Signs of Alcohol or Drug Abuse At Work

I am concerned that my colleague is abusing drugs and alcohol at work and this is impairing their ability to perform in their role and might affect their job security. What should I do?

Firstly you want to be sure that there is a problem. There are no signs that are 100% reliable indicators that someone is using drugs or alcohol in the workplace unless you see them actually ingesting a substance on the premisis. However, there are some behaviours that are frequently indications that someone may be struggling with a drug or alcohol issue.

Frequent signs of addiction issues at work include: 

  • Changes in reliability (sudden absenteeism, tardiness, or other changes in schedule issues);
  • Irritability;
  • Sudden lack of concern over appearance and self-presentation;
  • Frequent trips to the restroom or on an unusual number of “breaks”;
  • Unusual smells or body odour, large amounts of cologne being used;
  • The smell of alcohol;
  • Sleepiness due to lack of sleep at night;
  • Mood disturbance;
  • Decreased productivity or performance;
  • Over-sensitivity to criticisms about work performance;
  • Signs of burnout, stress and anxiety;
  • If abusing stimulants such as cocaine at work you may notice sudden bursts of excitement, energy, stimulation, over-confidence, seeming ‘wired’.

Helping Colleagues with Alcohol & Drug Problems

If you suspect a coworker may be struggling with drug or alcohol addiction at work, there are some things you can do to try and support them in getting help.

  • Avoid confrontation or accusations in front of other coworkers, supervisors, or management, and avoid being accusatory or judgmental.
  • Present your concern for their wellbeing and their job security and career success which will inevitably be negatively impacted by substance use at work.
  • Stick to the facts about the behaviours you have noticed that indicate the coworker might be struggling with addiction.
  • Present informed non-judgmental information about the personal and professional negative consequences of addiction at work (especially related to any that are already evident) and offer support and information to assist the person in accessing help.
  • Present the importance of sobriety to maintaining employment.

If they do not respond to you and the problem continues then it would be advisable to speak to your company’s human resources department or a sympathetic line manager, before the problem escalates.

More Information

For more information on how to help a colleague with alcohol or drug problems at work, contact us at Castle Craig for support and guidance.