Signs an Employee is Struggling with Substance Abuse (And How to Help)

Signs an Employee is Struggling with Substance Abuse

What to Look For (And How to Help)

Running a business is hard enough without having to worry about employees showing up intoxicated or high. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse impacts people from all walks of life – your staff is not immune. As a manager or business owner, it’s important to watch for signs of substance abuse so you can intervene early and help the employee get back on track.

What are some red flags to watch for? Here are a few of the most common indicators:

Increased lateness and absenteeism

If a normally punctual employee starts showing up late or calling in sick more often, it could point to a substance abuse issue. Addictions often make it hard for people to stick to routines and meet obligations. The hangovers, withdrawals, and mental side effects make getting to work on time a challenge.

Declining personal hygiene

You expect employees to show up well-groomed and professional. But if you notice someone looking increasingly unkempt – disheveled clothes, body odour, greasy hair – it could stem from the apathy and lack of motivation associated with addiction. Substance abuse consumes a person’s time and energy, leaving little room for self-care.

Bloodshot or glazed eyes

Eyes that are perpetually red, glassy, or dilated may indicate ongoing drug use or intoxication. Of course, other health conditions can also cause eye changes, so don’t jump to conclusions. But combined with other symptoms, this should raise suspicions.

Mood swings and irritability

Drugs and alcohol affect a person’s brain chemistry and ability to regulate emotions. You may notice an employee who is typically even-keeled suddenly becoming anxious, depressed, quick to anger, or emotionally volatile. Substance abuse destabilises mood.

Financial troubles

Drug and alcohol addictions are expensive! An employee who asks coworkers for money or has unusual cash flow issues may be funnelling funds toward substance abuse. They may even steal company property to sell for drug money.

Frequent injuries and accidents. Impaired reflexes and judgment increase the likelihood of injuries – both on and off the job. Employees who come to work with frequent bruises, cuts, sprains, or other trauma may have a problem. Within the workplace, if they operate machinery, you may notice more mishaps and accidents.

How should you handle an employee exhibiting these warning signs?

Here are some dos and don’ts:

DO have a clear, written drug and alcohol policy that is consistently enforced. Make sure all employees understand rules, testing procedures, and consequences. Never make exceptions or accusations without evidence.

DO NOT immediately terminate the employee without taking steps to help. With rare exceptions, addiction is an illness – not a moral failing. Have an open conversation to learn more about what they’re going through. See if counselling, rehab, or adjustments to their duties can help them recover and remain employed.

DO speak to the employee privately to express your concerns. Point out specific troubling behaviours without making assumptions. Voice worry for their wellbeing and let them know help is available. Listen openly and judgement-free to understand what they are going through.

DO NOT ignore warning signs or hope the problem resolves itself. Substance addiction often spirals out of control without intervention. The earlier you reach out, the better the odds of reversing the situation before permanent damage is done.

DO consider offering counselling, rehab, and ongoing support. Paid time off to attend treatment can be an affordable investment compared to losing a trained employee. Make sure they know their job remains secure as long as they follow recommendations to get sober and stay compliant with treatment programs.

Running a business with recovering addicts on staff has challenges, but also rewards. With compassion and proper help, many can regain their health, repair broken trust, and return to being productive members of the team. By handling substance abuse issues promptly and professionally, you can hopefully make a positive difference in an employee’s life while also protecting your business’s interests.

Photo by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Testing

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

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