Any type of substance abuse will inevitably impact all areas of life. Addiction does not care about demographics or social status and can potentially affect anyone to a severe degree. Addiction in the workplace can lead to a host of problems, including professional license loss, professional liability for injuries to clients or customers, and even termination or legal action for professional negligence. Substance abuse entails an overall economic cost of around $600 billion in the United States each year, and most of that amount results from lost productivity in the workplace.
Professional Consequences Of Substance Abuse
An employer hires an employee with the understanding that the employee will always perform his or her job duties to the best of his or her abilities and refrain from any conduct that may harm the employee, his or her coworkers, or the company. Drug addiction will not only endanger the employee with the addiction but also everyone he or she interacts with in the workplace.
One of the first signs that an employee has a substance abuse problem is declining work performance. As drugs become more and more of a priority for the employee, he or she will inevitably begin displaying declining performance. The top-performing salesman using alcohol to take the edge off high-stress work days may start drinking before work. A trauma surgeon dealing with severe workplace stress may start self-medicating with narcotics. Work habits may lead to substance abuse or encourage it for some individuals. For others, substance abuse happens for other reasons and work performance invariably suffers.
Potential Danger To Clients And Customers
Some employees may pose a risk to their business’s customers or clients due to drug abuse. For example, heroin side effects can include sleepiness, disorientation, and even hallucinations. It would be incredibly dangerous for a construction worker or a delivery truck driver to use heroin before a shift. Substance abuse inevitably increases the risk of workplace accidents and injuries, which in turn leads to workers’ compensation claims, lawsuits, and ultimately drives up operating costs for a company.
Impaired professionals can also cause harm in other ways. Imagine a surgeon who starts coping with job stress by abusing prescription drugs or stimulants. He or she attempts a procedure while under the influence and nicks one of the patient’s arteries, causing traumatic bleeding and almost killing the patient. This event could not only lead to serious legal ramifications, but the surgeon will likely lose his or her license to practice medicine after so grievously harming a patient.
Withdrawal Symptoms At Work
Addiction at work will inevitably lead to withdrawal symptoms at work. Any type of drug withdrawal can entail severe symptoms that may even turn life-threatening, in some cases. This can create a panic in the workplace, or the employee’s withdrawal symptoms may begin to manifest as aggression, irritability, or erratic behavior. When an employee has a drinking problem, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can lead to life-threatening seizures, in advanced cases.
While overt symptoms, like a sudden overdose or the appearance of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms may be cause for alarm, it may take some time for an employee with an addiction to reach this point. Symptoms of addiction may remain unnoticed and unchecked for quite a long time. However, everyone should know how to spot addiction in the workplace and the signs of a coworker’s worsening addiction.
Signs A Coworker Is Struggling With Addiction
Drug addiction progresses very rapidly in some people, while it may take hold more gradually in others. However, there are a few telltale indications that coworkers should consider as warning signs for addiction. Depending on workplace culture, discussing these issues may be difficult, but bringing them up can start a meaningful conversation that encourages the person struggling with addiction to seek help before the situation worsens.
- Physical signs of alcohol abuse. An employee who abuses alcohol will likely start to smell like alcohol or carry the scent on his or her breath. Eventually, he or she may attempt to start bringing alcohol to work or taking breaks to leave for drinks.
- Behavioral issues. If you notice a coworker start arriving late on a consistent basis, arriving disheveled or unkempt, or simply not showing up at all without an excuse, this can easily lead to disciplinary action or even termination in some workplaces.
- Agitation and moodiness. If a coworker’s attitude seems to gradually worsen, or small frustration, that usually would not bother him or her, cause major blowups, he or she may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms and lashing out in response.
- Declining performance. This is one of the most common indicators of a substance abuse problem. Every job faces challenges, but a consistently high-performing employee suddenly reporting terrible performance numbers, seemingly without a good reason, may be struggling to cope with an ongoing substance abuse problem.
- Drug-specific symptoms. Some types of drug abuse entail very specific symptoms. Alcoholism can lead to an employee passing out or falling asleep at work. Cocaine abuse can cause sudden nosebleeds and high energy levels. Heroin and opioid addiction often leads to self-neglect, malnutrition, and dehydration.
When To Notify Your Supervisor
If you work with someone you suspect is using drugs, you have a moral and legal obligation to report the issue in accordance with your company substance abuse policy. Some people may feel awkward about “ratting out” a coworker, but reporting a workplace safety or health concern is entirely different. If you notice any signs of a coworker’s addiction that could pose a threat to you, other employees, or clients, you have an obligation to report it to your supervisor.
Encouraging Treatment And Recovery
Addiction at work can potentially lead to the loss of a job, but many employers understand that addiction can take root even from legitimate medical uses. Many employers have access to treatment and diversionary programs to help struggling employees return to work safely after completing substance abuse treatment. Identifying and reporting worrisome signs of addiction at work is a vital step in this process.