Recognising the Symptoms of Addiction at the Workplace

Young office employee looking distressed

Substance abuse at work is costly: according to estimates, the UK economy loses £21 billion to alcohol abuse and £15 billion to drug abuse every year. Furthermore, employers lose around £7.3 billion yearly as a result of lack of productivity due to misuse of alcohol.

With drug and alcohol addiction on the rise, the ability to quickly recognise its symptoms is becoming an increasingly important skill for employers and managers to protect the health and safety of their workforce as well as the reputation of their business.

Below are some of the most common symptoms that could potentially indicate an employee might be struggling with substance abuse:

Behavioural Changes

One of the most obvious signs that could indicate drug and/or alcohol misuse is a change in an individual’s typical demeanour. Whilst some behaviour changes are easy to spot, such as unusual irritability and aggression, others can be subtler to notice. Has a typically outgoing individual become reclusive and withdrawn? Maybe someone who usually takes care of their appearance is now coming to work looking unkempt and dishevelled?

Despite none of these behaviours being a sure enough sign to conclude someone is abusing drugs or alcohol, it is important to address them and find out the reason behind them, regardless of whether this is substance abuse or not.

Tired employee asleep on desk

Decrease in Productivity and/or Quality of Work

As an employer, you know your employees’ abilities. You know their strengths and weaknesses, and you know the level they typically perform to. If you notice they begin slipping, make sure to investigate the reason. Whist the drop in performance could simply be due to professional burnout, it is likely that something else could be causing it.

It may seem very far from reality that a drug or alcohol problem could be adversely affecting your employee or colleague’s life, but it is important to remember that addiction can happen to anyone, even the most responsible of individuals.

Increased Absenteeism

According to figures published by WorkSmart, 17 million working days are lost every year in the UK due to alcohol-related absence. Indeed, employees who engage in substance abuse and misuse tend to miss more work as compared to those who don’t.

Individuals who struggle with addiction can begin losing control of their day-to-day routines as their addiction progresses, which is why an increase in absences could potentially be an indicator of a problem.

Physical Health Issues

Stressed and exhausted employee

Addiction affects one’s physical health very quickly. Some common physical symptoms of substance abuse include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Sudden weight changes
  • Dental issues
  • Marks on the skin
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Constant pains/aches
  • Stomach distress

Whilst a one-time occurrence of any of these could easily be attributed to an illness, an employee being physically unwell often could indicate that there is something more at play.

Evident Financial Difficulties

Upkeeping an addiction can be incredibly expensive, and it is usually a matter of time until the individual suffering from it begins experiencing serious financial struggles. 

Maybe they’re regularly requesting advances on their salary or to borrow money against their retirement agreement? Or maybe they’ve asked you or one of their colleagues for money directly? All of these can be serious red flags and could signal a substance abuse problem.

Employee in distress being comforted by a colleague

Managing Risk

One of the most effective ways to identify and manage substance misuse at work is by implementing an active workplace drug testing policy. This will not only help minimise absenteeism and reduced productivity, but it will also allow you to provide employees who might be suffering from addiction with the help and resources they need.

Not sure where to begin? Meduc8ion’s Drug & Alcohol Testing Training Course can help! Our course will train you and/or your appointed employees to perform a wide range of alcohol and drug tests to help you ensure the safety of your workforce and your organisation. Click the button below to book your place!

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