Drug Addiction in the Workplace

The stereotypical description of a drug addict is someone who once had a good job, a loving family and a beautiful home. Now, he or she lives alone on the streets. While this is true for some individuals, the vast majority of drug addicts are able to hold down good jobs. Many even have close ties with their families. In fact, nearly three-quarters of adults who use illicit drugs are employed.[1]

Drug addiction doesn’t just impact the drug user. The problems don’t even stop with the family members and friends of the person who uses drugs. Everyone who works with someone who uses drugs can be impacted by that addiction, in ways both large and small. That’s why understanding drug addiction, and knowing how to help someone who is addicted, is so important. Read on to find out more.

Understanding Addiction

Many organizations consider the use of an illicit substance, such as heroin, to be drug abuse. The use of prescription medications for recreational purposes is also drug abuse. Drug abuse can cause persistent and permanent changes in the brain. Some side results of drug abuse can make it harder for users to:

  • Plan for the future
  • Control urges
  • Make good decisions
  • Learn new information

As an individual uses drugs, theirbrain chemistry changes. This makes it harder to stop participation insubstance abuse. The use is no longer under the person’s control. It’s become compulsive, as though the addiction controls the person rather than the person controlling the addiction. This drug addiction may cause the person to make terrible decisions. These bad decisionsmay have a ripple effect on everyone else the addict interacts with, including people the addict works with.

The Consequences

Those with drug addiction can face a serious consequence that impacts their future job prospects. For example, close to one-third of full-time workers between the ages of 18 to 49 have had three or more employers in the previous year. For workers who do not use drugs, that number drops to eighteen percent.[2] When an individual changes jobs this frequently, it becomes harder for these workers to find steady employment. Rapid job shifting can also cause financial distress for companies, as more money is spent finding and training workers.

There are also costs for organizations with unexcused absences related to drug use.

The reason for this is drug use often makes individuals feel too ill to come to work the next day. In some cases, an individual who wants to stop using drugs may experience withdrawal symptoms that mimic illness. Other individuals may go on binges that stretch from the weekend into the week.Then the employee forgets to call in before they miss work. These frequent, unexcused absences from work may lead to early termination.

It’s easy to see how an addiction can impact the addict and the company’s bottom line. However, the consequences of addiction can also strike those people who work with the addict. These workers might be asked to pick up the slack when the addicted worker is out. Over time, these mild shifts in work can lead to long-term, simmering resentments. There may even be an increase of stress levels in the workplace, decreased morale and/or fighting.

Research shows that substance abusers are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents.They are also five times more likely to injure themselves or another worker in the process. These impaired workers are responsible for 40 percent of all industrial fatalities.[3]

Even workers who don’t spend time in industrial settings can be impacted by on-the-job addiction. For example, nurses with easy access to prescription medications are most likely to misuse these drugs. An impaired nurse could make a fatal dosing mistake with a patient, or even forget to carry out orders from a doctor. These kinds of mistakes could even be fatal for patients. This creates a dangerous work environment for co-workers.

Signs of Workplace Addiction

Knowing what an addiction in the workplace is only half of the battle. It also pays to know the signs of an addiction in coworkers. In addition to frequent absenteeism, common signs include:

  • Inconsistent performance
  • Difficulty with concentration or memory
  • Errors in judgment
  • Requests for leave around paydays
  • Lack of grooming or deteriorating appearance
  • Excessive breaks during the workday

People in the throes of addiction also may develop personality changes.An individual may seem happy and elated one moment to furious and angry in the next. They may even physically threaten other coworkers.Some people also become impulsive and grandiose with clients, breaking company rules to hand out favors.Others may threaten clients or become abusive during difficult negotiations.

The Law

Many of the signs of drug abuse are related to other issues. Some mental illnesses may cause an individual’s behaviors to shift and sway. Some chronic pain conditions may be the cause of absences or grouchy behavior. A lawsuit may arise if an employee accuses someone of being addicted or if an employee is terminated on suspicion of drug abuse if symptoms were brought about by something else altogether.

The laws regarding addiction in the workplace can be tricky and hard to interpret. In most cases, human resources departments are best able to handle addiction issues in the workplace. Rather than confronting a coworker over the issue, it’s best for workers to bring the issue to the attention of management. During such a discussion, it’s best to describe concrete behaviors or instances when abuse seems to have played a role. These specific examples can help leaders plan how to approach the person, and how the issue might best be handled.

Some companies develop strict rules about drug and alcohol abuse on the job.They may even require their employees to undergo mandatory testing for drug abuse. In these companies, people who exhibit symptoms of drug abuse may be required to go through testing. Some companies pair this testing with stringent workplace counseling programs.When an individual fails a drug screening, he or she must complete a treatment program.

Moving Forward

Whether an employee’s addiction appears through a mandatory drug screening or if an addiction issue comes to light when the employee admits to it, recovery is possible. Once the addiction is out in the open, it can be dealt with. Every day, people enter programs for addiction. After treatment, these individuals leave treatment with the tools to live without substance abuse or addiction.

At The Canyon, we offer a healing environment for people who have addictions to drugs and have underlying mental health issues. Some of our clients are referred to us by their own employers. Other clients have found us on their own and determined that we provide the right environment to help them overcome their addiction issues. Please contact us to find out more about our programs, and how we can help reduce the risks of addiction-related problems in the workplace.


[1] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.htm Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings

[2] http://www.dol.gov/elaws/asp/drugfree/benefits.htm Drug-Free Workplace Advisor

[3] http://www.dronet.org/avanzate/veneto/sospsico/upload/art040.pdf Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace.


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