Substance Abuse in the Workplace: How to Spot the Signs

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

According to statistics reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 70% of substance/alcohol abusers are full-time workers. With the majority of substance abusers being employed, substance abuse in the workplace could be happening under your very nose. A more disturbing statistic cites 11 percent of fatal work injuries as a result of alcohol abuse on the job. Though you should maintain an empathetic mentality, substance abuse in the workplace poses a danger to others as equally as themselves. 

This stresses the importance of knowing the tell-tale indicators so you can monitor and act accordingly to the warning signs. With that said, bear in mind, this employee needs help before putting their lives or others at risk. Heeding these red flags to be listed can save the life of an employee and alter the trajectory of their life.

How Can You Tell an Employee is Under the Influence?

Being under the influence leaves evident physical characteristics in one’s features, body language, and speech. Having workplace knowledge of employee tendencies and personalities will help you discern between what’s normal and what’s out of place. These individual signs of substance abuse in the workplace can help you make that distinction.

Red Eyes and Dilated Pupils

Though redness can also indicate sleep deprivation, coupled simultaneously with dilated pupils is a sure sign of workplace intoxication. In the case of substance abuse, you can’t have red eyes without pupil dilation. Act immediately upon observing these sure coinciding signs of substance abuse in the workplace.

Elevated Speech Volume

Being under the influence obstructs personal volume perception. Therefore, being uncharacteristically loud and speaking more frequently may indicate an alcohol or drug problem. This boisterous behavior is often noticeable and unappealing to the consumer, which can in turn affect your business integrity.

Overwhelming Aromas (Good and Bad)

A co-worker with an above standard or overwhelming aroma of body spray or cologne could be trying to mask something. Since substances like marijuana have a very distinct scent, a masking fragrance may even mingle with the stench it’s attempting to conceal. That is why every worker must have circumstantial awareness to identify the indicating factors of substance abuse in the workplace. The safety, efficiency, and integrity of your business protocol depend on it.

What are the Red Flags of Substance Abuse off the Clock?

Substance abuse off the clock commonly manifests itself in a continually regressive performance at work. When poor work performance persistently presents itself, all parties have the right to question their off-duty habits. Remember, off-the-clock extracurriculars only become the employer’s or coworker’s business when it begins to affect themselves or others’ on-duty performance.

Uncharacteristic Call-Offs or No Shows

Uncharacteristic or persistent absences could indicate that your coworker may struggle with substance or alcohol abuse. Being sick is a common excuse an addict will use to spend their days indulging in their harmful habit. Everybody gets sick once in a while, but, if sickness becomes a monthly, weekly, or daily excuse, it’s evident there’s more going on behind the scenes. If you begin noticing a pattern in this behavior, it may be time to have a heart-to-heart with your coworker about enrolling in a rehab program.

Sluggish Work Performance

Working slower than usual for extended periods of time may be a red flag for someone struggling with substances or alcohol. Always looking tired or sluggish on the job could very well be a result of their off-duty activities. Awareness of coworkers’ personalities can help you spot if an employee’s performance is a red flag of substance abuse in the workplace or off the clock. This is one of the many reasons it is important to be involved with your team and everyday procedures.

How Do You Confront an Employee About Drug Use?

Without definitive evidence of substance abuse in the workplace or off-duty, you can’t sling accusations based purely on suspicion. You can however utilize an open door policy to express your concerns about their deteriorating appearance and work performance. Directly confronting an employee about substance abuse in the workplace outside proper protocols can become more of a problem for the employer. Indirectly addressing the issue by voicing concerns about appearance or performance is a good way to initiate the conversation. You also cannot punish or fire an employee based on suspicion alone. But again, punishment based on suffering performance or absences, which is likely to occur in wake of substance abuse, are punishable offenses

Take Action Now

If you notice any of the red flags mentioned, don’t allow this behavior to linger and spread throughout the workplace. Any employee indulging in substance abuse in the workplace poses an immediate workplace safety risk, among other atmospheric factors. While in the workplace, drug and alcohol abuse is grounds for immediate termination. If done off-site, regardless of whether evidence is present, use discretion when dealing with an individual who may struggle with substances. 

Nobody knows what another may be dealing with in their life. Some need to be strongly reprimanded while others may need to be shown the sympathetic door to rehabilitation. You can make a difference in the life of an employee and the workplace by enrolling them in a program at Little Creek Recovery. Seeing the signs of drug use at work or off the clock is only the beginning. Only action can resolve their issues and your workplace atmosphere.

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