Signs of Addiction – How to Help Struggling Employees

Published On: August 31, 2017|Categories: Employee Assistance Program, Employee Wellness, Employers|
Spotting addiction among employees

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

Substance abuse in the workplace doesn’t need to be ignored as something that “just happens;” in fact, it should be treated as anything but. Managers, when they notice signs of drug use at work, have the unique responsibility to not only look out for the company but look out for the wellbeing of their employees by addressing the concern promptly, professionally and discreetly.

Substances commonly abused among professionals

Certain substances are connected with certain signs of abuse. Knowing the most commonly abused substances can help you better understand the signs you may be seeing if you have a struggling staff member.

Alcohol: Employees who drink before or during work, whether at lunch, during business functions or covertly, have trouble getting to work on time and performing well. They’re more likely to have absences and occupational injuries. At least 11 percent of people fatally injured in the workplace were drinking on the job.

Marijuana: With new high-potency strains as well as dangerous synthetic varieties laced with chemicals, marijuana is one of the most accessible and commonly used substances in the workplace. According to a 2014 survey, approximately one in ten people have shown up to the office high on marijuana.

Cocaine: After a short-lived decline, cocaine use is again on the rise within the workplace. Professionals in high-pressure industries are turning to the powder stimulant to stay on top of demanding workloads and increase productivity during long hours. While cocaine’s immediate effects may sound alluring to some employees, the substance is highly-addictive and comes with serious health risks.

Prescription drugs: Prescription drug abuse has infiltrated the workplace as the opioid epidemic rages on. People using painkillers like OxyContin can easily become addicted. As of 2015, in the U.S. alone more than 15 million people were abusing prescription drugs. Medications prescribed for anxiety, depression and insomnia are addictive and often lead to users self-medicating beyond their prescribed dosages.

Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, are used to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. But their non-prescribed use among professionals has grown in recent years as employees turn to stimulants for enhanced productivity. The adverse effects of stimulant drug abuse include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, seizures, heart failure and more.

More often than not, staff members who turn to substance use for enhanced productivity, means to cope and calming mechanisms are suffering from more than just a substance use disorder — it should be a clear indication that something in their personal life is amiss.

Signs of substance abuse and addiction

Spotting signs of drug or alcohol abuse among employees can be tricky, but knowing the signs and substances most likely to present themselves can help you, as a supervisor, spot the problem before it becomes severe.

Signs of drug use in the workplace include:

  • Excessive tardiness or absenteeism — You may see a pattern like an employee calling off on Mondays, after holidays or paydays
  • Change in appearance such as wearing dirty or wrinkled clothes, looking disheveled or neglecting personal hygiene
  • Physical symptoms, including
    • Tremors or shaking
    • Staggering
    • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
    • Alcohol on breath (or constant use of breath mints and gum)
    • Runny nose (or always rubbing their nose)
    • Sweating
    • Clammy hands
    • An expression of being spaced out
  • Mood changes like withdrawing from co-workers, acting paranoid, being irrational or irritable, or being argumentative and short-tempered
  • Acting inappropriately or erratically in the workspace
  • Avoiding people or meetings after lunch
  • Multiple daily trips to the bathroom or parking lot
  • Running non-work-related errands during work time
  • Sleeping at work

An employee who shows one or two symptoms spontaneously shouldn’t arouse suspicion, as a runny nose is rarely the sole indicator of drug use (after all, people still get colds and have allergies); but a consistent display of more than one symptom may be cause for concern and further investigation.

How employee assistance programs can help

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are a win-win in the workplace, benefiting employees and employers. EAPs provide confidential services to deal with drug and alcohol addiction among employees and are a confidential, intentional way of helping your employees get the help they need. These programs are led by certified counselors and offer assessments, counseling and referrals that are easily accessible.

EAPs help employees overcome addiction, reduce consequences of workplace substance abuse (e.g. turnover, theft and accidents), lead to increased productivity and morale and provide a safe and healthy environment for all employees. EAPs can also help employers create wellness programs and drug-free workplace policies.

If you are looking to offer EAP benefits to your employees, Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP can help. Contact us today to learn more about how you can better support your employees with a customized EAP by calling our office at (800) 543-5080.

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