Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Read on here to learn about how substance abuse affects the workplace and employers’ role.

Workplace Drug Abuse

Drug overdose deaths spiked significantly during the pandemic,1 and so did substance abuse in the workplace.2 Furthermore, about $81 billion are lost yearly to absenteeism, healthcare costs, and lost productivity which are all manifestations of workplace substance abuse. Add this to the increased susceptibility of people with substance use disorders to Covid-19, and employers have a huge problem on their hands.3

As we will see in detail shortly, workplace drug abuse takes its toll on both the person with a substance abuse disorder and the employer. We are about to take a holistic examination of substance abuse in the workplace. Are there notable signs and effects, or is it an issue that doesn’t deserve the fuss it has been generating? If it does, we’ll find out what steps we can take to help workers recover from substance use disorders. At the same time, we’ll discover how businesses can reduce their impact on profitability.


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Effects of Workplace Drug Abuse

The National Safety Council reports that workplace drug abuse is more likely to happen in male-dominated workplaces.3 One popular example of these workplaces is construction sites. It’s quite common to see construction workers helping themselves to lots of alcohol and other dangerous substances while on the job.

The corporate work environment also sees its fair share of workplace drug abuse. A suit and a tie don’t do much to hide the dangerous effects of substance use disorder in the work environment. When a substance enters the body at work, there are noticeable and damaging outcomes far from profitable in the discharge of duty. These include:

Job Performance

The performance of an organization is closely linked to the employees’ performances. Especially when an employee is a high-flier, a drop in their performance at work will reflect on the company. That’s what happens when substance abuse creeps into the workplace. Whether it’s a white or blue-collar job, an individual or collaborative job, workplace drug abuse will hamper judgment.

The employee begins to experience withdrawal and hangover after drug use, making it almost impossible for them to give their best. Another contributor to job underperformance is the time lost immediately before, during, and after substances enter the body. Employees with a substance use disorder often have to take great care and a considerable amount of time keeping their activities a secret. Also, this preoccupation with taking these substances can make a once efficient worker begin to lag in efficiency and effectiveness.

Inability to Focus

Substance use in the workplace alters one’s ability to keep at their job for a long time. The employee’s attention span reduces, and they have a hard time paying attention to their responsibilities.

Illegal and Illicit Activities

Workers who have a substance use disorder are likely to engage in illegal activity by selling these substances to their colleagues. One person can trigger a domino effect of influence with substance use disorder. The result? A small community of workers engaged in substance abuse in the workplace.

Physical and Behavioral Changes

Substance abuse in the workplace harms morale. As workers with substance use disorder notice their productivity drop, they begin to believe less in their abilities. Substance abuse in the workplace leads to a lack of composure, untidiness, and a drop in self-confidence. There is also an increase in forgetfulness, and a lot of time is spent searching for misplaced work materials or personal items.

Signs of Workplace Drug Abuse

Most of the time, it’s easy to spot employees or workers with substance use disorders. If you stay around the work environment for a few hours, you can see noticeable differences between the workers who practice substance abuse in the workplace and those who don’t. Here are the major signs of workplace drug abuse:
workplace drug abuse

Decline in Appearance

A worker who engages in substance abuse in the workplace will have difficulty keeping up a smart appearance.4 As substance abuse demands a lot of their attention, there is little left to invest in a nice look. Unkempt hair, badly laced shoes, rough collars are some of the signs you will notice in persons with substance use disorder.

Talking Openly About Family Problems

You’ll discover that persons with substance use disorders are more than a tad bit open about their private matters. They tend to share family problems that their colleagues shouldn’t know about. An unpleasant exchange with their spouses, suspicion of infidelity, annoying in-laws, delinquent behavior in their kids, are some of the possible ‘classified’ info they tend to disclose.

The Pandemic and Remote Work Worsen Substance Abuse in Workplace

Do the pandemic and the increasing subscription to the remote work system impact substance abuse? The answer is yes.
The Center for Disease Control reports that “In 2020, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States was 31% higher than the rate in 2019”.5 This statistic shows how much impact the remote work system has on substance use disorder. How does the remote work system increase workplace substance abuse? Two reasons stand out.

