5 Ways to Address Addiction in workplaces

We might tell ourselves that a coworker’s drug abuse is none of our business, but that just isn’t true. Drug addiction can hurt every aspect of an addict’s life, including their professional life.

Finding early treatment is crucial. Such early treatment can help prevent further damage to the addict’s health, personal, and professional life; it can also prevent further damage to an addict’s workplace. Here are five ways you can identify and deal with a coworker who is abusing drugs.

1. Research. If you’re unfamiliar with addiction and are unsure if a coworker is an addict, plenty of information exists to help you. Many reputable medical centers, educational institutions, and anti-addiction organizations have sites that explain addiction, discuss its symptoms, and include tips about how to address it.

The internet is also a good place to find about treatment options. Sites for treatment centers often explain the effects of drugs and alcohol as well as provide information about how to treat substance abuse problems. In many cases, the addict is in need of dual diagnosis treatment; this looks at the bigger picture of both mental illness and addiction.

The following government-related sites can provide useful information:

  • U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA for Teens)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

These sites dispense medical information:

2. Observe. Is your coworker taking frequent, unexpected absences or arriving later or leaving earlier than usual? Is he or she acting differently? Does he or she appear, sound, or smell different? (For example, does your coworker have red eyes, slurred speech, or smell like drugs, alcohol, or chemicals?)

Based on the research you’ve gathered in step one, you can compare your coworker’s appearance and behavior to various symptoms of drug addiction.

3. Listen. Are other coworkers worried about this coworker? If your coworker’s drug addiction is affecting job performance, you’re probably not the only one who notices. Listen to what other coworkers have to say about this employee and his or her job performance.

By listening to these conversations, you might learn more about the employee’s life, such as whether he or she has dealt with substance abuse before, or if there is another situation going on. Maybe you’ll learn if the coworker is dealing with other issues, not addiction. Just be careful to sort legitimate coworker concerns from unproductive workplace gossip.

4. Talk. Consider talking to your coworker yourself. You might not feel comfortable asking the person directly if he or she is using, and that’s okay. However, just talking with them will allow you to observe his or her appearance and reactions and give you a better sense of whether the person is using.

You can use this conversation to ask your coworker how he or she is doing, what’s going on in his or her life, and other things. Your coworker’s answers can help you gauge how he or she is doing. If your coworker is extremely reluctant to talk or seems to be lying, those could be signs that something’s wrong. This conversation may also help build trust, which could lead to further conversations down the road.

5. Act. Talk with the people in your workplace’s human resources (HR) department. This step is especially important if your coworker’s addiction could lead to a workplace accident (e.g., if your coworker drives a bus full of passengers or operates dangerous machinery in a factory) or affect the well-being of other people (e.g., if your coworker is a medical professional responsible for the health of others).

Talking to HR doesn’t make you a tattletale. Chances are, HR already knows about your coworker’s addiction; if they don’t, they need to know since it’s their responsibility to deal with employee problems at work. If the employee’s addiction hasn’t caused any problems so far in your workplace, there’s a good chance that it will in the future. Your HR department may also have resources to deal with this issue.

You’re Not Alone

These tips illustrate that while dealing with an addicted coworker can be tricky, you don’t have to do it alone–there are people and resources available to help you and your coworker, and it’s important to take advantage of them. This can help improve the health of your coworker, and the productivity, safety, and morale of your company.

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