Psychology Today reports that approximately 20 million workers across the United States experienced alcohol-related impairment at work at least once in the past year. In addition, in 2016, more than one in twenty-five Americans tested positive for illicit drugs in workplace drug screens. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that more than 75 percent of individuals with alcohol or illicit drug use disorders continue to maintain their employment but the workplace impact often goes undetected, with the ill-effects attributed to other factors.

Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between addiction and the workplace, as well as the actions you can take if an employee is struggling with substance use.

Recognizing The Warning Signs

Problems with an employee’s behavior, workplace performance and ability to fulfill their responsibilities can all be red flags that substance use could be an issue for an employee.

Some of the signs that employees may be struggling with a substance use disorder are:

  • Regular, unexplained absence from work
  • Abuse of work hours
  • Financial difficulty
  • Productivity
  • Quality of work

Addressing The Issue

When addressing the issue of a suspected substance use disorder with an employee it is important to address the facts and not make any assumptions. Focus on what can be observed in their work performance and behavior, keeping specifically to topics that are part of their job role and relevant to the workplace environment. Describe their behavior that has led to this conversation, giving specific examples of what the employee said or did. Don’t be tempted to ‘diagnose’ the employee or try to act as a counselor or therapist. Your role as their employer or manager is to work with then to improve performance at work. Refer the employee to a reputable treatment facility for help if it is determined that he or she might need it.

Complying With The Law Surrounding Workplace Drug Testing

Laws on drug-free workplace programs are complex, but employers can follow basic steps to set a foundation for compliance.

SAMHSA recommends the following best practices for all organizations that strive for a drug-free workplace:

  1. Consult an employment attorney: Consult with a qualified employment attorney whenever you alter your drug-free workplace policy, or if you’re launching a new one.
  2. Set clear penalties:Clearly stipulate the penalties for policy violations. If your policy includes a drug-testing program, state who will be tested, when they will be tested, and what will happen to employees with a violation.
  3. Put it in writing:Every employee should receive and sign a written copy of your drug-free workplace policy. Verbal agreements and unsigned agreements have little legal standing.
  4. Provide training:Ensure that all supervisors are trained on how to detect and respond to workplace drug and alcohol misuse. Maintain attendance logs of all trainings.
  5. Document employee performance: Maintain detailed and objective records on the performance of all employees. A documented performance issue often provides a basis for referring workers to employee assistance programs (EAPs).
  6. Don’t rush to judgment:Do not take disciplinary action against a worker or accuse a worker of a policy violation simply because the employee’s behavior seems impaired. Instead, try to clarify the reasons for the employee’s impairment. If drug testing is a part of your workplace policy, obtain a verified test result before taking any action.
  7. Protect privacy:Hold discussions with employees about potential violations in private. Have another manager present to serve as a witness. Never accuse or confront an employee in front of his or her coworkers.
  8. Be consistent:No individual employee or group of employees should receive special treatment. Inconsistencies in enforcement could be considered discrimination.
  9. Know your employees:Getting to know your employees can make it easier to identify problems early on.
  10. Involve employees:Workers at all levels of your organization should be involved with developing and implementing your drug-free workplace policy. This will reduce misunderstandings about the reasons for having a drug-free workplace program and help ensure that your policies and procedures are fair to everyone.


Employers can play an important role in preventing the unhealthy and hazardous use of substances by:

  • Sending the message that drug and/or alcohol use in the workplace is not condoned
  • Offering a supportive work environment that encourages those struggling with substance use disorders to feel comfortable in discussing their problems confidentially and seeking help without jeopardizing their jobs
  • Incorporating information on the appropriate use of alcohol and legal substances like prescription
  • medications into overall wellness and risk prevention strategies
  • Providing factual information on the harmful health effects and consequences of substance use

Reminding employees that excessive or binge drinking outside of work has an impact on safety and job performance at work.

Seeking Help

Referring an employee to a specialist program that offers outpatient detox as well as various addiction treatment programs can be the natural next step. At New Life, we offer two levels of treatment for patients with alcohol abuse issues. Based on the results of the patient’s Intake Assessment, the counselor will develop a treatment plan. Contact us today.