Ready Accessibility

Few businesses and organizations embraced the remote working system in the past two years. This move was made to rise above the career difficulties of the pandemic. However, it only brought employees with substance use disorders closer to these drugs on the substance abuse angle. The increased accessibility to hard drugs in supervision-free only worsened substance abuse in the workplace.

Stress of Uncertainty

One emotion that has troubled workers’ hearts during the pandemic is uncertainty. With millions losing their sources of livelihood, many workers can’t help but wonder what will come next. This uncertainty induces stress, and many turn to drugs for solace even while working.

COVID-19 and Addiction

The Business Impact of Substance Abuse

As you saw earlier, billions of dollars are lost to workplace drug abuse. Workplace drug abuse is detrimental to the person with substance use disorder and their employer. For an establishment to maintain or increase profitability in business, it must pay attention to helping set its workers free from the side effects of drug abuse.  When substance abuse causes staff to give below their best, the business will suffer loss. Here are four ways this will happen.


Findings have shown that persons with substance use disorders are more likely to be absent from work. Specifically, persons suffering from substance use disorders have been found to take two more weeks off work than those who are not.


There is a higher chance of accidents when substance abuse is in the workplace than in a drug-free environment. These accidents lead to equipment damage that the business owner or organization heads may either repair or replace.


Businesses spend quite a lot of money on treatment for employees with substance use disorders. Employers may find it reasonable to organize Employee Assistance Programs that require substantial funds to put together.

Loss of Productivity

In workplaces, work input generates profit, and employees supply input. Without it, companies will suffer a drop in revenue. Substance abuse in the workplace leads to a decline in productivity and, by extension, profit.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse in Workplaces

It’s important to identify persons with substance use disorders in the workplace, especially the widespread alcohol abuse. Whether at the infancy or advanced stages, once you discover alcohol symptoms, there are ways to help. Here are the signs and symptoms of early and advanced stage alcohol abuse.

Symptoms of Early Alcohol Abuse

Early alcohol abuse is characterized by occasional binge drinking. The alcohol symptoms you will notice include:
  • Mood swings
  • Defensiveness
  • Lethargy 
  • Anxiety 
  • Headaches 
Early alcohol abuse manifests itself as functional alcoholism, where the person involved is capable of fully performing their responsibilities at work.

Symptoms of Severe Alcohol Abuse

You can detect severe or advanced alcohol abuse when you notice most of the following:6
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased irritability
  • Depression 
  • Daily reliance on alcohol
  • Drinking to stupor
  • Increased propensity for violence

How to Approach a Co-worker with Suspected Alcohol Abuse

If a co-worker might likely be dealing with substance use disorder, there may be uncertainties about how best to approach them without provoking a negative reaction. Delayed planned intervention could be dangerous.

Why Early Intervention is Better

Alcohol abuse tends to get worse with every passing day. Any delay after you have identified the symptoms means letting the problem get more serious. Early intervention can rescue a person with substance use disorder from alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning requires swift and early attention due to its severe and fatal consequences.


Helping someone receive alcohol treatment or substance abuse treatment is not as straightforward as we may want it to be. The major obstacle we face when we make our approach is denial. Denying abuse will hinder the abuser from seeking help. Only when you can help them acknowledge that they need help can their healing process begin. A way to do this is by calling their attention to the symptoms they exhibit.

Drug Withdrawal Signs at Workplace

Drug Withdrawal Signs at Workplace

Withdrawing from drugs has its challenges; the body will fight back to maintain the status quo. For alcohol abuse, not everyone will experience withdrawal symptoms. The side effects of opioid withdrawal depend on the duration of use. For heroin, the symptoms of withdrawal are quite severe, but temporary. Heroin withdrawal side effects should faze out within days. Withdrawal side effects for marijuana aren’t as wild as those of the other substances, and for nicotine, symptoms of withdrawal are not the same for everyone.7

The symptoms of withdrawal can be classified into two categories: psychological and physical.

