Employee Substance Misuse
Substance misuse is a serious public health challenge. It includes the use of illegal drugs and the inappropriate use of legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Whether through overindulgence in alcohol, misuse of prescription medication, or use of illegal drugs, such misuse is harmful to our health. Substance misuse also impacts the workplace.
The workplace offers a framework for counteracting the denial and manipulation that often accompany substance misuse. Most people will not risk their primary source of income. The employer has an opportunity to have a positive impact in providing employees with resources and help. Workplace interventions work.
Possible physical symptoms of substance misuse include:
• Drowsiness or falling asleep on the job
• Bloodshot eyes
• Constricted or dilated pupils
• Runny nose
• Watery eyes
• Unsteady gait
Possible emotional and behavioral symptoms of substance misuse include:
• Mood swings
• Angry outbursts
• Isolation and withdrawal
• Impaired concentration
• Panic attacks
• Lack of concern for personal appearance and hygiene
Work behaviors that might be associated with substance misuse include:
• Disappearing from the work area
• Frequent absences
• Noticeable drop in job performance
• Outrageous excuses for behavior
• Small accidents
• Increased mistakes and errors
• Not following safety rules
If you suspect an employee may be misusing alcohol or drugs, there are ways that you can help:
• Establish a drug and alcohol-free workplace program
• Written policy
• Employee education at all levels
• Supervisor training
• Drug testing
• Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
If you are a Canopy EAP customer, promote support from Canopy:
• Consultations with Canopy clinicians for HR and managers about employees they are concerned about.
• Confidential assessment, counseling, and support.
• Appropriate treatment referrals and assisting members in arranging referrals.
• Online Substance Misuse Learning Center:
- Recorded webinar: “What Everyone Needs to Know About Drugs and Addiction”
- Articles and links to additional resources
• Scheduled webinars:
- Drug & Alcohol Awareness
- Reasonable Suspicion Training for Managers
- Mental Health in the Workplace: A Manager’s Role
Promote support from your health plan:
• Prevention programs
• Screening for substance misuse
• Appointments with primary care physicians, behavioral health providers, and specialists
• Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs
To avoid enabling an employee, you should refrain from doing the following for them:
• Cover up for them
• Counsel them
• Allow a family member to call in sick for them
• Give their job responsibilities to others in the workplace
• Make excuses for them to their colleagues
• Allow them to come in late
• Fail to refer them to the company’s EAP
It is important to document and address issues rather than ignore an employee struggling with misuse or addiction. Focus on an employee’s performance and behavior. The actions you take can help employees get the help they need and keep the workplace functioning smoothly and safely.
Workplace safety still comes first when it comes to substance misuse. However, no employee is immune to struggle. They do not anticipate having personal issues – but they happen. Offering resources does not mean employees get a free pass. It creates an opportunity for them. Privacy, confidentiality, respect, and support are crucial in encouraging employees to seek help.
Patty K. Schneider Patty K. Schneider is an Associate Program Manager for the Occupational Health Team and manages the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL). She has been involved in Behavioral Health and EAP services for over 25 years.