Drug Addiction in the Workplace

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
Share On:


Addiction Is Costly

Drug addiction, addictive behaviors and alcoholism change the lives of all those who are in the life of someone suffering with addiction.  This suffering affects friends, family and co-workers.  Within the workplace the cost of addiction hurts on many levels because of increased on the job injuries, lost productivity, absenteeism, lost or unaccounted for time, and company reputation.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees who abuse substances are 25 to 30 percent less productive and miss work three times more often than non-abusing employees. Drug addiction and alcoholism increase the likelihood of workplace accidents. According to ongoing findings made by the U.S. Department of Labor, 10 to 20 percent of those who die on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol

Signs and Symptoms of a Problem

The best way to increase safety within the workplace and decrease the negative consequences for the company, is a clear understanding of signs and symptoms and what action steps employers can take is imperative.

It is not as easy as one would think to identify an employee who is struggling with addiction. Over time someone who is struggling with an addiction learns ways to minimize the outward appearance of the internal struggle. It would not be appropriate for an employer to diagnose an employee’s addiction. Rather it should have or develop an internal policy regarding the steps the employer can reasonably and lawfully take if there is a suspicion. 

Common signs that are important to look for are:

  • Accidents on or off the job 
  • Frequent tardiness with “creative” excuses
  • Excessive use of sick leave and failure to provide doctor’s. Note
  • Unexplained absences from work
  • Lengthy solitary lunches
  • Visible use of eye drops 
  • Avoidance of supervisor 
  • Excuses for missing deadlines 
  • Poor personal hygiene or grooming
  • Unusual or quick weight loss or gain 
  • Reports or communicated suspicions from fellow employees
  • Strained relationships with co-workers
  • Mood swings, belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered, rude
  • Unusual and extreme talkativeness or paranoia, tremors, sleeping on the job
  • Self-reported financial problems, borrowing money requests advances

Addiction vs Mental Health

It is important to understand the difference between addiction and mental health issues. Although addiction is considered a mental health issue there are differences in the way people experience and manage both. 

An employer will best serve the employee and the needs of the company by using any suspicion as an opportunity to connect and to provide appropriate referrals and accommodations. If an employee is displaying performance and or conduct issues in addition to some of the signs above, it is an opportunity to connect the employee with the HR Department or provide your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider information.

The Impact on Employers

Suspecting addiction in the workplace is stressful for those who have the responsibility to manage it and mitigate the impact on productivity and morale. It is common and understandable that some may experience this workplace challenge with the question, “What if I am wrong”. “What if my questions escalate the person to the point of litigation”? “Should we mind our own business”? 

The answer would most likely first need to be filtered through the effects the possible addiction is having on the company, co-workers, productivity, and health and wellness of the employee. If the actions of the employer are related to the health and wellbeing of both the employee and the company as a whole, the time to take action is when there are consequences for both sides. 

If an employer is truly dealing with addiction in the workplace, the problem of addiction does not generally go away on its own without some form of intervention.

Getting Help

Historically, people who are struggling with an addiction require professional help and community resources that are not managed or provided for by the employer. There are various resources and help available in most cities across the country. 

Depending on the company and the benefits offered, a good first place to start is with a referral to the company’s EAP provider who will work with Human Resources to take appropriate steps to help the employee and company. 

There are also anonymous programs, online resources and other community based treatment options. Supportive encouragement for your employee and reliance on company policies and procedures may get your employee the help and support they need.

National Resources

Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988: Requires some federal contractors and all federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a federal agency. 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1971: Under certain circumstances, someone with a history of alcoholism or drug addiction may be considered a qualified individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act): These Acts prohibit discrimination against employees and applicants with disabilities by covered organizations. The Equal Employment 

Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Administers and enforces the relevant section of the ADA, while DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has authority over Section 503 of the Rehab Act. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Although not required by its regulations, OSHA, the DOL agency charged with assuring the safety and health of America’s workers, strongly supports comprehensive drug-free workforce programs, especially within certain workplace environments, such as those involving safety-sensitive duties like operating machinery. OSHA created a Workplace Substance Abuse Safety and Health Topics page to provide information on the value that drug-free workplace programs add to safety and health as well as links to resources to assist in implementing such programs. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Provides information about the Federal government’s drug-free workplace program and guidance for employers on drug-testing procedures and technologies, as well as other drug-free workplace issues. 

U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC): ODAPC provides expert advice to industry representatives regarding implementation of the controlled substances and alcohol testing rules. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): The mission of the NIDA is to lead the nation in using the power of science to combat drug abuse and addiction.

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
Share On:
Skip to content