Common Symptoms of Substance Abuse in the Workplace and How to Handle Them

By | July 14, 2018

By guest blogger Patrick Bailey

[July 14, 2018]  Nearly 50 million Americans use illegal drugs, and around 70% of these individuals are working somewhere. What does this mean for you as a leader? That there is a good chance someone in your team is a victim of substance abuse, and falls under this category.

Obviously that person is putting themselves at a risk, and opening doors to a hurdle of problems. But what about your business? Can their issues affect your productivity, team and company in any way?

Substance abuse is costly for businesses. Though the impacts vary from case to case, higher turnover rates, low workplace morale and incidents are quite common.  In terms of numbers, substance abusers can double your medical and worker’s compensation expenses.

We’ll first highlight some common signs of workplace substance abuse and then share a few tips on handling them.

What are the common symptoms of workplace abuse?

Needless to say, if you recognize workplace abuse earlier on, you can deal with the issue more effectively, minimizing the impact.  The most common symptoms are

  • Appearance changes
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Slurred speed
  • Drowsiness
  • Alcohol scent
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Lower performance levels

How can workplace substance abuse be treated?

Reducing abuse at the workplace decreases healthcare costs and workplace injuries while boosting productivity levels. Substance addiction is regarded as a chronic condition, and just like a chronic disease, can be managed successfully through a well designed substance abuse program. But obviously, there are chances of a relapse in which case, treatment may have to be reinstated or modified.

The best drug treatment centers in US can help you come up with an effective substance abuse program that includes the following components.

  • Drug testing
  • Workplace policies
  • Employee education and training
  • Health promotion
  • Assistance programs
  • Treatment coverage

Screening, treatment referrals and follow-up care should also be incorporated.

Workplace Policies

An initiative should be taken to maintain a drug free workplace.  Generally, a comprehensive policy includes purpose, objectives, substance abuse definition, circumstances under which alcohol or drug testing will be conducted, employees’ confidential rights and educational opportunities. The policy should also provide a guideline for dealing with and assisting impaired workers and abusers along with disciplinary actions.

Health and Wellness Programs

A workplace health and wellness program should send the message that illicit substance use isn’t condoned and that the employees can seek help without putting their jobs into jeopardy. The program should share information on appropriate use of drugs and alcohol, prevention strategies and overall wellness. Harmful health effectives of excessive usage should also be highlighted.

Assistance Programs

An employee assistance program provides information, counseling, resources and referrals on issues such as substance abuse, family and work problems, stress and other related concerns.

Health Plans

A health place provides coverage for counseling, therapy, aftercare and other follow-up treatments.

Treatment Settings

A typical addiction treatment plan is broken down into three stages: detoxification, acute care and continuing care, and lasts for around 90 days. Common treatment settings include inpatient care, outpatient care and residential treatment.

Launch a well-defined substance abuse program, and lead your team to deliver better performance and higher efficiency levels.

Author: Patrick Bailey

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.

14 thoughts on “Common Symptoms of Substance Abuse in the Workplace and How to Handle Them

  1. Jerome Smith

    Some good comments here as usual. Yes, the first step is identification. The second step is the solution. Treatment is one option while termination of employment is another. Treatment is full of risks, is costly, and sometimes backfires when it fails to fully work. No surprise that many employers opt to simply terminate the employment.

  2. Nick Lighthouse

    Good article Patrick and a worthwhile read.

  3. Andrew Dooley

    What about simply terminating the employment of a substance abuser?

    1. Patrick


      I will say you would have to call that depending on the situation; there are times where you probably want to get merely fire some since it the simples solution, but even then you can help them and guide them to get the help they need. Also, there will be times that its a great employee and it would be a shame to lose it.

  4. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Patrick. I would think the hardest part is actually discovering substance abuse, to begin with. Identifying the problem is not easy because users are inclined to hide their drug usage. How do you identify it?

    1. Jonathan B.

      I agree. Finding out that someone is using and abusing drugs would seem to be the main effort. Once you know it’s a problem then treatment or some other action is necessary.

  5. Janna Faulkner

    Hey, nice work Patrick. I liked your article. Very useful and informative.

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