personal circumstances and the severity of their addiction, they can choose from a whole spectrum of treatment options:8
The costs of addiction treatment can vary depending upon the level of care and particular program. If your company offers health insurance, advise the employee that their plan may cover some or all of their care.
Insurance plans vary in how much a member must pay out-of-pocket. In some cases, there may be a deductible, coinsurance, or copay. A deductible is the amount a member must pay before insurance covers costs. Once a member reaches his or her deductible, he or she may be responsible for a percentage of the costs, called a coinsurance. Some plans require that a member pay a copay, which is a set fee that is paid up-front. If you’re unsure of whether your insurance policy covers treatment, Laguna Treatment Hospital offers a free and quick way to verify your insurance benefits.
Taking action to address an employee’s addiction is important because substance abuse in the workplace could lead to:8
Directly addressing a colleague’s substance use instead of ignoring it can provide the impetus for them to get the help they need to recover. Laguna Treatment Hospital is one program that offers a range of evidence-based treatments for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Allowing employees to take the time they need to recover from addiction can lead to a safer and more productive work environment for everyone.