How a Small Business Can Recognize and Respond to an Employee’s Addiction

Date posted: February 16, 2017


By Dr. George Cave

Drug and alcohol addiction can greatly affect an employee’s productivity and ability to function in the workplace. Despite whether the addiction is obvious to managers and co-workers, it’s going to have a negative impact some way or another on the company. If you are a human resource professional, it’s up to you to intervene, voice your concern and help your employee find the help he or she needs.

The initial step of this process is to pinpoint signs that an employee is facing addiction issues. Then, from there, a plan of action can be taken.

Signs that an employee has a problem

An employee may have an addiction if he or she shows up late to work often and/or takes frequent breaks. The employee might be exhibiting physical symptoms such as vomiting, shaking, falling asleep or acting jumpy and nervous.

HR should be on the lookout for a lack of attention to an employee’s personal appearance. He or she might wear unclean clothing or look sloppy, or wear sunglasses inside. The employee may have mood swings, lash out at coworkers or act anxious.

In terms of job performance, he or she may be turning assignments in late or not completing them at all, failing to show up to meetings and slacking off in general.

How to approach the employee

If you suspect that an employee is addicted to substances, you should approach him or her with gentleness and concern. Express that you’re worried, and all you want to do is help. Reassure the employee that he or she is not in trouble. You’ve simply noticed that something is off and you want to show your support.

Don’t state outright that you think he or she has an addiction, because this can cause the employee to feel embarrassed or guilty and clam up. Instead, say that something seems different, and ask if he or she wants to talk.

If the employee admits to abusing drugs or alcohol, reassure the employee that this doesn’t mean his or her job is on the line. You can offer confidential medical leave if he or she chooses to go into residential treatment. If the employee does this, you may work with the treatment center on drug testing him or her down the line. If the test comes back positive, give the employee the chance to explain why they tested positive before you take further action.

Resources to offer the employee

The employee may not want to or cannot take time off work to recover in a residential facility. If this is the case, you can refer him or her to other therapeutic resources. You could generate a list of local psychotherapists specializing in addiction. You should make sure that these therapists are covered by your company’s health insurance plan, so your employee can comfortably afford it.

If the employee wants to talk to about his or her issues in a group setting instead, there are programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous and Pills Anonymous. These are free and meet throughout communities in the United States.

Long-term success

Check in with the employee privately and continue to monitor the situation, even if you know he or she is in treatment. Let your employee know that your door is open anytime, and that he or she can reach out if they need further assistance on the road to recovery. It’s with your assistance and support that the employee is going to feel empowered to get help.

Dr. George Cave is a psychotherapist that specializes in addiction treatment and the family dynamics involved in recovery. He works with patients at non 12 step luxury recovery centers Malibu Hills Treatment Center and Prominence Treatment Center.

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