Addiction in the Workplace: What You Should be Doing as an Employer

If you suspect that an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol in the workplace or on their own time it is important that you do something about it. Dependency on these forms of substances can be detrimental to their overall well-being. Not to mention, an employee who is abusing drugs or alcohol can also wreak havoc on your business.

From lowered productivity and a diminished performance to higher medical bills and the potential for workplace incidents, an employee who is suffering from addiction can spiral downhill fast and take your company’s reputation with it.

Depressed businessman

So what do you do? How in the world do you address the issue so that your employee can get the help they need? Here are some steps you can take to rectify the matter:

1. Determine if There is a Problem

You don’t want to jump to conclusions and accuse your employee without first reviewing the facts. Before approaching anyone on the matter, take a quick assessment of the employee in question and their behavior over a given period of time in the workplace. Some things you might consider asking yourself include:

  • Has their absence record suddenly changed? – unexplained or frequent missed time from work from an otherwise very reliable employee might insinuate that there is something going on in their personal lives.
  • Has their behavior changed? – mood swings can be a sign of substance abuse and/or other mental health issues. Pay attention to how your employee acts. Are they depressed and isolated, easily agitated and irritable? Have others voiced concerns about their behavior?
  • Has their work ethic changed? – Is a normally productive employee now seemingly producing less work? Maybe they’re missing deadlines, providing work with errors, or not being kind to customers and other staff members?
  • Has their appearance changed? – physical signs of substance abuse can include things like weight loss, pale skin, red eyes, or poor hygiene.

If you review each of these areas and determine that the staff member in question falls into more than one of these categories, then you’ll need to decide what to do next.

2. Addressing the Issue

Once you’ve gathered enough information you’ll need to address the matter with your employee. Make sure that you provide a safe haven for them so that they can feel comfortable in opening up to you about their issue with substance abuse. While you may feel the need to have someone from human resources or management in the room with you, you should keep the amount of people to a minimum.

Talk with your staff member about the signs that you’ve witnessed lately and express your concern. Give them the floor to speak on their issue freely. If you cannot get them to admit to their issue, but you sincerely believe it is a problem, you can try the following:

  • Alcohol and Drug Policy – go over the alcohol and drug policy that your company has established. Review the consequences for using substances in the workplace or coming to work when “high” or “drunk”. Go over the possibility of them losing their job and the opportunities they have for getting help as all employees have that right under the law.
  • Blood Tests – Another option to determine for sure if your employee is suffering from addiction is to request a blood test. While some lethal drugs like heroin can leave the bloodstream fairly quickly, if they’re an abbot user you should be able to find traces of it with an on the spot request.

Once it has been determined that your employee is in fact dealing with a drug or alcohol problem, it is your responsibility as an employer to encourage them to get help.

Addiction therapy

3. Getting Help for Your Staff

There are plenty of options for your staff to receive help with their substance abuse issue. Some of the most common avenues for help might include:

  • A support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous where your employee can talk with other recovering addicts about their issues.
  • Therapy with a specialized drug and alcohol addiction counselor provides one on one sessions for your employee so that they can talk about their underlying issues and receive assistance in kicking the habit mentally.
  • Rehab facilities are best for employees that admit to suffering from addiction and are willing to get help. Rehab facilities offer short term care options for participants that will help them detox from the substance, get the therapy they need, while also learning to live a sober life.

Unfortunately, if your employee refuses to get help you will have no other choice but to terminate them as they are a danger to themselves as well as to other staff.

No employer wants to find out that their staff might be dealing with an issue as major as drug or alcohol addiction, but it happens more times than not. When the issue begins to unfold in the workplace, it is your responsibility to recognize the signs, talk with your employee, and offer them with avenues for help. Though it may take time for them to fully recover, getting treatment is the best thing they can do for themselves and the future of their careers.


American Addiction Centers, Heroin Withdrawal Timeline, Dangers, and Treatment.

Dan Winsniewski, March 2, 2013. You Suspect an Employee is Using Drugs: Now What?

Lisa Guerin, Handling Employee Alcohol and Drug Use.