How can employers help to identify and tackle substance abuse in the workplace?

Substance abuse – the misuse of alcohol, drugs, and other chemical substances – is one of the biggest threats to American businesses these days, affecting companies and colleagues dearly, as well as endangering the lives of employees. It is estimated that drug and alcohol addiction costs the US economy over $700 million annually, while the personal cost can be much, much higher. Therefore, it is vital for employers to be able to recognize and understand the symptoms of substance abuse so that they monitor and support their staff members carefully. 

The issue of drug and alcohol misuse

It has been suggested in recent years that substance abuse may in part be due to the stressful nature of many jobs; modern lives are fast-paced and frequently wracked with pressure, and it is not unheard of for those burdened by responsibility to crack and turn to drink or drugs as a means of escape. This image of high-status businessmen and women turning to chemical enhancement as a coping mechanism is far removed from the usual stereotype of drug and alcohol addicts. Therefore, it is more important than ever for employers to be vigilant; it isn’t always the most obvious employees who will be affected.

The personal affects of drug and alcohol use and misuse are widely documented and understood. From financial problems, family disintegration, and domestic violence, to loss of employment and the eventual health problems associated with chemical misuse, addiction has the power to rip families and communities apart, and even kill those who are struggling under its spell. What is perhaps a little less known, though, is the lasting effect of substance abuse on the workplace. Whether it’s drug abuse, alcoholism, or a different sort of chemical dependency, substance abuse can cost companies dearly. Incapacitated staff unable to do their job properly, lost resources and members of the workforce, or even property damage or the threat of violence can lead to a loss of trust and a fearful workplace environment, not to mention the monetary costs accrued. 

Identifying potential substance abuse problems in the workplace

It is essential that business owners, managers, and supervisors in particular be trained in spotting the signs of a colleague’s addiction. For example, changes in work attitude or performance, mood swings, withdrawal from responsibility, a change in appearance, regular sick leave, absences without notification, and even threatening behavior are all symptomatic of substance abuse and should be quickly noted. It is essential that senior staff members attend regular training, which will enable them to spot symptoms, be encouraged in an empathetic approach, and take the appropriate steps to offer their full support and guidance. The key to tackling substance abuse is help, not judgment, as well as ensuring that colleagues are treated fairly, addressing any underlying issues, and demonstrating the company’s support for its employees. What may initially appear to be laziness, sporadic illness, or a lack of care in their appearance could quickly descend into something more serious. It can be difficult to decide when to step in, but with the appropriate training and advice, employers can act with confidence.

For these reasons, regular drug testing in the workplace has become more commonplace and acceptable, particularly in security conscious and safety critical roles. These random tests enable employers to identify problems without discrimination, so reliable drug testing services are absolutely key to identifying issues early. Oral fluid lab tests, which can be carried out within the workplace, are fast becoming the most reliable and trusted means of testing employees and can be incredibly accurate when used correctly. While the issue of drug testing within the workplace isn’t without its criticisms, it really is one of the best ways for employers to safeguard their employees.

While the effects of substance abuse touch everyone, it is particularly important for employers to take control and learn to understand and treat the symptoms; it is their prerogative and responsibility to keep their employees safe as well as protect their company against the damaging effects of substance abuse.