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Six steps to address addiction at work

May 2017

Natalia Granados

by Natalia Granados

Why should employers address drug misuse and alcohol abuse in the workplace?

According to one survey:

  • Alcohol misuse costs the UK an estimated £7 billion a year, one third of the overall estimated cost to society according to one survey.
  • Alcohol is estimated to cause 3-5% of all work absences, from 8-14 million lost working days in the UK each year. 
  • 90% of HR directors from top UK organisations stated that alcohol was a problem for their organisation.
  • 17% of personnel directors stated that alcohol consumption was a ‘major problem’ (1).

What are the benefits of addressing addiction in the workplace? 

Addressing drink and drug problems at work:

  • Reduces impaired productivity;
  • Improves morale and creates a supportive working environment where employees are more likely to be more satisfied and engaged;
  • Reduces absenteeism, accidents and injury, saving costs and benefiting safety;
  • Improves the public perception of your organisation, attracting top-level professionals; and
  • Saves the cost of having to recruit and train new staff, with additional advantages of keeping experienced, high-performing staff.

What are an employer’s legal responsibilities?

  • An employer could break the law if it knowingly allows drug-related activities in the workplace and fails to act. 
  • Similarly an employer who knowingly allows an employee under the influence of alcohol to continue working, placing the employee or others at risk, the employer could be prosecuted.
Six steps to address addiction at work

6 steps to dealing with addiction in the workplace

1.    Research if there is a problem 

  • Conduct an internal survey - find out what employees know about the effects of alcohol or drugs on health and safety. What is their understanding of restrictions on drugs and alcohol in your company?
  • Review information you have on sickness absence, productivity, accident records and disciplinary problems, in order to identify if drugs or alcohol are affecting your business.
  • Identify the potential causes of any problem. Working conditions could be a factor in an employee developing a drinking or drugs problem.

2.    Decide what to do 

Start by asking yourself some questions:

  • When is it acceptable for employees to be drinking during working hours or while on company business? 
  • Do staff know what to do if an employee turns up for work drunk? 
  • Do managers know how to deal with an employee with a suspected drugs or drinking problem? 
  • Do you need special rules for staff working in safety-sensitive jobs? 

Then you may need to consult others, for example occupational health practitioners, managers and supervisors, as well as employees, staff and trade union representatives, including appointed safety representatives. Their support will be important, in order to implement any steps you decide to take. To find out what other companies in your field have done, you could get in touch with your local business forum or health promotion unit.

3.    Take action - develop and introduce substance abuse policies 

Model workplace policies on drug or alcohol misuse usually cover:

  • Why the policy exists and what its aims are;
  • Who it applies to;
  • Who is responsible for implementing it;
  • The rules regarding alcohol and illicit drugs;
  • Support available to employees with a drinking or drugs problem;
  • Confidentiality statement that any problem will be treated in strict confidence subject to legal provisions; and
  • Disciplinary action – the circumstances under which this can be taken.

4.    Take action - raise employee awareness 

An explanation of your alcohol and drugs policies can be included in the induction programme provided to new employees. Additional training for all staff can be given through group sessions or seminars. Making information generally available to your staff about alcohol, drugs and health can also encourage sensible behaviour outside working hours. 

5.    Take action - train managers and supervisors

Managers and supervisors need to know:

  • Your organisation’s policies and rules on drink and drugs in the workplace;
  • How to recognise the signs of drug or alcohol misuse;
  • What to do if they suspect someone has a drug or drinks problem; and
  • The implications of failing to act, particularly where safety is involved. 

How to identify the signs of drug and alcohol abuse?

Inform yourself, your managers and supervisors about the types of drugs available and the harmful effects  they can have on your business and employees alike. Local health or drug advisory services may be able to help train managers to recognise the signs, and how to deal with a situation. Triora provides information about the signs and symptoms, effects and withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism, cocaine abuse and cannabis use disorder on our website.

6.    Take action – help employees

Do not ignore the problem. Acting to prevent problems before they occur can save time in the end and is often more effective than waiting until they have become too serious to ignore. Many people can regain full control over their lives and return to their previous job and work performance.

Overall, the goal of the employer should be to help an addicted employee get the help he or she needs to be as healthy and productive as possible. Encourage employees concerned to seek help from your organisation’s occupational health practitioner, their GP, or a specialist addiction treatment centre like Triora. It is up to them to accept help and follow treatment.

Employees with a drink or drugs problem have the same rights to confidentiality and support as for any other medical or psychological condition. Since it may be very difficult for someone to admit that they have a problem, they need to know that it will be treated as a health issue rather than an immediate cause for dismissal.

Disciplinary action should be the last resort. If an employer makes no attempt to help an employee whose work problems are related to drinks or drugs, a court may consider dismissal unfair.

More information 

Don’t mix it: A guide for employers on alcohol at work (pdf)
Drug misuse at work, UK Health and Safety Executive (pdf)
Alcohol, drugs and the workplace – The role of medical professionals, British Medical Association briefing (pdf)

Contact us 

Triora has a proven track record providing discrete addiction rehabilitation to private patients – often top-level working professionals. Find out how we can help your employees regain control and return to a productive working life.

Triora Model

Triora’s addiction care is one of the most successful ways to overcome addiction. Using the unique Triora Model, we treat body, mind and soul to help you and your loved ones regain a meaningful life. Our professional staff provide discrete inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation to people like you from the pleasant surroundings of our private recovery clinics in Alicante and Malaga, Spain.

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