It may be surprising to learn that the majority of people struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) are employed full-time. According to statistics provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, of the 14.8 million individuals with an SUD involving illicit drugs 70% are employed.
While substance use occurs in all types of workplace settings, certain industries happen to have higher rates of employee SUD. The highest rates are found in the following industries or professions:
- Hospitality and Food Services
- Arts and Entertainment
- Real Estate
- Professional Services
It is not uncommon for a substance to be accessed as a means of mitigating the symptoms of job-related stress. For example, someone may use alcohol or sedatives to reduce the symptoms of stress at work. Other substances appeal to different job-related challenges. An example of this is the use of Adderall or cocaine to increase productivity and focus on the job. For many, however, an existing SUD will end up leaking into the workday.
Substance use can impact the workplace in several ways, including:
- Increased risk of injuries or accidental deaths
- High absenteeism
- Increased healthcare costs for group plans
- Reduced productivity
- High turnover rates
- Reduced morale
- Illegal drug possession, sales, or distribution on the job site
It has become the norm for companies to institute a zero-tolerance policy, and even random drug testing, as a condition of employment. But what should an employee do when they suspect a coworker is under the influence at work? What steps should be taken? Read on to learn helpful tips should you ever encounter this situation in your workplace.
Signs of Intoxication
When a colleague exhibits certain key signs of being under the influence, you may wonder if these are effects related to a substance. It is important not to jump to conclusions, as the coworker may have recently started a new prescription that causes sedation as a side effect. They may have been having sleep disruptions and are simply sleep deprived. They may have been recently diagnosed with an illness, and the symptoms are related to the condition.
Regardless, it is good to be aware of the signs of substance use. The signs and symptoms will vary depending on which substance is involved. Some of the signs of intoxication might include:
- Hyperactivity, mania, rapid speech
- Hand tremors, sweating, flu-like symptoms
- Smelling of alcohol or marijuana
- Slurring words, lack of muscle coordination
- Drowsiness, lack of energy on the job
- Pinpoint pupils
- Avoiding contact with coworkers
- Taking multiple restroom breaks
- High absenteeism rate
- Reduced job productivity
- Interpersonal problems among coworkers
- Theft of items that belong to coworkers
If a cluster of these signs shows up consistently, there is a good chance the coworker is struggling with an SUD.
Tips on Communication
Everyone deserves a safe place in which to conduct their daily work duties. When that safety is breached due to someone’s active SUD it can have a significant impact on morale and the overall workplace culture. Before approaching a co-worker who exhibits signs of intoxication, always consult employer guidance on safety reporting protocols.
However, it is just as important for someone with an SUD to be treated with compassion and respect. Do not approach the person in anger, but rather do so with kindness and a genuine desire to help. Here are some tips for approaching the individual:
- Ask if they are feeling okay. Tell them you are concerned that they haven’t seemed themselves lately. Based on how close you are to this coworker, hopefully, it will lead to a productive conversation.
- Ask about the absenteeism. Everyone will notice when a fellow employee is repeatedly absent and begin to become concerned. Ask if they are struggling with a health issue.
- Ask if they would like to have lunch. Sometimes the colleague will be more comfortable opening up to you while away from the office. See if you can arrange to meet for lunch or dinner, and then gently bring their wellbeing up in conversation.
Sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone is to not look away from the elephant in the room, but instead, to compassionately let them know you care about their wellbeing.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle – “everything for recovery” – reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.