Psychological Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Here are the psychological symptoms of drug withdrawal:
  • Change in mood
  • Increased craving for alcohol
  • Worsening temper
  • Increased irritability
  • Increase or decrease in appetite

Physical Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

These include:
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia

What Should Employers Do to Address Substance Abuse in the Workplace?

Employers have a role to play in assisting employees to recover from substance use disorder. Using the hammer on an employee with a substance disorder should not be the first resort. There are more effective methods to employ.
How best can employers reduce or eliminate substance abuse in the workplace? We’ll discuss the answer to this question briefly below.


Substance use disorder is best resolved with tact and a helping hand. Persons with substance use disorders need all the support they can get from their employers. Assisting them to get better should be every employer’s first point of call. Employers could provide them with counseling/therapy or even give them time off to begin their rehabilitation process. Depending on how benevolent the employer is, they could assist financially too. You’ll be amazed at how much good this little support could do in the life of an employee with substance use disorder.


A chunk of people worldwide are very ignorant of what constitutes drug abuse. For example, most people don’t classify alcohol and pain-relieving drugs as substance abuse. Why? The answer is lack of awareness.
Employers can do better in providing awareness to employees about substance abuse. Awareness goes beyond organizational policy documents on substance abuse in the workplace, which very few employees bother to read. Organizing seminars and events on substance abuse for employees would yield positive outcomes. As part of Organizational Corporate Responsibility programs, employers could arrange outreach and community-based programs on substance abuse. The more employees are involved in these activities, the quicker the disappearance of substance abuse in the workplace.

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are programs set up by employers to assist employees through challenging life issues, including substance abuse. The knowledge that these programs exist in the workplace makes it easy for employees with substance use disorders to open up about their struggles. The primary purpose of such EAPs is to help employees live and work without depending on drugs or illegal substances. For this, the employer might use an internal EAP set up by the organization or by a third-party institution, or a combination of both.

Create Drug-Free Workplace

Having a drug-free workplace would benefit not only the employee involved but also the employer. A drug-free workplace is possible if the employer incorporates the essential components of a drug-free workplace into its operations. Having a policy on substance abuse isn’t enough; making these policy documents come to life is the real deal.
Having training and awareness programs on substance abuse is excellent, but having a monitoring system to track the impact of these events would yield better outcomes. Lastly, EAPs are described as one of the most effective tools for combating substance abuse in the workplace, but if these programs aren’t robustly funded and monitored, they’ll have zero impact on the employees. A compliance enforcement team can be commissioned to ensure that no such substances are smuggled into the office environment.

A Discussion on Addiction in the Workplace

Addiction Treatment

Getting a person with substance use disorder to accept a problem and succumb to treatment is no mean feat. However, at this point, they will need all the grit and encouragement they can get to go through treatment. Not everyone succeeds at it. There are several drug and alcohol treatment options available, and these can be classified into three categories.


A detox is a treatment option that involves flushing out the remnants of alcohol or drugs from the body.8 person undergoing detox may also receive medication along with it. This is necessary if a person with substance use disorder intends to avoid the severe reactions that a withdrawal will cause. Detoxification should continue until there is no dependence on drugs.


Medications are administered for several reasons. Apart from mitigating the severity of withdrawal symptoms, persons who want to recover from substance use disorder may also take treatments to curtail cravings for the substance.


Therapy sessions are an integral part of addiction treatment. Counselors coordinate therapy sessions which could either be group or individual. Therapy helps people recovering from substance use disorders contain their proclivities to these substances. Through motivation, monitoring brain wave patterns, and curtailing triggers that could lead to relapse, therapists enable the healing process.

Afterward, joining a support group will help maintain sobriety until one has fully recovered.

Workplace drug abuse is a growing challenge that negatively impacts individuals with substance use disorders and the business or establishment. The pandemic and the attendant mass adoption of remote work only worsened matters. It’s possible to identify and help persons with substance use disorders accept that there is a problem and seek help and treatment. In this regard, co-workers and employers have a crucial and even life-saving role to play.