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Substance Use in the Workplace: What to Look For

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Workplace substance use is more common than most people realize.  It causes significant financial losses to the employer and puts an extra burden on other employees.  Many companies have countermeasures in place to reduce drug and alcohol use at work.  But, far too many employees continue the behavior regardless.  

How can you spot an employee who is using drugs or alcohol on the job? No one wants to be a snitch, but drug use at work can be dangerous.  An intoxicated worker can cause accidents that harm themselves and others. So, to prevent these circumstances, you may want to step up and talk to management if you suspect substance use in the workplace.

Signs of Workplace Substance Use

Most people get bored at work and may slack off now and then.  But, if you notice a coworker repeatedly having problems with attendance or productivity, they may be intoxicated.  Here are a few signs that may indicate workplace substance use:

  • Consistently late with no explanation.
  • Leaves work early repeatedly.
  • Makes mistakes on simple tasks.
  • Falling asleep during work hours.
  • Takes extra time at lunch or on breaks.
  • Going to the restroom more often.
  • Has trouble meeting deadlines.

A coworker who uses drugs or alcohol at work may also display physical, behavioral, or personality changes that are hard not to notice such as:

  • Uncharacteristic antisocial behavior.
  • Neglects hygiene.
  • Moodiness or angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained weight changes.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather.
  • Dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, and runny nose.

Of course, some of these signs can be attributed to health problems, family issues, or depression.  In either case, these individuals can put themselves or coworkers in danger.  If you suspect a coworker is using drugs or alcohol at work, talk to your supervisor or human resources. 

Most Common Substances Abused on the Job

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), more than 70% of people who abuse drugs are employed. They also report that workplace substance use  and addiction costs companies about billion every year.  The costs include money spent as a result of accidents, absenteeism, lost productivity, and healthcare.

The most common substances abused on the job are cocaine and marijuana.  An estimated 80% of drug users support these habits by stealing from their employers.  Alcohol use at work is also a common problem in American companies. 

Certain jobs are associated with high occurrences of alcohol use.  For instance, construction workers, military, first responders, and healthcare workers have high rates of alcohol use.  When a person’s workload is stressful, boring, or isolating, alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism.

Studies also show that jobs without adequate supervision have higher rates of substance use at work. Also, a workplace that permits verbal aggression and sexual harassment can foster substance use on the job.  

What Can Employers Do to Reduce Workplace Substance Use?

Most large companies today have drug-free policies in place.  The policies outline the consequences of drug use on the job.  It also specifies the countermeasures the company has established to prevent it.  

The elements of an effective drug-free program can include making sure every employee understands the rules and the consequences of breaking them.  The policy should foster a sense of shared responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all employees.  The company should continually review and update the policy as needed.

Many companies also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help a person get addiction treatment without fear of losing their job.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorders at Design for Change Recovery

Substance use in the workplace can be hazardous for the entire company in many ways.  If you are struggling to control your drug or alcohol use, seek professional treatment right away.  You don’t want to endanger the lives of innocent coworkers by going to work hungover or high.

At Design for Change Recovery, we realize how difficult it can be to quit drugs or alcohol.  That’s why our programs are designed to adapt to each client’s specific circumstances.  Each person has their own reasons for substance use and they respond differently to treatment.  So, we customize a treatment plan that is right for you.

Before you can overcome addiction, you must understand the underlying reasons for the substance use.  With that understanding comes the ability to avoid going down that path again.  We help you acquire the skills and confidence to maintain a substance-free lifestyle for the long term.  

Get help for substance use disorder for yourself, your family, and your employer.  Contact us at Design for Change Recovery in Lancaster, CA today.  One of our addiction specialists will be available to explain our programs and recommend a treatment path that will lead you to a healthier, more fulfilling life.


  • –  Frequently Asked Question: What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
  • – Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace
Substance Use in the Workplace: What to Look For