Substance Abuse in the Workplace: How to Deal with Staff Who Use Drugs

It’s certainly no secret that employees are expected to work longer hours, take on extra projects, and remain in nearly constant contact with clients, sales leads, and other members of their team. 

What’s much more of a secret? 

Substance abuse in the workplace.

It may not be talked about much, but if you suspect that someone is doing drugs at work, you might be correct. In fact, studies show that addiction in the workplace is more commonplace than ever before. 

Employees may feel that taking these drugs allows them to increase their productivity. It may be a part of the workplace culture already (whether or not you know it) and a way to fit in. 

They may drink or use drugs to “take the edge off” after meetings or during a long day. 

So, what can be done about it, and how should you respond? 

Keep on reading to find out.

Signs of Drug Use at Work

First, let’s talk about some of the most common signs of substance abuse in the workplace. 

Keep in mind that about 68% of drug users are currently employed, meaning that the image of the homeless and aimless addict is outdated. 

The hard truth is that these are people you know — and entrust with serious professional data, major projects, and client relationships.

First of all, be on the lookout for dilated pupils, red eyes, slurred speech, and shaking hands. You may also realize that, in addition to these signs, the suspected user has somewhat of an erratic appetite. 

The employee may frequently fall asleep at their desk or during meetings.

They may miss appointments, constantly show up late for work or fail to show up at all. They turn in work late, and make increasingly flimsy excuses. 

You may even suspect they’re stealing money from the company, or note that they always seem to ask for payment early. 

Some addicts may be extremely aggressive and argumentative, even to their superiors. They may act paranoid and accuse other team members of being “out to get them.”

Implement Drug Testing Policies

Making random drug tests a part of your company policy is a smart way to keep substance abuse in the workplace at bay.

Drug tests can also prevent you from hiring addicts in the first place, which can save you from potential ruin or serious conflict down the line. 

However, a drug test may also be a way for you to communicate to a team member that you realize they need help. In some cases, it can even be a means of starting a conversation. 

Be aware that many addicts may know how to pass a hair drug test or even use samples that aren’t really their own. 

This is why observing the person’s behavior and keeping thorough records, as we’ll discuss below, is so essential. 

Observe and Document

You may not be the only person in your office who suspects that this person is doing drugs at work. 

In some cases, other people on your staff may come to you with complaints or reports of erratic behavior. Ensure that you thoroughly document each of these instances. 

You should also observe the suspected addict, and take your own notes about the way they act, late projects, poor behavior, tardiness, and more. Always note the date and the time, and be as specific as you can in your reports. 

Know Your Company Policy

If your office is a part of a larger corporation, there may be overarching policies that will help you understand how to handle drug abuse in the workplace. 

Study up on these policies, and make sure you’re following the rules for documenting and reporting to the letter. 

You don’t want to accidentally open your company up to a major lawsuit — especially if the accusations turn out to be baseless.

Speak to the Employee

Once you have documentation, repeat instances of poor behavior, and know the company policy regarding testing and more, you may decide to meet with the employee. 

The most important thing here is to ensure you have a third party present. You need to make sure that the employee can’t make inaccurate complaints or statements regarding this meeting at a later date. 

In some cases, you may need to terminate the employee immediately. You may have grounds for firing them even if you never end up testing them for drugs. 

Of course, depending on your company policy and the personal relationship you have with the team member, you may want to try to get them help. 

Explain to them that you’re fully aware of what’s been going on, and tell them that you think they need to seek help. Set out the consequences of their actions without treatment (often, this will be termination.) 

However, this step should only be taken if it’s allowed by the company, or if you yourself are the business owner. 

Handling Substance Abuse in the Workplace: Wrapping Up

Substance abuse in the workplace is an unfortunate reality that employers within all industries may have to deal with. 

If you’re concerned that a team member is doing drugs in the office, it’s essential that you collect records, follow policy, and rely on the evidence of a drug test if you can. 

Looking for more advice about how to properly manage and improve communication in your workplace? Want more resources for dealing with addiction? 

No matter what you need, we’re here to help you find more sites and resources that can educate you about these essential topics. 

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