Drug Use in the Workplace: Guide for Employers

November 27, 2017

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Drug Use In The Workplace

Drug use in the workplace is a serious issue that could potentially affect an individual working at any business. As an employer, it is important to become as educated as possible on the subject of drug use and addiction so that each business can succeed and run efficiently.  Before we learn how employers can put an end to workplace drug use, we must first understand some of the reasons why people get addicted to drugs in the first place.

Why People Get Addicted to Drugs

The reasons why people become addicted to drugs varies from person to person, but it can mainly be determined by environmental, developmental, or biological factors according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

One article from the NIDA website explains what addiction is and how do people become addicted:

“Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.”

  • Environmental determinants: Influences such as economic status, family and friends, abuse of any kind, peer pressure, and parental guidance are all environmental determinants that can result in addiction within an individual. A person’s environment can determine what surrounds them; if they are exposed to drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, their chances for developing addiction or a substance abuse disorder increase.
  • Developmental determinants: How an individual develops as he or she grows into an adult can have a significant impact on their chances of developing an addiction or not in the future. If a person begins using drugs from a young age, it will affect how their brain will develop; they can have problems with self-control, decision-making, risky behaviors, and poor judgment.
  • Biological determinants: The genes that an individual was born with can impact their chances of developing an addiction to drugs later on in life. Also, if a person has a mental illness, they may be more likely to form a co-occurring disorder (which is a dual diagnosis of a mental health problem and a substance abuse disorder together).

How the Workplace Can Contribute to Drug Use and Addiction

The last reason why people can potentially become addicted to drugs was biological determinants, and this includes co-occurring disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that “people with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder,” and also that “approximately 7.9 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders in 2014.” Careers, work obligations, and workplace are known for causing stress in individual’s lives, so addiction can be formed as a result. An article from U.S. News shares Ted’s story regarding drug use in the workplace.

It states:

  • Ted is an account manager in a productive financial firm. He’s fun-loving and always a hoot at the company happy hours. But over the five years, Ted has worked at the firm, his drinking has escalated. As he gained responsibilities and more stress, the weekly happy hour quickly transitioned into a drink every day after work, and then a few drinks. Recently, Ted started having a few cocktails over his lunch. The other day, his boss found him asleep at his desk. Unfortunately, Ted’s story is not unusual. Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is a common problem in this country. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 70 percent of the 14.8 million Americans who abuse drugs are employed. And 24 percent of workers admit drinking during the day at least once in the past year. When an employee abuses drugs or alcohol, there can be serious ramifications, including injuries, absenteeism, traffic accidents and lost productivity.
    • How Employers Can Handle Drug Use in the Workplace

      1. Create new policies — The first thing employers must do is create policies regarding drug and alcohol use in the workplace. Make each employee read and sign an agreement stating that they understand those policies and will abide by them.
      2. Watch out for the signs of drug use — Looking for drug use in the workplace setting is not as easy as if you were watching out for a close friend or family member. Pay attention to any employee who constantly has problems with attendance or doesn’t show up for work at the last minute. Notice the behaviors of the suspected person to see if they’re acting differently than they always have in the past, or if they are being unusually loud, aggressive, argumentative, or even timid and reserved. If they have bloodshot eyes, slur their speech, or sleep, you may want to investigate further.
      3. Deal with each situation appropriately — Confronting an issue dealing with drug use in the workplace can be very uncomfortable. The best thing you can do to prepare for the situation is to gather evidence that may prove that they have an addiction. Schedule a private meeting with the employee, keep the focus on their performance and not their possible addiction, realize that the employee may fight back or be in denial, and consider planning an intervention.
      4. Offer your support — Don’t just discuss the issue with your employee and leave it at that; let them know that there are many different forms of treatment available to them. Direct them to get serious help, and if your business offers health plans that cover substance abuse disorders, make it known that there’s an option for them to utilize it.

      Employers can help an individual who is suffering from drug use to not only address the problems they are facing at work but also to help the person in their personal life.

      An article from The Hill explains one way that employers can respond to this difficult situation of drug use in the workplace:

      • One of the most important aspects in addressing opioid dependency is being able to face and engage the problem. Given the current negative social stigma attached to an opioid dependency, doing so can be difficult. Employees may not reach out for help for either themselves or their dependents because of concern over how others will perceive them and their capabilities as an employee, parent or spouse. In response, employers should advertise that the health plans they offer cover medical, behavioral, and pharmaceutical treatments for substance abuse. This can help in reducing the stigma associated with opioid abuse so that employees will feel comfortable coming forward for help.

      It is important to keep your business a place of open and honest communication with each other when handling the tough circumstances of drug use in the workplace. Employers need to make their business and their employees approachable and helpful in these situations.

      If you are concerned about drug use in the workplace, call Stop Your Addiction to learn about the different treatment options available for your unique situation. Call us today to begin your road to recovery!

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