How to Identify if an Employee is Experiencing Challenges with Substance Use

Prohibited substance use is a concern for everyone in a workplace. There are direct and indirect human and economic impacts to uncontrolled employee substance use, including the loss of productivity, absenteeism, increased safety risks, retention and recruitment costs, as well as disability insurance costs. Having a comprehensive approach to workplace health can help reduce these effects on an organization. The ability to identify if an employee is experiencing substance use challenges is an important first step. 

Signs and symptoms are:

  • Changes in productivity: An employee’s productivity may fluctuate drastically. In an attempt to mask a reduction in their productivity, an employee may at times seek to work more than expected.
  • Changes in attendance: An employee’s absenteeism may increase. In addition to missing days at work, they may arrive late, leave early, and/or take long breaks. 
  • Changes in performance: An employee may not be completing work on time, or the quality of their work may decrease. Their co-workers may report that the employee is not pulling their weight or has become challenging to work with.
  • Changes in concentration: They may often seem distracted, have difficulty understanding instructions or remembering details. 
  • Changes in appearance: There are often physical signs that a person is trying to cope with substance use challenges. Some people take less care of their appearance or physical hygiene, and the condition of their skin may be affected. 
  • Changes in safe work practices: Employers may notice that an employee has a higher accident rate or is not following safety regulations. 
  • Changes in behaviour: An employee may experience mood fluctuations, irritability, or may be unusually energetic. They may also lie to cover inappropriate actions, commit theft or provide implausible excuses for their actions.

As the employer or co-workers observe changes in the employee’s behaviour, attitude and activity, it is important to look for patterns or combinations of indicators rather than focusing on single incidents. Only a medical professional can diagnose a substance use disorder.

Addiction is a mental health issue and as organizations continue to support employees in this area, addiction should be a part of the discussion. It is important to adopt a compassionate and non-judgemental approach when you become aware of an employee who has the signs and symptoms associated with uncontrolled substance use. Addressing substance use issues in the workplace requires a thoughtful approach.

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About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.