substance abuse in the workplace

7 Common Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Drug use among the workforce in the United States has increased quite a bit over the last few years.

The results of one study showed that, of 10 million workforce urine tests, 4.2 percent of them tested positive for at least one illicit drug.

Plenty of workers in the U.S. are abusing drugs, and many of them are abusing them while they’re on the job. 

You might assume that none of your workers could be guilty of this, but you might be surprised once you start to dig a little deeper. 

Listed below are seven of the most common signs of substance abuse in the workplace that ought to be aware of.

1. Mood Changes

One of the most common signs of drug abuse — in or out of the workplace — is a change in mood.

Do you have an employee who has recently gone from being friendly and cheerful to irritable and withdrawn?

You might notice that the opposite is true, too. Maybe they were once a low energy employee and have suddenly become drastically more energetic and productive.

There are a lot of reasons why these mood changes might occur, including drug abuse.

2. Poor Hygiene

Has an employee who once took great pride in their appearance started to show up to work looking disheveled? Are they clearly not prioritizing their appearance? Do they appear unshowered, unshaven, or generally unkempt?

If this is the case, they may be neglecting their self-care practices because they’re more focused on drug use. They may also be having a hard time staying ahead of the negative toll frequent drug abuse can take on one’s appearance. 

3. Frequent Absences

Do you have an employee who has been absent more often than usual? Do they call out sick at the last minute or not show up at all? 

You might also notice that an employee disappears at work for long periods of time.

If every time you look over at their desk, they’re away from it, this might be an indicator that they’re slipping away to consume drugs in private. 

4. Frequent Accidents

If you’ve noticed that an employee is less careful lately and is making more mistakes than usual, this could be an indicator that they’re intoxicated while on the job.

If they are causing accidents or are coming close to causing accidents on a regular basis, you may need to entertain the possibility that they’re consuming substances that hinder their attention to detail and ability to focus during the workday.

5. Relationship Changes

Have you noticed that two employees who were once great friends no longer speak to each other? On the flip side, have you noticed that two employees who once never had anything to do with each other are now close friends?

Either of these situations could be a sign that an employee is using drugs.

6. Missing Items

Drug habits can be expensive to maintain, and drug addicts will often go to extreme length to keep up their habit.

If you’ve noticed that items have gone missing from your office, or if there is less money in the cash register than there ought to be, you may be dealing with an employee who’s abusing drugs and hurting the business to continue doing so.

7. Increased Fatigue

Do you have an employee who always seems to be falling asleep at their desk?

Everyone has days when they’re more tired than usual. If this is a regular occurrence, though, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Many drugs have sedative effects, including anxiety medications, alcohol, and prescription painkillers. If your employee is using these drugs while they’re at work, they may have a hard time staying awake and alert.

Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

If you notice any of these signs of drug abuse in your office or workplace, you might be wondering whether you should intervene.

If your employee isn’t hurting anyone else or stealing from the company, it might be tempting to turn a blind eye to the issue.

Before you take this approach, it’s important to understand the negative effects that substance abuse has on the workplace.

The following are some of the most serious issues substance abuse can cause if it goes unchecked:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Poor decision-making and unnecessary risks
  • Low workplace morale 
  • Lower rates of job satisfaction
  • Higher turnover rate
  • Higher levels of stress

All of these things can have a negative effect on your bottom line and prevent your business from being as profitable or innovative as it could be otherwise.

Remember, substance abuse in the workplace affects everyone, even though it’s not always obvious. For example, other workers may be picking up the slack due to the lack of productivity in the worker who’s abusing drugs. 

What to Do About Substance Abuse in the Workplace

You can see that it’s important to step in and take action if you spot signs of drug abuse in the workplace. What’s the best way to handle this issue, though?

The following are some steps you can take to protect your business and other employees while also ensuring your worker gets the help they need:

  • Document their behavior
  • Learn about your company’s Employee Assistance Program
  • Talk to your HR representative about your options
  • Consult your lawyer to ensure you’re in compliance with the law when you address the issue
  • Have an honest discussion with your employee about their behavior and what you’ve noticed
  • Approach them gently and express your concern
  • Refer them to your company’s EAP or give them resources to learn about other beneficial programs

Remember not to be aggressive or hostile when you sit down with your employee. Treat them like a friend and avoid threatening to fire them. This will cause them to get defensive and become unreceptive to your message.

Get Help for Your Workers Today

Now that you know more about the signs of substance abuse in the workplace and how to handle these issues, it’s time to act.

If you have an employee (or multiple employees) who are showing signs of drug abuse, you need to address the issue as soon as possible.

Remember, employees who abuse drugs at work put themselves and the rest of the business at risk.

Keep this information in mind so you can ensure they get the help they need. Recommend they contact us at The Discovery House, too, to learn more about our drug abuse treatment programs.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.