Problems, Ignore, Repeat, Problems again

When managers ask me how to help one of their employees, I usually ask them some questions to find out what the problem is. I have seen the same patterns repeated over and over again in many workplaces trying to deal with an addicted employee. The employee gets in trouble, he or she gets a talking to or maybe even a letter, the addict promises to be good, everyone forgets the issue and then the addict gets in trouble again. The problem here is that with no serious action, there is no accountability and therefore there are no results. Without boundaries, the problem will reoccur.

The workplace needs a procedure that can be used to find solutions that are legal, ethical and helpful but primarily geared to safety. If substance abuse and addiction are looked at from the standpoint of safety, then a whole new pathway opens up. We then see that untreated addiction can be a serious risk that must be mitigated in some way. Our future action will stem from this viewpoint, with safety as the focus.

Keeping the workplace safe has positive implications for the whole of society. If a suffering person is helped before resources in the community are involved, then that is a big savings. For instance, health care, social services and the justice system can be tied up with problems that are really addiction in disguise. If the workplace has a practical procedure for dealing with substance abuse, then they are in a position to help. I have seen many people recover because their workplace was using a procedure to deal with substance abuse issues.

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Assessing Employees for Addiction

 

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.

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