How Do You Know if Your Employee is an Addict or Alcoholic

You don’t and you should not care either. If someone is working for you or you are managing them and they are doing a good job you have no reason to get into their business. On the other hand if someone is continually in the limelight for issues you may want to know if it is substance abuse related especially if there are signs. That could be dangerous and contrary to due diligence principles to ignore abuse of drugs or alcohol.

What are the signs? There are lots of them and you can look at this template on my web site or find your own.  under the heading for supervisors.

The main thing is that you concern yourself with the safety aspect of substance abuse. There may be subtle signs that over time spell trouble for your organization and the employee.

Action is the Magic Word


When I first see an employee for an assessment, I can’t tell from one meeting what the employee is going to do in the future. Some employees give the appearance of understanding that they need help but that can change when the meeting is over. Some talk a good talk but it is their action on the problem that tells me what they really think. I can’t predict the future but I can reasonably assume that if they have really caught on to some aspect of recovery that they look like they will continue this way. Sometimes they don’t. I look for action and some type of attitude change. I may ask during a follow up interview “What are you doing today that makes it reasonable for me to assume that you are not going back to your drug of choice?” I try to find out what is different this time. When I do ask this question I feel like I have heard every excuse that there is already until I hear new ones. I also listen to sincere promises from people based on what they are going to do in the future without having anything up to that point. Where is the action to go with that promise? There is the key to it.

Consequences for the Addict – Why They are Your Friend

Consequences for the Addict – Why They are Your Friend

The addict, if they continue with their drug, usually gets into some type of trouble.  Examples would be, money problems, failing health, personal relationship problems, jail time, lost license, excessive sick days etc. In the past you may have responded to the addict and their issues by using up lots of energy yourself.  You may have felt turmoil and feel you must help the addict because somehow that is what you are supposed to do. This is what you have always done.

What society is not aware of that consequences are very important for the addict and that they actually can have the effect of pushing them to want them to get better. It is precisely the consequences that help the addict to see what is going on. If there are no consequences to one’s behavior then there is nothing that will get the addict see what they are doing and they won’t change. They actually need the consequences to be able to see that they, themselves, are the problem. If you keep the addict from experiencing consequences then you become are part of the problem.

Addicts Recover Because They Feel The Heat

Addicts don’t recover because they see the light; they recover because they feel the heat! They hit a bottom that causes them to think about changing. The bottom may be something very simple like being disciplined at work. This is how it happens.  Businesses learn how to say no to addictive behaviour in the workplace through their new understanding, policies and actions. Doing nothing is the worst plan. It is about recognizing the problem, setting boundaries and sticking to them. The addict is changed because they finally have to face themselves. The workplace can help where no one else can. There can be no argument with this philosophy as long as the process is enacted fairly and communicated thoroughly. Understand that there is a solution even if the addict does not want to change. The solution may be that the addict sobers up or goes somewhere else to work.

Workplace Can Help Where Others Can’t

There is usually still allot of potential in an employee who is sent to for a substance abuse assessment. They are not down and out and usually have family support at some level. They have money coming it and have the appearance of a normal life. They have resources to aid in their recovery. I find that this is an excellent time to work with an employee that has a problem. Sometimes they don’t think so but I still do.

The workplace can be a place of support for employees in another way as well. Due to safety regulations and also testing the workplace can act as a deterrent for a person who does use alcohol and drugs in any sort of a problematic way.  If the policy mandates reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion testing workers realize that they may be caught if they use. Knowing that there may be consequences to one’s behavior helps to create a more healthy thought process in the employee and also aids in reinforcing a culture of safety. It acts as a deterrence measure. Rather than be an invasion of human rights it is a boundary set by the workplace that is actually a win-win situation for all. The workplace becomes safer and the employee has to think hard about using substances.

Due Diligence in the Workplace

Due diligence Due diligence is the level of judgement, care, prudence, determination, and activity that a person would reasonably be expected to do under particular circumstances. Applied to occupational health and safety, due diligence means that employers shall take all reasonable precautions, under the particular circumstances, to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace. This duty also applies to situations that are not addressed elsewhere in the occupational health and safety legislation. To exercise due diligence, an employer must implement a plan to identify possible workplace hazards and carry out the appropriate corrective action to prevent accidents or injuries arising from these hazards. (CSOHS)

If you know that there is a potential dangerous situation and you fail to make it known to the proper people and something bad happens, you could be held accountable.

