signs of addiction

Addiction can affect anyone, from all walks of life. Symptoms of substance abuse can vary from person to person and may not be obvious at first. But, with a reported three million people going to work while under the influence annually, you may well have staff members who are battling addiction.

If you are aware of, or suspect, any staff members suffering from addiction there are some ways you can support them through it.


Training and awareness

Look into training managers and supervisors on what to do if they suspect an employee is addicted to drugs or alcohol. These people are your ‘front line’ support for individual members of staff and need to know what they should do if an employee tells them about an addiction they have – as well as how to spot the signs of addiction.

By implementing a strategy to provide quality support for staff members struggling with addiction, they may feel more inclined to discuss any issues they’re having more openly.

 HSE advises to consider these signs of addiction: 

  • Unexplained or frequent absences
  • A change in behaviour
  • Unexplained dips in productivity
  • More accidents or near-misses
  • Performance or conduct issues.



Like any other medical condition, addiction has the same rights to confidentiality; drug and alcohol dependence are recognised medical problems.

It’s not as easy as ‘a problem shared is a problem solved’, but when it comes to counselling for addiction, talking through someone’s problems has been proven to help with the journey to recovery.

However, if a staff member opens up about their addiction, you need to provide support, while also being mindful of the law. If someone could break the law as a result of their addiction – such as driving under the influence – take steps to move them onto different duties. Your duty of care extends to others, as well as the employee in question.

Think carefully about the balance between treating addiction as a disciplinary matter and seeing it as a health concern. A heavy-handed approach might well open you up to a legal challenge and might also cause the person’s health to deteriorate. You could explain that disciplinary action will only be taken if help is refused or their performance isn’t at the level of what is expected of them – and that this doesn’t stop them getting help and support too. Don’t see this as a black and white ‘carrot or stick’ question – addiction creates many grey areas and it needs a more nuanced approach.


Giving time off

If you feel like you can’t provide the level of support someone needs, recommend that they visit their GP or specialist rehab clinic.

By offering them time off to seek expert help, it could make them feel encouraged to resolve the situation. While you will be a member of staff down for a period of time, the cost of the recruitment process – and then the required training for a new employee – could well be a higher cost anyway. Having a job to come back to can help to motivate those struggling with addition – and sends a clear message to the wider workforce that you are an open and tolerant employer.

Support is key to ensuring the wellbeing of your staff. Look at implementing a clear drug and alcohol policy; it will help employees find out how they can get help and what support they can expect to receive during recovery.

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