Uncovering the Hidden Signs of Workplace Substance Abuse


Substance abuse in the workplace affects roughly 20% of the American workforce. Whether it is the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal substances, employees suffering from substance abuse can hide within companies without detection for years. However, eventually the substance abuser’s work product will take a steep decline and the overall company may have to deal with the consequences.

Workplace substance abuse creates a bevy of safety hazards that all employers need to take concern with. Spotting employees with substance abuse problems is essential in order to stop any ill-fated domino effects that the substance abuser might cause. Instating an effective company substance abuse prevention policy can also help nip any substance abuse problems in the bud before a bigger problem blooms.

Concerns Caused by Workplace Substance Abuse

Substance abusing employees tend to be less safe than other employees. Depending on the type of work the employees do, substance abuse problems can begin manifesting themselves through physical accidents in the work place, dissemination of errant or confidential communications, or just laziness causing a drop in efficient work .

Substance abusing employees tend to display carelessness when dealing with his or her job. Other safety-related signs of substance abusers may include risky behavior, increased involvement in off-the-job accidents, and damaging company equipment or property. While the signs may not be prevalent at first, concerns involving chronic substance abusers will quickly manifest if not addressed immediately.

Spotting Workplace Substance Abuse

Generally, workplace substance abuse can be spotted through the performance, behavior and appearance of the employee. Inconsistent quality of work, a slow work pace, or signs of fatigue tend to be performance red flags that employers should look for when concerned with substance abuse in the work place. Employees that often call in sick or frequently leave work early are also signs that an employee may be at risk.

The behavior and appearance of an employee can also tip off employers that a substance abuse problem may be prevalent. Substance abusers tend to show up to work looking sloppy and unkempt. They may have slurred speech, dilated pupils, or the smell of alcohol or drugs on their breath. Depression, suspiciousness, or violent and emotional behavior can also be telltale signs that a substance abuser is among your work ranks.

Policies for Workplace Substance Abuse Prevention

Establishing a set of standards for workplace substance abuse prevention can inform employees about the problems associated with substance abuse and the company’s stance on how they will deal with these types of employees if the problem arises. From drug tests at work to written policy statements addressing the issue, companies have a handful of avenues in which they can prevent workplace substance abuse.

The Institute for a Drug Free Workplace established five simple sentences that can be added to most business policies to combat the problem of workplace substance abuse. They are:

  1. [Company] is committed to protecting the safety, health, and well-being of its employees and all people who come into contact with its workplace(s) and property, and/or use its products and services.
  2. Recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse pose a direct and significant threat to this goal, [Company] is committed to ensuring a substance-free working environment for all of its employees.
  3. [Company] therefore strictly prohibits the illicit use, possession, sale, conveyance, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs, intoxicants, or controlled substances in any amount or in any manner.
  4. In addition, [Company] strictly prohibits the abuse of alcohol or prescription drugs.
  5. Any violation of this policy will result in adverse employment action up to and including dismissal and referral for criminal prosecution.

Looking Ahead

Dealing with workplace substance abuse is an ongoing task for practically every company. By putting together policies to help prevent employees from falling into this undesirable hole, companies will be able to easily diagnose when a problem exists and immediately know the best way to handle the potentially hazard situation. Learn more about workplace polices and employment law through FindLaw.