Category Archives: Action is the Magic Word

Why Can’t I Stay Sober (part 2)

Maybe you are hanging with the wrong people. 

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.


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Why Would You Want Your Employee to Have a Substance Abuse Assessment?


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.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath at every moment.”


I got a call from a union representative to call a guy. He never got back to me with the name but the next day a man called me 5 times and left two messages within 45 minutes and the messages said he failed a drug test and to call him right away. It sounded urgent and five calls in a short period seemed excessive. I called within 60 minutes of the last message he left but he there was no answer so I left a message. I imagine that it was the guy referred to by the union man. I found that strange to call so many times in a short period of time, leave two messages and not be there when I call.  Maybe there was an emergency……….?

When the union man called me he asked me if I could help the union member. I said that I could but I would need cooperation.  It is not a one sided thing. I can’t make someone change unless they want to change.

What I mean by this small story that seems to happen allot in one way or another is that every action shows something as Emerson expounds upon in his essay.  Tell me one thing and do another. Don’t show up or be late. It all says something.  I would suggest everone Read Emerson.



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Return to Work, or Not….


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.


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Returning a worker to Work after Alcohol or Drug Infraction

20170710_114319One day in a shopping mall I overheard a conversation between two young ladies. One was telling the other that she had just failed her driving test because she did not completely stop at a stop sign. Apparently, the examiner immediately cancelled the rest of the test and told her she had failed because of that one action. She told her friend how shocked and hurt she was as she felt she performed pretty well during the other parts of the driving test. She was furious at the examiner for not passing her. She claimed it was all his fault that she didn’t pass.

I thought about how this story relates to my role in the whole return-to-duty process. The driving examiner was preventing unsafe drivers from getting their license. The young woman thought that since she only went through one stop sign and didn’t hurt anyone, she should be forgiven. She reasoned that lots of people go through stop signs without harm. The difference was she was with an examiner trained to spot mistakes. If she was unable to refrain from going through a stop sign with an examiner in the car, what kind of driver would she be when she was by herself? That is basically how I look at return-to-duty as well. If an employee is not going to make the effort to help themselves while they are out of work and being monitored, why would they make any effort to stay well when they are returned to their job functions?

The answer is that they won’t.

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Addiction and Safety


When I was first asked to participate in this SAP process in 1994 I was asked to do allot of reading to understand the new way of addressing addiction in the workplace.  I became very excited at the potential after starting to understand that this simple process had the power to change people’s lives. It was different from any type of counselling or treatment that I had been involved in before.

I was amazed what changes took place! Very rarely did the employee refuse to meet. They all wanted their jobs. The procedure helped them see reality so that they could decide if they wanted to change. That is the pre-step in recovery circles, the gradual opening of the mind to the realization of what they are doing is not working, especially in the workplace. Their career was where their problem was being noticed. The employer was setting boundaries that the employee could understand. To me this was a huge advancement in safety and in the way we treat substance abuse which affects the workplace.

An exchange of information with other professionals was needed on certain employees that I had assessed. I experienced many problems in trying to get others to understand either by their ignorance on addiction or their personal stubbornness and desire to leave things as they were. Difficulties appeared because the professionals did not understand and were trying to protect their client or in some cases they were purposely being resistant. They were looking at it from their client’s rights and not the rights of the company or other workers around the employee. It appeared that taking responsibility for safety in the workplace was a totally new way of taking action on addition issues. Unfortunately, these counsellors got an awakening when the company kept the employee out of work until a successful outcome was attained. Then the employee became cooperative. Action is hard in the beginning but with momentum it is easier. Once employees got moving on recovery activities they were on board with it too.

This idea of looking at addiction as a safety issue did make people think past what the addict wanted. They could eventually see what the company’s point- the possible effects on those around the problem employee and the potential for tragedy. Once other professionals understood that the process revolved around safety and also was a completely ethical way of doing things, doctors and treatment providers went along with it for the most part. I still face some opposition from some in the field who feel that the most important thing is to act as an advocate for their clients. Safety comes first, however, not what the employee wants or had been used to. It also helped some addicts come down a notch and see their rightful place in a company being one of the many only. They could not talk themselves back to work anymore with lame excuses. They needed the assessment and the issue came out there. In working with anyone addicted to alcohol or drugs accountability is important for personal change.

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I Had Many Questions


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I worked in a detox centre during the 80s and it was pretty good because I could observe why people change up close. Many came and many went though that detox centre over that year and a half. It was a bit of an education for me. Many just kept coming back and never seemed to get it.

As I live in a small city I used to run into people that had been in detox that had changed their life around. What was common to these people was that they made themselves accountable for their illness and started doing something differently as soon as they got out. These were the ones that made sobriety a long-term commitment. They owned the problem. Their action showed that they made being sober a priority. It was that simple. They found a way to stay clean and worked at it. They did not let other things get in the way of their number one goal. They found some type of behavior and action that they were able to incorporate into their life that helped them stay away from their drug. They changed their friends or living accommodations and developed new habits. They developed this one goal that was important and the rest of the things that came to them was built on that success. The patients that did not return to detox are the ones that I felt that held one part to the secret to sobriety. I witness the other part of it.

So, after a little while I saw what separated the repeaters from the patients that did not come back. I witnessed that it was the action on the part of the addict that had a big part to play in sobriety. Action became the magic word when trying to determine who was going to succeed and who was not but what predicated the action?

What was it that made certain addicts turn inward instead of outward and admit they were the problem which was the first step to getting well? I realized that when others finally stopped enabling the addict then a chance to get better was presented. If their spouse for example walked out it caused some addicts to decide to change. If they were fired from a job that also seemed to create change with some. These occurrences appeared to be great motivators. They were bad events in themselves but they had the effect of getting the addict to look at themselves for the cause of their problems. I saw this pattern with the ones that did “make it.” Something significant happened which led to change. It had something to do with enabling I reasoned because when the enabling stopped so did the addiction! Somebody important stopped covering up the problem. That was the common tie with addicts that finally got it. This was the crux of the situation. I believed that I had found some type of answer to the question of why do some get it? There was more to learn………………….

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