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7 Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

7 Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace
Written by Seth Fletcher on May 25, 2016
Last update: April 26, 2024
substance abuse in the workplaceFor many people, the casual use of certain substances, like alcohol or drugs, becomes a serious problem because of one thing -- denial. The refusal to acknowledge a chemical dependency can lead to reckless abuse, the effects of which spill over into the other areas of a user's life. Most notably, their relationships and jobs. Substance abuse in the workplace is quite commonplace, and rampant but if it cannot be seen, it results in a huge cost for the employer.The willing denial of users -- and the people around them -- of certain situations' seriousness can lead to the need for enrollment in substance abuse treatment centres.This issue is not to be taken lightly. Every year, 47,000 Canadian deaths are linked to substance abuse. Substance abuse costs the Canadian health care system $8 billion for funding of substance abuse treatment centres and outpatient clinics.

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Since work is where many people spend most of their daylight time, the signs of substance abuse in the workplace can often be the most obvious but not visible. Keep in mind that there are other factors in every addiction case -- problems at home, stress from personal relationships, or mental health issues could lead them to use.drug use at workMany people reach dangerous levels of addiction and need to be treated at substance abuse treatment centres because no one in their lives helps them acknowledge their dependency and take the right steps to overcome it.Consequently, it's best to always keep your eyes peeled for the tell-tale signs of addiction, whether it be in employees or fellow workers. Drug use by a co-worker or an alcoholic employee will become easy to spot with these basic but important signs and it will become easy for you to identify.

1. Frequent Tardiness or Unexplained Absences

Very frequent unexplained lateness and absences often mean that other aspects of your co-worker's life are invading their professional life and time management. Keeping up with an addiction -- obtaining the substance, using, and recovering enough to come to work -- can take up a lot of time.

2. Frequent Small Accidents

Decreased coordination, lack of focus, and lack of sleep may be the culprits in this case. A loss of control in general, both in the addict's personal and professional life as well as of their bodies, is common.It can also signify problems in other areas of that person's life, possibly contributing to their addiction.

3. Lack of Concern for Personal Appearance and Hygiene

Often one of the first signs of a substance abuse problem, lack of concern for personal appearance and hygiene can be especially noticeable in more formal workplaces.An addict's personal appearance grows harder and harder for them to maintain, especially when the substance they abuse starts taking its toll on their body.

4. Extremely Low Productivity in the Morning

The morning is not a great time for anybody, but can be especially hard for someone who is working off a night of using, and running out of time to sleep. substance abuse in the workplaceA person suffering from an addiction problem is simply not focused on their professional life, but may feel the need to keep coming to work for fear of getting fired or admitting to themselves that they have a problem.

5. Caginess About Personal Life

Addicts often become experts about lying and covering their tracks, but sudden caginess about personal matters could indicate an ongoing problem. In many cases, addicts use alone and in secrecy, and they take any inquiry into their lives as a personal attack or accusation.

6. Physical Indications (bloodshot eyes, sudden weight loss, etc.)

The physical symptoms of addiction can also include weight gain, signs of depression, or drastic changes in appearance. For those abusing alcohol, flushed skin, broken capillaries on the face, and a husky voice are symptoms of over-abuse. Take a look at our guide on how to spot an alcoholic face to find out more.Sometimes, the physical effects of withdrawal, whether voluntary or not, can be observed -- these include intense cravings, bouts of moodiness, trembling, sweating, and hallucinations.

7. Sudden Defensiveness / Overreaction to Criticism or Suggestions

In general, any drastic personality change or shift could indicate that something is amiss. Denial manifests itself in curious ways, but an addict always knows on some level that they have a problem. For some, it results in over defensiveness about everyday things, and the inability to take even slight criticism.It is a part of an addict's attempt to convince themselves that everything is alright, often made worse with exhaustion, stress, and unhappiness.For employers, if any of these signs are very obvious and are interfering with a worker's productivity, it might be a good idea to refer to the employee drug and alcohol policy in your company's handbook or to consult another member of the management staff.All employers should have a very clearly laid out drug and alcohol policy in place, presented at the time of hiring, to refer to if it ever becomes a problem.Many companies have polices that allow employees to take leave in order to get the help they need from a substance abuse treatment center, which can encourage individuals to come forward without the fear of losing their jobs.For workers who notice these signs in their colleagues, the protocol can be less clear. No one wants to be responsible for a co-worker losing their job or getting in trouble.In the early stages of addiction, sometimes all a person needs is a well-meaning gesture to show them that the people around them care about them and want to see them succeed, or even help with finding substance abuse treatment centers on their own.However, since everyone's safety and livelihood is dependent upon the risky behaviour that is often exhibited in the later stages of addiction, sometimes co-workers have no choice but to report their colleagues to a supervisor.The uncomfortable truth is that Canadians are more susceptible to alcohol abuse. A study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), found Canadians drink more than 50% above the global average. For this reason, it is important to spread awareness about the signs of addiction so that people can get the help at drug rehab centres or substance abuse treatment centres.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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