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How to Spot a Colleague with a Substance Abuse Problem

15 Jul 2016

Addiction impacts every aspect of a person’s life - including their place of employment. Of the approximate 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that 70 percent are employed. And if an employee has a problem with alcohol or drugs, it not only affects them - but the entire work group.

Recognizing an employee’s drug use isn’t always easy, but there are certain warning signs that you can and should look out for:

  • Attendance Slips: An individual may start arriving to work late, take unexplained absences throughout the day, or even request days off frequently for vague reasons.

  • Changes to Personal Hygiene: You may start noticing changes in how an individual takes care of themselves. Perhaps they stop looking after their appearance or you begin to recognize unusual or unpleasant body and breath odors.

  • Weight Changes: A person’s weight may fluctuate for a variety of reasons - however rapid changes (weight loss or weight gain) can point to a potential problem.

  • Mood Swings: The individual may display fits of laughter or anger, overreact to real or imagined criticism, or exhibit other belligerent or aggressive behavior. On the other side, they may come off as distant or apathetic.

  • Problems with Work Performance: The individual may begin to miss deadlines or lack attention to detail. Work performance may fall far below their typical or expected level.

While the above signs do help spot a problem, it’s important to note that it doesn’t definitively mean it’s a substance abuse problem. Depression and certain health issues can yield the above behaviors, which is why it’s important to tread lightly. Document all performance and conduct issues and meet with the employee to discuss as necessary.

Remember, don’t mix up yourdrug testing policy and your basic employment policies. For more information on the topic, read our previous blog.

A full service drug and alcohol testing company, National Drug Screening (NDS) also provides Medical Review Officer (MRO) services and web based drug testing software. Drug Testing Centers are open daily and are available for individuals, court ordered programs, and required testing for colleges and universities.