I was in Cuba for a week and did not update my blog. Cubans keep their cars running for 50-60 years as you can tell by this picture. The guy was using this old car as a taxi. They are very ingenious people to make do with what they have. I will talk about my trip sometime later but back to the workplace…………………………….
In 1994, new safety regulations came into effect that govern the North American transportation industry. The main reason for the new rules was safety; too many people were being killed and injured by incidents involving addicts and substance abusers. Ever since the regulations were implemented, it has been my job to undertake addiction assessments on employees who have found themselves contravening company policy. As a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP), I assess the employee then make recommendations based on the addiction assessment to move the employee forward if there are addiction issues.
I have found this work to be very interesting and rewarding. Some of the people I assessed were addicts, and some were not. Some needed help, and some did not. The types of people I have dealt with have ranged from the sensible and cooperative to the loud and hostile. Many of these employees had not previously faced limits regarding their alcohol and drug usage. They either never heard the word “no” or they were able to get their way through manipulation. I have dealt with habitual behaviour that hurts the person and has safety implications for themselves and others.
Generally, the ways to help individuals with addiction are evolving and, hopefully, advancing. Interventions with addicts are becoming a common practice. The intervention is supposed to break through the addict’s defenses so they see themselves as they really are and realize that they do need help. Once they do see this reality, they can accept assistance. The ways that interventions are carried out continue to be modified, but the core dynamic is always the same. Denial is broken so that the addict can make the decision to change. Action comes out of that decision. Addicts in the workplace are no different.
Every recovered person that I have ever seen or made contact with has changed, not because things were going well, but because things were getting bad. Something had to happen that pushed them into making the decision to try to change. In my thirty-two-plus years around the addiction recovery world, I don’t recall ever hearing of somebody who had a serious problem with alcohol or drugs deciding to change for the heck of it. It does not happen that way.
For the working addict, as for all of us, the ability to make an income is very important. (Most addicts are working. Go to http://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/toolkit/assess-workplace for detailed statistics.) Consequently, the workplace, if managed correctly, can have a tremendous influence upon a person with a drinking or drug problem. When companies set firm boundaries around alcohol and drug usage in the workplace, the procedure helps addicted employees see reality and they are given the opportunity to change. They understand what they are doing is too dangerous and they also risk losing their job if they keep it up. I have been amazed to see how effective this environment can be in helping working addicts tackle their addiction.
It could be your environment is bad for your sobriety. Are you hanging around bars for example? There is an old saying…”with whom you assemble you will resemble.” I believe that this is true.
If you want sobriety you have to find people that have it and learn how they got it. Same as making a million dollars, you want to find people that have done this if that is what you want. Sobriety is the same. Prioritize that you have a problem and find people that have solved the problem. There you go.
The very first part of staying sober is admitting that you have a problem. If you can’t do that you are always in danger of “picking up” as they say. A point in time will come along where you play with the thought that you can still drink and if you go for it your resolve is just weakened if not just all gone.
Many people fool themselves that way. How do you figure out if you have a problem? The 20 Questions is all over the net. Take them and see but first ask yourself why would would even ask. Most people either drink or don’t and don’t worry that they may have a problem.
Another way would be to put yourself in a room with people who used to have a problem but don’t know. See what they say. There are lots of groups available, AA, Smart Recovery, educational sessions at treatment centres. Look up Youtube videos of speakers on addiction.
First see if you have a problem then you can move on from there but you have to find out and be truthful with yourself. Either you do or don’t and chances are you do. If you do have a problem you can do something about it. Stay tuned. …….Day before New Years, good time to find out too!
Whay bother with an assessment? Can’t you just ask the employee what they want?
No! You are looking to have some simple questions answered that you probably can’t answer yourself. If these simple questions are not answered then over the long term the employee could get worse, allot worse. That is bad for safety and also for the person. If things go really bad they could be very bad for you. Accident maybe?
You want to know how bad the problem is? That is important because that has to be identified to make a treatment plan.
What is the appropriate treatment? Many bosses think that a 28 day rehab will solve all the employee’s problems but how do you know and is that reasonable? What if it is not? A friend of mine who used to work in a mental hospital said “I had a whole wing of rehab grads.”
Is the person following the treatment plan? This is important because if they are that points to someone who will be safe in the workplace, if they are not then that would be a negative for sure.
Are they stable enough to return to work with a plan that they are following? Does alcohol or drug testing need to be invoked for safety and deterrence?
Yes, these questions will be answered with an assessment, safety will be addressed and hopefully an employee will be restored.
If a person attends counselling rehab or self-help, the ultimate goal is the same, to get sober, stay sober and become a useful, safe employee that is not a risk due to substances. Just as addiction has recurring patterns or themes, recovery has patterns and themes that indicate whether the person is going in the right direction or not.
Some employees try to go around the return-to-work procedure and contact the HR department or management to tell them that they are now fine and wish to return to work. There is no proof they have attended any treatment, no re-assessment, no due diligence and no follow-up recommendation. The employee just “feels” they are ready. Unfortunately it is commonplace for doctors or employers to take the person at their word. We allow them to tell us what they need to get better, when obviously they have not been able to fix themselves up to this point. This is especially amplified when people surrounding an addict have bent over backwards to give assistance and have believed that the addict will change just because they said they would.