We all need a little help

Often times those around the addict do not realize that they need some help as well. It is easy to blames one’s troubles on a sick person because that way they don’t have to look at themselves and their actions. Like the addict, they are slowly drawn into dysfunctional thinking and behaving and the longer it goes on the harder it is to pull out.  Making excuses for the addicted one is a primary example of dysfunctional behaviour. There is no reason to expect the addict to change if they have excuses all around them for what they are doing. “Poor so in so, they had a hard life. No wonder they use drugs and drink.” Bullshit. They maybe did have a very hard life but it is possible to change but not if everyone is making excuses.  The reason that I know this is because I know tons of people who have had a bad life but they changed.  Humans are more resilient than the media portrays. If they have the “want to” then they can find the “how to” but until then it can be a sad ride, especially if there are those who make it impossible for the addict to have a crash landing and finally see themselves.

Addiction is a Safety Issue

craftsmen-1020156_960_720Undertaking addiction assessments on employees that have found themselves in this procedure has been my work since 1995 when new safety regulations that govern the transportation industry came into effect. I have assessed many employees for addiction. The intent was to assess and to make a decision based on the assessment if the employee needed help prior to returning to work for safety and due diligence purposes. Some 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. Some of the employees had not faced limits and boundaries regarding their alcohol and drug usage prior to running into the procedure. They either never heard the word “no” or they were able through manipulation to get around the word “no” in some way that has worked for them in the past.  I had to deal with habitual behavior that was hurting the person and had possible safety implications for themselves and others.  Slowly, however, when an employee sees that the workplace is firm on its committment to a safe envirnonment they can make a choice for themselves.


At one time, in the not so distant past, it was considered reasonable and ok to hide someone’s symptoms of addiction no matter how bad it got. Co-workers and managers – they all did it! The problem is that the actual issue never got solved and that addiction just gets worse over time. Hiding someone’s symptoms hurts them and the whole company not to mention it is a very unsafe thing to do that creates liability. The addict never gets to see the mess that they are making and in order to recover they have to see their mess. If someone with a problem can be treated ethically then why would you want to hide their symptoms? To keep the workplace safe, addiction is one of those things that must be tackled.

Addiction in the Workplace

Ways to help individuals who experience problems is continually evolving and hopefully advancing. The help evolves because we as a society learn from our mistakes and our successes. We try to repeat our successes and minimize the mistakes. For example, as seen from popular television programs, interventions with addicts are becoming a common practice because they have a chance of helping a sick individual on drugs or alcohol. The intervention is supposed to break through the addict’s defense for enough time so that they see how pathetic they actually are and know that they do need help. Once they see this reality they can go into treatment and change. The way that interventions are carried out are evolving and being modified but the core dynamic is still the same. A break in the walls of denial for the addict, reality appears, and this jolts them into hopefully making a decision to change. Action comes out of that decision.

Every recovered person that I have ever seen or made contact with has changed, not because things were going good, but because things were getting bad. Something had to happen to them that pushed them into making a decision. I don’t believe that I have ever heard of anybody in my 30 plus years around the addiction recovery world who had a serious problem with alcohol or drugs that just decided to change for the heck of it. It does not happen that way.

The ability to work and make an income is very important to an addict. (Most addicts are working and are all around you) The workplace, if managed correctly, can have a tremendous influence upon a person with a drinking or drug problem.  Some companies set firm boundaries in their workplace around alcohol and drug usage because of the threat to safety. At the same time, built into the procedure was a method to treat people with problems ethically so that there is also have a way out and they addict is forced to look at themselves and reality is given a chance to sink in. They are basically given a chance to make a decision to change. The workplace can be a very effective place to help addicts.

This workplace is also where the addict can be detected and dealt with before other areas in our society become involved like the health or legal system. 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 system to help them. Employees that are involved in this procedure hear the message that something must change and from this simple cornerstone movement begins.