Addiction in the Workplace: How Employers Can Help

The Chief External Affairs Officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers guidance on dealing with employees who may be active or recovering addicts.

Posted in , Jun 25, 2018

Addiction in the Workplace: How Employers Can Help

It’s an employer’s worst nightmare. A trusted employee, addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unexplained absences. Erratic performance. Costly mistakes.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Substance abuse is a chronic disease, not a moral failing. Like any disease, it can be treated. That’s as true in the workplace as it is at home.

How should an employer respond if they suspect that an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, but some guidelines are true for almost all workplaces.

The first priority for an employer is to confront the problem as soon as possible. In fact, even before there’s a problem, employers should make sure they are aware of the latest research on addiction and treatment (for example, the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health) and have a plan for dealing with substance abuse.

If your company does not have a human resources department, reach out to treatment centers in your area for guidance.

Once you suspect an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol, don’t avoid the issue or hope it will go away. Talk to your employee and encourage them to seek treatment. Refer them to treatment centers, and connect them with an employee assistance program if your company has one. Often, substance abuse signals other significant problems in an addict’s life—divorce, financial struggles or a loved one’s death.

After an employee has entered recovery, don’t assume their work will forever be compromised. Relapse is always possible, and many addicts relapse several times before they achieve stable sobriety. Yet people in recovery can make stellar employees.

Part of the recovery process involves taking stock of one’s life, surrendering to a higher power and reengaging with the world. People in recovery can become spiritually mature, self-aware and highly motivated employees. They desperately want stability and sobriety. That will show in their work.

Employers are understandably wary about addicts and addiction. With accurate and up-to-date knowledge and the help of treatment professionals, companies can care for their employees who have substance abuse problems without compromising their bottom line. As in all things, there is hope.

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