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Substance Abuse and the Workplace: A Harmful Combination
<ORGANIZATION NAME> is committed to providing a safe, healthy and drug-free working environment and wants to take this opportunity to remind employees about the importance of working drug free to their safety and that of their co-workers.
Some of the potential risks and hazards of workplace alcohol and drug use are obvious, particularly those related to safety. Alcohol and drug use can seriously impair judgment and coordination, which can lead to workplace accidents, injuries and even death. And a person does not need to be an alcoholic or drug addict to create safety hazards. For example, someone who still has alcohol in their bloodstream from drinking before they were on the clock may not be in any condition to work safely. But the problems extend beyond safety. Workplace alcohol and drug use can weaken an organization’s ability to operate profitably and productively. It is also associated with lower levels of employee morale—not only that of employees struggling with alcohol or drug problems, but also those who work alongside them.
Key to preventing these problems is for all employees to understand that there is help for those struggling with alcohol and drug problems. If you (or someone you know) are struggling to work drug free, call 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) or visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov. In addition, <ORGANIZATION NAME>’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential, short-term counseling and referral services as a benefit to employees. Their professionally trained counselors can be reached at <CONTACT INFORMATION>.
Note: If an organization does not have an EAP, the last two sentences should be deleted.
Sources of Help for Employees with Substance Abuse Problems
<ORGANIZATION NAME> wants to remind all employees about the importance of being drug free to workplace safety and that there are organizations that provide free, confidential assistance to individuals who have, or know someone who has, a problem with alcohol or drugs. The following resources offer a good place to start:
Substance Abuse Treatment Locator
Phone: 1-800-662-HELP www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov
This Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Web site and toll-free phone line help individuals locate drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment programs in their communities.
This free, confidential Web site lets individuals privately assess their own drinking habits and receive personalized feedback to help them determine if they need help to change those habits. Individuals also can find out about facilities in their communities that offer alcohol abuse treatment and consultations with qualified health professionals regarding alcohol problems.
Al-Anon provides information on the effects of alcohol abuse and refers friends and families of alcohol abusers to nearby support groups. Al-Anon’s purpose is to help families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with the problem drinking of a relative or friend. Alateen is the organization’s program for young people whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
AA offers a way to stop drinking to individuals who feel they have a problem with alcohol. AA groups are located in most cities and rural communities throughout the country. Individuals can look up "Alcoholics Anonymous” in a local telephone directory for a contact in their area.
American Council on Alcoholism
American Council on Alcoholism provides referrals to alcoholism treatment programs nationwide and distributes written materials on alcohol abuse problems.
Cocaine Anonymous provides support for people dependent on cocaine and other mind-altering substances. Callers are referred to local helplines.
Nar-Anon is a worldwide program which provides support for friends and families of individuals with addiction or drug problems.
Focus on Recovery Helpline
Focus on Recovery is a helpline which provides support and information for recovering drug addicts through referral to local helplines staffed by other recovering addicts.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hopeline
This organization, a planning and oversight agency for public substance-abuse treatment programs, provides written information on alcohol and drug abuse and referrals to treatment and counseling services nationwide.
In addition, <ORGANIZATION NAME>’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential, short-term counseling and referral services as a benefit to employees. Their professionally trained counselors can be reached at <CONTACT INFORMATION>.
Note: If an organization does not have an EAP, the last paragraph should be deleted.
What Can I Do?
A safe, healthy and drug-free workplace is everybody’s responsibility, and <CONTACT INFORMATION> wants to take the opportunity to educate employees about steps they can take to help a co-worker who may have an alcohol or drug problem. By knowing what to do (and what not to do), employees can play a powerful role in improving workplace safety and encouraging co-workers with alcohol or drug problems to seek help.
Most of us know someone, perhaps a family member, friend or co-worker, who has been affected by alcohol or drug abuse in some way. Though some of the signs may vary by drug of choice, what you see that person doing and how you interact with him/her is often the same, regardless of the substance being used. Both on and off the job, symptoms of alcohol or drug use may be physical (chills, smell of alcohol, sweating, weight loss, physical deterioration); emotional (increased aggression, anxiety, burnout, denial, depression, paranoia); and/or behavioral (excessive talking, impaired coordination, irritability, lack of energy, limited attention span, poor motivation). It is important to note, however, that if an employee displays these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean he/she has a substance abuse problem.
Signs that substance use may be a workplace hazard include:
- Creating mishaps, being careless and repeatedly making mistakes.
- Damaging equipment or property.
- Being involved in numerous accidents.
- Displaying careless actions in the operation of hazardous materials or equipment.
- Being unreliable, not being where he or she should be.
- Showing a lack of detail on performing routine job duties.
- Being unwilling to follow directions and being argumentative.
- Giving elaborate, unbelievable excuses for not fulfilling responsibilities.
- Not carrying one’s load.
- Taking unnecessary risks.
- Disregarding safety for self and others.
For your own safety, it is important that you not tolerate such conduct by a co-worker using alcohol or drugs. However, this can be a challenge—sometimes it may seem easier to ignore the problem and unwittingly enable the employee’s behavior to continue. For example, you may cover up for a co-worker by providing alibis or doing his/her work; develop reasons why his/her continued use of alcohol or drugs is understandable; or just avoid contact altogether. Trying to take responsibility by throwing out the person’s drugs or making idle threats also tends to be ineffective.
Worker alcohol and drug use cannot be taken lightly, especially in environments where workers rely on each other for safety. While supervisors can confront workers whose behavior affects their job performance, co-workers may be able to help before this occurs. However, it is important for employees to understand that it is not their responsibility to diagnose problems. Rather, they should observe behavior and focus on safety. Though notifying a supervisor may eventually be necessary, a co-worker may have significant influence using the right approach. If you suspect someone has a problem:
- Identify with the person and show concern. Say you have noticed a change in behavior and express your concern for their safety and that of other workers.
- Describe your observation of their behavior, using specific days and/or times rather than saying "you always” and other similar phrases.
- Connect the behavior to the alcohol or drug use (or suspected use).
- Urge the person to get help and offer information about how to get it. <ORGANIZATION NAME>’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential, short-term counseling and referral services as a benefit to employees. Their professionally trained counselors can be reached at <CONTACT INFORMATION>. For more information about local resources, you can also call 1-800-662-HELP or visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
- Tell the person you will no longer hide the problem for him/her, but do not make idle threats. Be willing and able to follow through.
- Explain how the person’s problem use affects you and others at work.
- Reconfirm your concern. You do not need to get him/her to admit he/she has a substance problem. You must stand your ground with your co-worker, be consistent with your actions and be willing to follow through on any threats you make.
It is important to note, however, that even after confronting a co-worker using these steps, he/she may still be unwilling to accept or acknowledge the alcohol or drug problem. When you have done all you can and the person’s behavior is such that it directly affects you and your ability to do your job, it may be appropriate to involve others. This may mean taking your concerns about safety to a supervisor, who may have more options through the workplace to help the person get assistance.
Note: If an organization does not have an EAP, the second and third sentences in the fourth bullet should be deleted.