Category Archives: Signs of Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Is Addiction a Risk in the Workplace?

Book is finally out

I was talking to a human resource manager a few weeks ago about an employee who worked in his company. This employee was driving a company car and there had been numerous complaints from other employees that this man had alcohol on his breath at various times throughout the day. The HR manager said that the employee was almost ready to admit that he had a problem and that they could finally do something.

I asked, “What if the employee killed a child in a motor vehicle accident before he admitted he needed help and you had prior knowledge of a this serious safety situation?” “I see what you mean,” he said and wanted some advice from me.” I suggested that he should take the employee out of that car immediately until he could get a substance abuse professional (SAP) to assess him for addiction and to see what the SAP recommended. The SAP will either recommend treatment or education depending on the nature and seriousness of the problem. The company will then have a written treatment plan and documentation to promote further action.

The manager was concerned with human rights of the employee. I was concerned for the child or others that could be killed or maimed if nothing was done while people were waiting for this man to get help on his own. My primary concern as a Substance Abuse Professional is the safety of the public and the other employees working with an addicted employee. The employee and his or her rights are secondary to the safety of others. The idea is to address the safety concerns first.

What constitutes reasonable cause to ask an employee to undertake a SAP assessment for addiction. What sort of things should a manager look for while observing or hearing about this employee?

· Alcohol on the breath. (That one is pretty obvious and serious)
· Drunk driving or other charges related to alcohol or drugs.
· There are physiological and physical symptoms one can learn and be attentive to.
· Erratic work performance, especially, from someone who was very good at their job. (Look for changes)
· Absenteeism is especially useful clue that the person has a problem with something.
· Rumours are useful. They can help you to establish a pattern if there are enough of them.
· Unreasonable excuses for being away or not completing tasks on time.
· Moodiness and problems with other employees.
(I have a checklist on my site called Checklist for Managers that lists many subtle clues)

How do you know if it is addiction?  Actually, you really do not know if it is an addiction. You would not know that until the person is professionally assessed. You may suspect but unless you have some sort of specialized knowledge and training you would not be able to diagnose this your self. Besides, you do not want or need all of that personal information that an addiction assessment gains, nor would the employee want to give it to you. That personal information needed for the assessment must stay with a third party for confidentiality reasons. That is another reason to us a SAP.

If you think that something is not right, there is a policy violation or that a person has an alcohol or drug problem, you should be documenting the behaviour. You are trying to build a case that something is wrong and it would be reasonable to assume that it may be addiction. To correct policy violations or improve employee behaviour is one of your functions. That is your job. That is solution-focussed intervention. Whether it is addiction or not you will have to deal with it and take steps to correct it. The SAP interview will move you to a solution. Either the person accepts the help or they do not. Are you going to let someone work with the smell of alcohol or break other company rules without taking action? It is not inhumane to ask people to be responsible for their behaviour, especially, when that behaviour has the potential to harm the employee or others.

In my seminars I hear of some really horrific cases that employees and mangers appear to be putting up with that in my opinion could be solved with some action. My on-site seminar includes a slide that says,” Addicted people do not get help because they see the light but because they feel the heat on their ___. “ In the 32 years that I have been in the addiction business, I have found that to be true especially when the workplace is actively trying to help. Everyone that I have ever personally known or heard about who has recovered from addiction, has done so only when the chips were down never when they were on a roll. Something happened in their life to make them see that there is a problem.

The workplace is uniquely able to influence the employee in such a way as to get them to look at himself or herself long enough to see that there is a problem. The choice is then theirs to do something about it.

 

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Everyone Must Do Their Share

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We can’t rely on one person to carry the weight and responsibility of making the workplace safe. It won’t work. If supervisors do not understand the policy and the need for safety they could easily let someone go on who has the smell of alcohol on them for example. They could believe a dumb excuse that it is aftershave or that it was only two beer the night before. They could refuse to alcohol test this person thinking that it will get better down the road. They could neglect to carry out the un-announced alcohol tests that have been recommended by the SAP.

Getting used to enabling is easy. People like you because you don’t challenge them. They like you because you are a people pleaser. They don’t respect you because they think that you are not worthy of respect because you are not doing your job. They think you are easily manipulated. Go on about your day and ignore the warning signs of addiction problems and pray to God this person does not cause an accident before you retire. I have known people like this. They are not serving anyone but themselves.

Unfortunately “it all comes out in the wash” as my father used to say down the road. Someone is going to be accountable for incompetence and poor supervision if there is an accident and then it becomes not pretty. So much easier just to do your job and let the chips fall as they may and you may be helping someone. One thing you will be keeping your workplace safe and following due diligence procedures.

 

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Alcoholics Drink Because they Believe Alcohol is the Solution

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Alcoholism shows itself in different ways and there are many different drinking patterns but there are constants as well. This is from 30 years of reading, working and observation in the field.

  1. Their body is not normal. When they drink it sets up a craving for more. They then drink too much and then suffer symptoms and consequences. So you say the cure is easy and that is true. Don’t drink. Many alcoholics have gone a long time without a drink but the other problem is that………..
  2. Their mind is not normal. Unfortunately, the alcoholic when getting the idea to drink somehow forgets how bad the situation was before. They may have ended up in the detox centre or been caught for drunk driving but they forget this just before they have that first drink. It only takes a minute of thinking like this to pick up a drink and start the ball rolling again. One is too many and a thousand is not enough. They have memory lapses of what the last time they drank did to them and they start them on the cycle again.
  3. The illness is progressive. Sometimes the alcoholic will go for a period and look like they are drinking socially. That is their dream but they can’t keep this up. The alcoholic mind will present to the alcoholic the idea that this time it will be different and that they can now drink like normal people despite anything that may have happened previously in the past. They will keep getting the idea to drink and usually at very inopportune times. The cycle starts again and it gets worse over time.

