Clock Out: It’s Time to Stop Ignoring Workplace Addiction

With so many employees impaired on the job, it's time to have an open, honest dialogue.

Years ago, one of my bosses had a substance abuse problem – one that was well-known around the office. She didn’t just party a little too hard at work functions; she’d also miss meetings entirely, lash out unnecessarily at her subordinates, and pour vodka into her coffee every morning.

Unfortunately she wasn’t the only person I’ve known who used in the workplace.

Substance Abuse in the Workforce

During the last year of my prison sentence, I was assigned to an employment supervisor while I was at a work-release facility. She was much less discreet than my former boss, as she carried a flask in her purse and had liquor on her breath when she came to pick us up from work. One time, in the middle of the afternoon, she drove us home after our shift, barely able to speak through all her slurring. Because we were inmates, we couldn’t confront her about her drinking and demand a new ride. Instead, we just buckled our seat-belts and held on tight as we bobbed and weaved down the road back to the facility.

We all know chemical dependency doesn’t discriminate and it can turn up in the unlikeliest of places – even at work. In fact, many of us have probably known someone who has either used alcohol or drugs on the job.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76 percent of people with substance abuse problems are employed, and about 19.2 million U.S. workers (15 percent) reported using or being impaired by alcohol at work at least once in the past year.

This reckless behavior has significant consequences for your company and those around you, such as absenteeism, loss of productivity, and an increase in injuries/accident rates.

Is There a Solution?

So how do we combat this phenomenon? It’s a tricky situation, according to experts, since there’s a fine line between calling out an employee’s behavior and becoming a liability yourself – especially if you don’t have cold, hard proof of the other’s drug or alcohol use. That’s why more than half of employers (approximately 57 percent) have begun utilizing workplace drug programs that deal with drug testing before hiring, drug testing during employment, and implementing consequences for violating the rules.

However, as the opioid epidemic in our country ravages on, it remains to be seen how workplaces will handle the increasing number of employees struggling with substance abuse issues on the job. Hopefully, better methods of intervention will be determined, and employees can overcome their fear of liability to help get their co-workers the professional help they deserve.

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