Addiction does not discriminate and can affect people from all walks of life ranging from fast food, factory and construction workers to the most heralded professionals – doctors, lawyers, judges and politicians and everyone else between. For someone who has never had to deal with addictive disorders in their own families, dealing with a substance abusing co-worker can be an eye-opening experience.
Related Blog: Addiction in the Workplace, Part 1
Substance abuse has several tell-tale signs. While, independently, these may not be issues for concern, the combination of two or more may point to a substance abuse problem. The list includes:
– Poor attendance or tardiness
– Periods of time during the workday where the person cannot be found
– Physical attributes such as chills, perspiration, weight loss and physical deterioration
– Increased aggression, anxiety, depression or paranoia
– Excessive talking or irritability
– Lack of energy, poor attention span or lack of motivation
– Carelessness – making repeated mistakes
– Involvement in accidents – either while on duty or off-duty from work
– Being unreliable
– Unwilling to follow directions/argumentative
– Giving elaborate and unbelievable excuses
– Disregard for safety (for self and others)
– Inconsistent work habits – either quality or productivity levels
If you supervise someone you suspect of using drugs, check with your corporate human resources department or policy manual on the steps to take. If your company does not have guidelines in place, you may be able to require the employee to submit to a drug test to alleviate/confirm your suspicions.
Of course, if you work in a profession where lives are at stake, it is imperative to report your concerns following corporate guidelines. However, in most office settings, there are some suggestions:
- Identify with the person and show concern. Say you have noticed a change in behavior and express your concern for their safety and that of other workers.
- Describe your observation of their behavior, using specific days and times rather than saying “you always” and other similar phrases.
- Connect the behavior to the alcohol or drug use (or suspected use).
- Urge the person to get help and offer information about how to get it.
- Tell the person you will no longer hide the problem for him or her, but do not make idle threats. Be willing and able to follow through.
- Explain how the person’s problem use affects you and others at work.
- Reconfirm your concern. You do not need to get him/her to admit he/she has a substance problem.
- You must stand your ground with your co-worker, be consistent with your actions and be willing to follow through on any threats you make.