How Can you Help an Employee with a Drug or Alcohol Problem?

From an Employment Law perspective, alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace is as much an employer’s problem as it is the employee’s. Employers have a legal responsibility to care for the wellbeing, health and safety of all their employees. Substance abuse impairs concentration and judgement; the effects on the mind and body put not only the user at risk of accident and injury but also their colleagues. 

Aside from the obvious safety risks of alcohol and drug misuse, there are far-reaching effects on an organisation as a whole. Workers who use drugs or alcohol are more likely to take time off and become increasingly poor performers. This decreased productivity will have a negative impact on an organisation’s overall performance. Depending on the size and structure of a business, high levels of absenteeism and poor staff retention, as a result of substance abuse, can be catastrophic.

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What is the employer’s role?

In some instances, substance abuse can be symptomatic of a wider issue. It’s not uncommon for people to use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. While this may be because of mental health difficulties, it could also be the manifestation of a coping mechanism to deal with work-related stress. A workplace issue with substance abuse could be indicative of a wider, institutionalised culture of stress. 

Whether your organisation has already experienced instances of substance abuse, planning for the eventuality is imperative. As an employer, it’s important to be well-equipped to deal with a problem should it come to light. From recognising the signs of substance abuse to offering drug and alcohol support, it’s crucial to have a strategy and ensure that it’s shared with your workforce.

Why build a supportive workplace culture?

The workforce is a valuable asset within any organisation. Many employers invest heavily in up-skilling their staff. Increasingly, organisations are recognising the value in creating a supportive and compassionate workplace culture to improve staff retention. 

Traditionally, zero-tolerance would have been the go-to approach to alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace. More recently, many employers are recognising the value of support for alcoholism and drug addiction in affected employees. Individuals need support and understanding to overcome their issues. 

While substance misuse policies and procedures need to be clear and consistent, ensuring staff are also aware of the help and support available to them is crucial. Knowing it’s safe to seek help with alcohol or drug issues at work means individuals are more likely to do so earlier; mitigating the damaging effects of misuse on themselves, their colleagues and the business’ bottom line. 

Judgement and reprisal generally drive addiction underground. A workplace culture of blame and stigma will only serve to further entrench problems. If employees trust that their circumstances will be handled sensitively and confidentially, they’ll be more likely to seek help and be successful in sobriety.

How to provide support to your employees?

Colleagues are often the first to notice the negative impact of an individual’s alcohol or drug misuse. Dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict in the workplace requires immediate action not denial. Effective help for addicts involves positive policies that eradicate denial. Historically, a disciplinary stance would almost definitely have been taken. Today however, an employer may choose to suspend disciplinary action in favour of treating alcohol and drug misuse as a mental health matter.

Company policy should ideally state its stance on substance misuse. Viewing addiction as a mental health issue is increasingly customary, as substance abuse and mental health problems commonly co-occur. Discussions may include an assessment of the addiction and the likelihood of overcoming it. A review of the employee’s workload should also be carried out to ensure it’s not a contributing factor. A reasonable period of absence to enable recovery may also be allowed and be treated as normal sick leave. 

What is a Work Intervention Programme?

An employer could carry out a workplace intervention. In much the same way as an intervention within a family environment would take place, help for employees can be administered by a skilled individual facilitating the process. An intervention requires the employee to respond appropriately. It demands engagement with the care plan and attendance at drug or alcohol counselling. A further element is abstinence-based support for alcoholism or drug addiction. Some employers may consider contributing towards the cost of rehabilitation; perhaps involving an outside agency or residential care.

An employee should be held accountable for their choices. If they choose to forgo the opportunities for recovery provided by their employer, then the boundaries documented within the company substance misuse policy would need to be upheld. If a workplace can offer solid boundaries, such as abstinence screening, and genuine support, engagement is likely to occur sooner and with a greater chance of recovery. Employees who respond well can experience a positive outcome and return to work as fully-functioning members of the team.

Find out more about identifying the signs of alcohol and drug misuse.

At East Coast Recovery, we believe alcohol and drug misuse is an illness that can be treated. We provide the tools to help people understand and address the nature of their addiction, enabling your employee to return to work.

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