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Recognizing Drug & Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

Recognizing Drug & Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace has steadily increased since the beginning of the virus pandemic in 2020.  Since then, the number of workers who miss work or perform poorly on the job has nearly doubled.  According to the 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update, substance use now affects 49% of American workers.  

As a result of employee substance use at home or in the workplace, companies suffer expensive consequences.  The losses reach $100 billion a year, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI).   

How Employee Substance Abuse Affects the Workplace 

Substance abuse by employees can cause a variety of problems.  These problems can include costly medical, social, and performance issues. Furthermore, they can affect both the employer and other employees who are trying to do a good job.  So, if a person comes to work hungover, or uses substances while at work, the entire workplace suffers.

Substance abuse by workers can lead to the following issues:

  • Repeated tardiness.
  • Hungover, sleeping on the job.
  • Poor decision-making. 
  • Inability to focus on tasks.
  • Reduced efficiency.
  • Trouble getting along with co-workers.
  • Stealing from the employer or co-workers.
  • Selling drugs while at work.
  • Using drugs or alcohol while on the job.
  • More likely to injure themselves or others.

Studies show that nearly 6% of heavy drinkers showed up at work high or drunk in the past year.  With that in mind, could you recognize if a co-worker is using drugs or alcohol on the job?

Spotting a Co-Worker’s Substance Use on the Job

Surprisingly, substance use in the workplace is not as isolated as we might think.  In fact, studies show that 10 to 20 percent of workers who died at work tested positive for drugs, alcohol, or both.  

Here are some ways to detect drug and alcohol abuse in your workplace:

  • Unexplained absenteeism.  If someone is missing from their desk or worksite without an excuse or reason, it could be a sign they are using drugs or alcohol.
  • Chronically late.  If a coworker is always late on Mondays, it could be due to heavy partying over the weekend.
  • Unexplained accidents.  Someone who frequently gets odd injuries while at work may be high.
  • Over-reacting to incidents.  If a coworker goes into fits of rage over small things that happen during the workday, it may be a sign of substance use.

Of course, these suggestions are not meant to make you feel that you must spy on your coworkers.  Also, there could be other explanations for their behavior.   But, if you do notice these signs, how should you react?  

How to Handle Suspected Workplace Substance Use

If you suspect a coworker of substance use during work time, it puts you in a tricky position.  Do you say something, and risk the repercussions if you’re wrong?  Or, if you don’t say anything, could someone get hurt and you’d feel responsible?  It’s a difficult position to be in, but there are some subtle ways to handle the situation.

  1. Document any evidence you think will support your suspicions. This should only include workplace behaviors.  
  2. Ask for a private meeting with your manager or human resources supervisor.
  3. Don’t confront the coworker yourself.
  4. Share your concerns with the manager and show them the evidence you documented.
  5. Let the manager or supervisor handle the situation from there.  

Most companies today have specific guidelines to follow in these instances.  In most cases, they will do what they can to help the person get treatment.  Being caught or accused of substance use in the workplace doesn’t mean the person automatically loses their job.  Many companies allow a person to return to work after completing a rehab program.

What Steps are Necessary to Create a Drug-Free Workplace?

When it comes to creating a culture that emphasizes a drug-free environment, business owners and managers have a big responsibility.  But, they can reach out to state and federal resources for assistance.

Here are some things managers, supervisors, CEO’s, and other business professionals can do to prevent employee drug use at work:

  • Establish a clear policy about workplace substance use.
  • Include pre-employment drug testing and random drug testing.
  • Make sure employees are informed about the consequences of failing a drug test.
  • Allow time off for people in treatment or recovery from substance use according to the ADA guidelines.
  • Provide health insurance for employees that includes coverage for substance abuse treatment.
  • Ensure that the company drug policies are in compliance with federal or state laws.

Small businesses owners also struggle with drug and alcohol use in the workplace.  Also, they are less likely to have programs in place to address the issue.  For that reason, the US Department of Labor offers a workplace kit to help small business owners create and maintain a drug-free environment.  

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Cycles of Change Recovery

Recognizing drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is a great start in reducing additions.  But, making sure a person gets effective treatment is the ultimate goal.  Choosing the right program is another way to ensure that a person overcomes an addiction.

At Cycles of Change Recovery, we offer a unique, individualized approach to treatment.  We want our patients to get the perfect level of care for their specific needs.  Also, our team of skilled professionals is dedicated to ensuring the comfort and safety of our patients as they progress through the program.  We strive to help a person realize their true potential and provide the counseling and guidance they need to reach their goal of substance-free living.  

Contact us today at our Palmdale, California facility to learn more about our programs.  After you take this first step, we’ll be there to guide you through the rest.   


  1. businesswire.com/ – 49% of US Workers are Struggling with Alcohol and Substance Abuse
  2. standard.com/ – Behavioral Health in the Workplace
  3. workplace-dynamics.com/ – Building Blocks for a Drug-Free Workplace

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