5 ways to spot alcohol or drug addiction in the workplace

Mar 26 2019, 5:12 am

Written for Daily Hive by Tristan Elliott, a third-year BBA student who currently works in the treatment industry. He is passionate about issues affecting the local community, economy and Canada as whole.

According to Statistics Canada, over 21% of Canadians suffer from a substance-use disorder at some point during their life. It’s not uncommon like you might think. There is little doubt that workplace productivity, morale and culture are all significantly affected by drug and alcohol addiction. A healthy workforce leads to a healthy workplace.

For employers, it is often difficult to differentiate between someone who is a social user and someone who has a problem, not to mention whether or not it’s even anyone’s business.

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People who are in the midst of addiction often feel trapped, worry about stigma, and continually convince themselves that they’ll “fix it tomorrow.” They are alone, and the ability to make a change often depends on some sort of intervention.

Helping your employee or co-worker is good for the organization, good for society, and most of all good for the impacted individual and their family.

Here are some ways to spot addiction in the workplace:

  1. Physical Indicators

Depression unshaved man sadness

Unshaven man / Shutterstock

When people are healthy and in a good place, they take care of themselves.

Classic warning signs of someone who no longer has the ability or desire to function at their regular capacity are significant weight loss, an unshaven face, cessation of make-up or hairstyling, and consistent overly casual dress. Addiction always affects appearance.

  1. Absenteeism, Punctuality & Productivity

alcohol addition drunk booze

Alcoholic man / Shutterstock

If your employee is consistently showing up late, missing days without an excuse, or calling in sick more than normal, there is a strong chance that they’re struggling with something.

If you know an individual completes a set amount of work over a certain period of time, and all of a sudden they’re no longer able to produce at the same rate, you should be concerned.

Don’t turn a blind eye if deadlines start getting missed with regularity.

  1. Isolation, Mood & Temper

Psychologist sitting and touch young depressed asian woman for encouragement


Now obviously everyone starts from a different base; some people are introverts, while others are extroverts, but certain things are expected at the workplace.

Your employee should be able to communicate at the necessary level, and if they can’t, you should ask yourself why not. If you start to notice abnormal mood swings, or an increase in volatility, whether towards other employees, contractors or customers, be alarmed.

  1. Frequent Accidents & Injuries

Injured patient showing doctor broken wrist and arm / Shutterstock

We should start this part by acknowledging that accidents do happen, that’s why they’re called accidents, but if they happen more than usual, you should ask yourself why.

While under the influence, there is an increased risk of injury. There is a reason why we can’t operate vehicles impaired; don’t ignore it if you suspect someone might be exposing themselves or others to undue danger.

  1. Theft, Lies & Unexplained Behaviour


Drugs and needle (Victoria 1/Shutterstock)

Certain things are expected in any environment: reasonable behaviour, relative integrity and respect for property.

If you notice your employee is telling lies, things are going missing, or it’s difficult to account for where they are, watch out. People acting out in addiction often do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. These behaviours don’t necessarily make them bad people, they might just need your help.

If more than one of these applies, your co-worker or employee might be struggling and likely needs your support. You’ll be doing them, and everyone else in their life a favour by extending a helping hand.

A solution is a click or phone call away.

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