When Addiction Enters the Workplace

Addiction. In film and on television, it’s portrayed as an affliction for the streets — back alleys and dark parking lots are the places where addiction grows, not respectable downtown mansions or in high profile offices.

However, addiction can appear anywhere, and even the most well-respected employee can be swayed by the mind-altering effects of drug use. In fact, 75 percent of drug users are part of the workforce.

Today’s working class people need to make themselves aware of addiction in the workplace. Addiction can turn even the best worker into a toxic employee, so businesses need to deploy strategies to identify addiction in the workplace, understand why employees might turn to addiction, and develop constructive methods of handling workplace addiction.

Does Your Coworker Have a Drug Abuse Problem?

The first step towards combating drug addiction in the workplace is awareness. Managers and employees should be able to recognize the signs of drug abuse in subordinates and coworkers. As we’ll see in a minute, this is not so that employees with a drug problem can be outed in a humiliating fashion. Instead, it is so that help can be gotten for that employee and they can be returned to a drug-free state.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs of drug abuse in someone that you know are:

  • Missing work or a sudden drop in work performance. Drug abuse takes a toll on a person’s ability to do their work consistently or even show up at the office on a regular basis. If you start noticing performance issues or attendance problems in an employee who is otherwise well organized and productive, this could be a sign of drug abuse in their personal life.
  • Physical signs of drug abuse. Constant drug use will take physical toll on the body. Be on the lookout for a sudden lack of energy or motivation in otherwise driven employees. Sudden weight loss or gain can also be a sign of drug addiction, along with redness in the eyes.
  • Lack of personal hygiene. An employee may stop taking care of their body if they become addicted to drugs. This can manifest in personal hygiene problems, but also in the way they dress and present themselves in professional settings.
  • Behavioral changes. If an otherwise sociable employee develops a drug problem, they may start to become more closed off and less interested in talking about their life. People with a drug abuse problem can become more secretive and angry about attempts to ask about their well-being.
  • Sudden financial problems. A drug addiction is not cheap. If an employee with an otherwise stable financial life starts having money problems, it could be because they are losing a lot of money to their drug problem.

These are some signs of a drug abuse problem that an employee might demonstrate. However, keep in mind that there are innocuous explanations for each one of these symptoms. It’s important to consider the employee’s situation carefully and approach them respectfully if you believe that there may be a problem with drugs. The presence of any one or even multiple of these signs is not justification to start a witch hunt for drug users in the office.

Why Happily Employed People Turn to Drugs

The stereotype of a drug user is someone who has trouble keeping a job, so many people may be surprised to learn that drug use can be a serious problem in the workplace. However, the reality of drug addiction is much more complicated, and even people who seem otherwise well-adjusted can develop a drug addiction. The National Institute of Drug Abuse identifies three factors that affect a person’s likelihood to become addicted to drugs:

  • Biology: Many people don’t realize it, but genetics actually places a big role in a person’s predisposition for drug addiction. Certain genes can account for half of a person’s addiction risk. The biological reality of drug addiction goes beyond just genes. Many drugs will affect a person’s brain, causing them to become addicted.
  • Environment: Environmental factors can also affect a person’s chances for developing a drug addiction. People in more stressful environments who deal with workplace issues like sexual harassment or toxic work environments can be more at risk of drug abuse. Peer pressure plays a big role in drug abuse, so the presence of one employee with a drug problem could mean that the issue is more widespread.
  • Development: Most people have developed into adults before they enter the workplace, but it’s still important to think about an employee’s development when considering whether or not they could have a drug abuse problem. This means that a person could be predisposed for drug use because of factors that developed long before they ever appeared in your office.

Addiction as a Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

Historically, many companies have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards employees who use drugs. However, modern research is showing that it may be time to rethink the zero-tolerance policy. This outdated approach just encourages employees to hide their drug abuse problems — problems which often develop because of factors outside of their control, as we’ve seen. Under zero-tolerance policies, employees who abuse drugs will hide their addiction while their productivity in the workplace and their sense of fulfillment plummets.

Instead, companies should move towards identifying drug abuse in the office and treating it. This approach involves treating drug addiction as a mental health problem — one that can and should be treated. This will involve making employees more comfortable with the idea about coming forward with their drug problem, as they would with any other illness. After coming forward, the employee should be given access to treatment plans, which many insurance providers will cover today.

By investing in the health of employees, companies can create a workforce that is truly drug free, rather than one that merely pretends to be drug free. This workforce will be more productive and lead to a less toxic working environment.

By Devin Morrissey

About the author

Devin prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zig zag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more reliably on Twitter.

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