If an addict’s old behaviour — whining, complaining, displaying anger, bullying — has worked for them in the past, they may try to use that behaviour to expedite their return to work. Those that have been enabled in their addiction wonder why it should be any different now. I have seen situations where the employee starts complaining to anyone who will listen and manages to get supervisors or union representatives worked up to the point where they try to speed up the employee’s return to the workplace.
Ultimately, my goal in a return-to-work interview is to determine whether the employee has changed to such an extent that is it reasonable to believe they will not pose a hazard in the workplace due to substances. Some people are able to demonstrate this very well, others not so much. What the employer or workplace needs is documentation from the SAP so they can satisfy due diligence and proceed on the most reasonable course.
Barriers to Change
In our society, there two things that are big barriers for an addict wanting to make a positive change.
1. The first barrier is our refusal to believe that the problem may actually be addiction. There is a hesitancy to see addiction at the root of certain problems in society and in the workplace. We don’t connect the dots or see the pattern where it exists, and we are always ready to believe it may be something else. Addiction seems like a situation that is too complicated for people to deal with. Education is the key to breaking down this barrier. If a manager or supervisor knew what they were dealing with and the consequences of not dealing with it, they would be compelled to act. And if they understood what to do, they would feel confident about making the necessary decisions.
2. The other barrier is enabling. We as individuals do it, and we have allowed our institutions to do it as well. We prevent the addict from seeing that they actually have an addiction through various ways. We can build a treatment centre on every city block, but if the addict does not believe that there is a problem and that they need help, they won’t go to them.
Wait for the Addict to Hit Bottom? Heck No!
Managers have told me that they have to wait for an addicted employee to hit bottom before anything can be done. While it is true that the addict must reach a bottom or place where they do not want to go again, it is not true that you have to wait. You can act now by making boundaries, drawing your own line in the sand, and by having a procedure or process in place to handle the outcome. Whether the addict changes or not, you must change in order to deal with the problem. You eventually find out through the process whether there is a problem and whether the employee will deal with it or not. The beauty of the process is that what you have to do to make the workplace safe is the thing that the addict may need to hit a bottom or a crisis.
Substance dependent individuals recover in different ways. Some stop immediately and never to return to usage. These are the ones that hit a firm bottom, decide they want to change and act on that desire.
On the other hand, I’ve also witnessed a common pattern: a person hits a bottom, but they forget about what caused it, no action is taken and eventually drug use returns. They will either stop before it gets too bad or be lost again. Occasionally I read about individuals I’ve dealt with through their company policy who have died violently or in some other manner related to their addiction. You might as well know what you are dealing with. It is not pretty.
Do you want to go down the tubes with the addicted employee, or give them a firm chance to get and stay clean? If an employee is having addiction affect their work, deal with it now instead of waiting until they get into serious trouble and possibly hurt others in the workplace.
There is No Magic to Sober Someone Up
The Magic is in the Process
I don’t have any power over anyone and I can’t sober people up and keep them that way. That is way beyond my capabilities. There can be some magic created when an employee has to face a well- run process that causes them to have to look at themselves. There is the magic. That is my experience and that is what I have seen. We don’t wait for people to “come around” and take on that risk and liability. We act with a process that has boundaries and that makes people accountable for their own actions.
Steve Chandler, a business author, has a book where he discusses the choice between people pleasing others or serving them. Serving them gives them reality and employees acting out sometimes are very unhappy to get a dose of that. People pleasing is what the suffering employee wants because they don’t really want to change. They tell you they want to change and promise this is the last time but they don’t. Baby them, tell them it is all right this time, bend the rules and risk an unsafe workplace and they will be happy with you but that is people pleasing and it could bite you in a bad place down the road. Serving can be unpopular but it is the right and safe thing to do. The employee won’t like it but they may thank you for saving their life when they do straighten up. Do you serve or people please?
I have heard it said that justification, minimization and rationalization are tools that addicts and alcoholics use to keep themselves convinced that they can still use and not get in trouble. This is so true. During interviews I regularly hear these tools being used.
When addicts are ready to admit the truth those tools are not there. They own the problem and want to do everything that they can to be honest to get the help. Those negative tools are not heard in the speech of someone who honestly believes that they have a problem and wants to get well.
Justification example: “There are lots of other people in this organization that smoke dope too, not just me!”
Rationalization example: “I work hard, make good money why shouldn’t I be able to relax once in a while. What I do on my own time is my own business.”
Minimization Example: I know that they say I failed a breath test but that was because I was up late and had no breakfast. I need it to sleep once in a while so what the heck. My reading was not high enough to fail a test for drunk driving. I could have driven my car and passed any test the police have!”
These are all signs of someone who does not want to stop but being caught is just an inconvenience for them that must be overcome. A competent counselor can work with people that really want to stop and also help people see how bad the problem is but there are some addicts that will never stop no matter what is put before them.