At some point in your career, you are likely to witness the effects of drug or alcohol addiction in the workplace. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 14 million Americans either abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. This boils down to one in every 13 adults. These figures don't include individuals with other addictions, so you can imagine how likely it is that addiction affects your workplace in one form or another.
Knowing that likely work with someone dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction, it's imperative that you arm yourself with the knowledge on how to handle such a situation. A lack of confidence in regards to dealing with the situation can easily lead to the problem being ignored. This is the worst-case scenario, as a worker under the effects of addiction is more than just a drain on efficiency, he is also a huge safety risk.
One of the first things you should educate yourself about is the availability of any employer-sponsored resources that may be available. Many companies offer access, free of charge, to an employee assistance program that provides confidential counseling to employees. If a co-worker trusts you enough to admit an addiction to drugs or alcohol or if you are a supervisor concerned about an employee, it's imperative to quickly point the employee in the direction of the EAP. It's also beneficial to know that studies say some people are more prone to addiction issues, such as hospitality workers being more prone to alcohol abuse.
What if you suspect a co-worker is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction but that co-worker doesn't confide in you? It's incredibly important to report any questionable behaviors to your supervisor so that she can follow company procedure to address the problem. Some behaviors to look out for are mood swings, frequent tardiness or absences, changes in appearance or work performance, and the scent of drugs or alcohol.
Your company's human resources department should have guidelines in place to help supervisors deal with such an employee. You should always offer compassion and help, but an employee dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction must still be held to the same company rules as everyone else. Remember, unless you are a supervisor, it's not your job to confront the employee, and even if you are the supervisor, it's not your job to diagnose. Simply provide information to the employee about the available resources, and hold him to the same rules as the rest of the workforce.
Preparing yourself for an encounter with addiction in the workplace is a huge benefit to you, your employer and the addicted individual. Even if you're lucky enough to not experience or encounter drug or alcohol addiction yourself, you most likely know someone else who can benefit from the information. The more educated about addiction a workforce is, the better the outcome.
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