Alcoholics have a hard time adjusting to life the way that it is. Their belief system tells them that it should be easier that what it is or that they have been given bad breaks. They are not all grown up as they appear. Something is missing. To them life is their problem. Life is at times hard and hurtful and they have found that alcohol is their solution. They can be anxious, depressed, angry, self-absorbed and discontented and the one thing that they have learned in the past very well is that alcohol fixes these things very quickly. So you see alcohol is a solution to their problem.

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Drunk Driving – Cause For Concern in an Employee

 Drunk Driving Conviction

When someone shows such little control that they are charged for drinking and driving that is a big cause for alarm. Society is becoming more realistic about the dangers of drunk driving in recent years even though the media has minimized it in various ways.  The drunk driver is controlling a dangerous weapon, the automobile and there is a potential for great destruction.

Whether they have very poor judgment, an issue with addiction or both, there is something that is not right with an employee who drinks and drives in this day and age where information on the dangers are everywhere.  An opportunity to your employee assessed is right there for you. have

A drunk driving conviction is definitely a sign addiction although more information is needed. Some companies with an advanced alcohol or drug policies send their employees for an assessment when they find out that they have had a recent drunk driving conviction especially if the employee is in a safety sensitive job.

It just makes sense that if you have an employee that has a current drunk driving offence that there is a chance that they may have an alcohol problem that may affect their job performance and the company’s safety. Would you be comfortable with an employee operating an 80 foot crane in an industrial setting with lots of other employees underneath if you knew that they just lost their license for drunk driving recently? Wouldn’t you feel some kind of need to get this checked out? If they are a hard-core drinker they could have a seizure on the work site for example and kill someone. Alternatively, they could be still impaired from the night before or hung over and making poor choices. They could destroy equipment worth millions of dollars. What kind of reputation would your company have if some of these things happened to you and you were letting signs of impairment or addiction slide till the next time? These questions are very useful to think about.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug to some people that are unable to limit their usage. It is really one of the most dangerous drugs out there. It can kill quite easily. Read about why alcohol is called Europe’s Youth Killer. http://www.boes.org/world/europe/who010219alc.html  Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to have in the workplace.

Not long ago I had to convince a man that a drinking and driving offence on his vacation is still of interest to his employer especially where he drove as a condition of his job. He could not understand why it was any of his company’s business where he was not on the job. Since he lost his driving privileges he was no longer able to drive as was one of his duties. The employer in its lack of foresight just gave him another job where he did not have to drive. As a result of this the employee did not have to look at his problem. This was another example of a company enabling an employee to stay sick and thwarting any sort of realization of safety and drunk driving. The employer should have sent him for an assessment before he ever got back to work for a more effective experience. His employer was actually teaching him that drinking and driving was an ok activity and catered to him with a new job where he did not have to drive.

One of the themes that I bring up when interviewing an employee during an assessment is their legal history. I have noticed that there is a high correlation with addiction and drunk driving. The two go together and if someone has had a conviction it puts me on alert during the assessment that there may be a problem. Most average people do not drink and drive.

The law has recently changed where I live regarding boating safety. If boater gets a drunk driving charge and conviction on the water, part of the sentence is that they would also lose their driver’s license for the road as well. This is only logical and makes total sense to me. If you show little enough care for safety in operating a water craft, it says to me that you could easily drive a car drunk as well.

If someone demonstrates a lack of judgement using a powerful and potentially dangerous weapon called the automobile, what does that say about their thinking process and their capacity to do harm in your workplace?  This is a perfect opportunity to help the employee and protect the public by referring them to a substance abuse professional.

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Could the Problem be Addiction?

There are four general characteristics that I look for to determine if the employee has reached the stage of becoming an addict. These characteristics are: obsession of the mind, lack of control over usage, negative consequences and denial.  To what degree addiction has become a problem is what I do my best to find out through the interview process. I look and see if this person could be a possible safety risk in the workplace due to alcohol or drugs usage. This takes knowledge, skill and practice asking questions and also in observing what happens to people in the coming months. Sometimes no one is happy with what I come up with and it is usually because some of these employees have been able to get away with drinking and drugging by people around them for many years.

In most cases people around the addict make excuses for the behavior and therefore it continues. It is as simple as that. No one likes to think of someone as an addict either to drugs or alcohol. They feel that is degrading and too simple an explanation. We all want to find reasons for the behavior other than what the real problem is.

One of the main problems I encounter in talking to managers and employees in the workplace is that generally people don’t know what an addict is. They think that it is the homeless guy living on the street or the prostitutes up the road that are working to support an opiate addiction. Yes, they are addicts but these people have lost control to such an extent everyone can see there is a problem.

Because of the shame attached to having an addiction people cover it up. The shame causes the addict to hide and deny their actions. The shame causes others around the addict to hide the behavior as well. Most of the addiction in society remains below the public radar so that when we think of addiction only the most serious of cases come to mind. As a result of being poorly educated in addiction we as a society get the idea that unless it is bad and very visible it is not addiction. This is inaccurate. Once the pattern of addictive behavior is established it takes a while for that behavior to be noticed by society and people close to them. This is especially true if the addict is being enabled by someone to keep going along their bad road.bell island 4

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