Business of Well-being

Signs Your Employee’s Alcohol and Drug Addiction is Impacting their Job Performance

Blake Cohen
National Outreach Manager
Recovery Unplugged

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2017 National Survey of Drug Use and Health indicates that approximately 19.7 million Americans suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) and that an estimated 8.5 million American adults suffer from co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. At the same time, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that approximately 70 percent of all illegal drug users are employed. Translation: there’s a more-than-decent chance that at least one of your employees is addicted to alcohol or drugs, and bringing that addiction, as well as all that it entails, to work with them every day.

Still, how can one be sure that an employee in their organization is struggling with SUD for sure? One of the reasons why this problem is so pervasive may be that it so often goes unnoticed because users hide it very well. Eventually, however, their performance declines to such a degree that it becomes impossible to ignore. By that time, however, deadlines are missed, morale is through the floor and, depending on the circumstance, the safety of your employees may be directly at risk. The trick is to recognize the signs and symptoms of employee substance abuse before it becomes an issue. While no two journeys to alcohol or drug addiction are identical, there are some common indicators that can suggest a person has a problem and knowing these signs can help.

Increased Absences

As prolonged and untreated substance use disorder persists, it becomes harder and harder to answer the alarm clock every morning. The reality of addiction is that it operates on its own timetable, and doesn’t often allow sufferers to sleep when they want to. Absences can also be due to factors like hangovers and physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that so often accompany SUD, along with lifestyle issues like relationship troubles, legal issues, family drama and more. Addiction impacts every area of a person’s life and, very often, their job is the last thing on their minds when they’re in the throes of substance use-related drama and personal turmoil.

Declining Job Performance

You know your employees. You know what they’re capable of, you know where they can improve and you know their strengths. When they start to slip, take notice and make it your business to tactfully and respectfully determine why they’re slipping. Whether it’s missed deadlines, dropping the ball on a project, lack of productivity or anything else, it’s likely there’s something behind the slip other than professional fatigue or burn-out. It may seem unthinkable that your employee is allowing drugs and alcohol to interrupt their lives, but addiction happens to everyone, even the most successful and responsible of professional adults.

Evident Financial Struggle

There are two things of which addiction starts to rob sufferers almost immediately: money and pride. Nursing an opioid or cocaine habit is expensive, and it’s only a matter of time before addicts are resorting to unconventional measures to get money to score, methods that can spill over into their professional. Are they regularly asking for advances on their salary? Are they making more and requests to borrow against their retirement agreements? Have they asked you or one of their colleagues for money personally? These can all be serious red flags to signify substance abuse and the onset of addiction.

Regular Physical Health Issues

Addiction very quickly manifests in physical health and appearance. Does your employer have a persistent runny nose, pale or marked-up skin, chronic headache or any other unusual physical symptoms? Some of the more common physical symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse include but are not limited to:

  • Extreme Changes in Weight
  • Marks and Discoloration on the Skin
  • Dental Issues
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Flu-Like Symptoms
  • Persistent Pain
  • Intestinal Distress

It’s easy to dismiss an isolated case of any of these conditions as a one-time illness; however, persistent physical sickness is often a prime indicator of withdrawal and it’s only a matter of time before an addict can no longer rally and misses work. If you notice your employee taking more and more sick days, showing up to work sick, or using their lunch hour to the doctor, it might be time to act.

Decline of Personal Hygiene and Appearance

When someone is pre-occupied with drug use or battling debilitating physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms, showering, brushing their hair or putting on clean clothes is very often a distant item on their list of priorities. Is your employee coming to work unkempt, disheveled and seemingly ignorant of their slovenly state? If so, there might be something more at play than the notion that they forgot to do their laundry or they’re having plumbing issues. While this can be a delicate subject all around, It’s not fair to the rest of your staff or your clients to let it go unnoticed to the point of regularity.

Frequently Erratic and Unpredictable Behavior

This is often the last and most glaring sign of substance abuse than an employee will display. By the time they’re insulting or yelling at their colleagues, outright lying or engaging in any other kind of bizarre behavior, it’s likely that there is a series of traumatic events and changes to their brain’s chemistry that have gotten them to that point. The first step to dealing with this is to resolve the immediate conflict to ensure the safety of your other staff. It is then advisable to determine the origins of their behavior and ascertain whether or not substance abuse is at play.

Now What?

If your employee is exhibiting these or any other bizarre physical or behavioral signs, and it is discovered that they’re the result of a substance use disorder, Recovery Unplugged is ready to help you guide them toward treatment, peace of mind and lasting mental health. Give your employees the second chance they deserve and productivity and balance to the company by calling us today to set up an education session. You don’t have to let drugs and alcohol tear your company apart.

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