How To Help A Staff Member With An Alcohol Or Drug Problem

No employer wants to deal with alcohol or drug abuse problems in the workplace - unless you are Michael Scott organizing a substance abuse intervention for Meredith after her hair has caught fire from drinking in an episode of 'The Office US'.  However, the reality is that approximately 60% of all people experiencing chemical dependencies work in full-time employment, as is stated by the National Business Group on Health. 

This statistic raises the likelihood that one or more of your employees will, at some point, struggle with some form of addiction.  

How is this a problem?  
Well, with the chance of an employee experiencing a form of addiction rising, there is a greater urgency for you as the employer to learn how to help them with the situation.

A case of untreated substance abuse can be a costly burden on an employer.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug and alcohol abuse problems in the workplace cost the United States approximately $600 billion on an annual basis.

This is due to the fact that the majority of individuals with a substance addiction are employed in the workforce and can contribute to a large proportion of the cost in the form of health care costs, higher rates of absenteeism, reduction in job performance, productivity, and accidents in the workplace.

On the other hand, staff members who receive the suitable substance abuse treatment may, according to research conducted at Cappella University, fare better at work earning more and requiring less assistance.  The employees will also be entitled to certain job protections based on legal regulations when undergoing alcohol and drug treatment programs.

So, what are the correct steps to take when an employer is confronted with a case of employee substance abuse?  Below are some tips to help in this situation:

1.  Know The Signs Indicating Alcohol Or Drug Addiction
The signs that can be associated with alcohol or drug addiction in a staff member can include the following:
-  tardiness or sick days
-  regular unplanned "emergency" situations
-  regularly missing deadlines
-  careless and incomplete work
-  a careless appearance
-  changes in mood and behavior, such as loud talking and excessive laughter
-  avoidance of other staff members, particularly after lunch breaks
-  bloodshot eyes
-  tremors
-  somnolence

2. Addiction Is A Health Condition
According to the provisions of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, drug and alcohol addiction is to be considered a 'health condition'. This means that any staff member receiving company health insurance may be eligible to approximately 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the chance of reprisals or job loss.  It is essential that you, as the employer, are knowledgeable of this provision and understand the job protections according to the Family and Medical Leave Act as they apply to the employee before addressing any problems.

3.  Be Proactive When Addressing Substance Abuse
The stigma of drug and alcohol abuse is a factor that can be an obstacle for employees seeking professional assistance with their problem.  For example, research found that one of every five insured staff members believe that if they applied for coverage regarding substance abuse treatment they would be fired, would lose a license, or would be ignored for future promotions.  This research was conducted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

If a staff member's alcohol or drug abuse is starting to affect their performance or productivity in the workplace, it is essential that you are proactive when addressing the problem.  It has been found that the longer a person waits to address cases of substance abuse, the more dangerous the addiction can become and this will increase one's legal liability as an employer.  

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abusers are approximately four times more likely to become involved in workplace accidents.  This not only places the health and safety of the staff member at risk, but will also place the health and safety of other employees at risk.
It has also been found that, as with chronic diseases, a substance addiction that is untreated will require more costly treatment when left to later stages than if dealt with in its early stages.  Immediate, proactive intervention can spare staff members from higher health insurance expenses in later stages of addiction.

Finally, when addressing a staff member's negative behaviors associated with substance abuse, it is possible to send the message that you are recognizing a problem and is willing to help.  However, as a responsible employee you must maintain specific expectations regarding job performance and etiquette.  One of the most basic of these expectations is to retain a strong commitment to a drug-free workplace environment.

4.  Utilize Language That Reduces The Stigma Of Addiction
Staff members who are encouraged to recognize their addiction as a serious health problem will be more likely to seek out treatment.  One reason may be that the reference to an addiction as being a health condition reduces the level of stigma and helps to depict the problem as a disease.

5.  Referring The Employee To Potential Treatments
If the company's HR department does not present with a list of trusted health treatment providers, it may be time to start compiling a list. You can opt for a traditional approach or a non 12 step addiction treatment This can be obtained through a current company health insurance policy or via a relationship with an EAP.

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