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Alcohol And Drug Abuse In The Workplace – Effects, How To Detect, and Preventive Measures

10 November, 2023

A man resting his head on a table while there are drugs and alcohol near him

Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. This is a prevalent issue that affects various industries. It not only puts their safety and productivity at risk but also impacts the overall success of the organisation. Hence, it is important to implement a testing policy. Workers can undergo hair, urine, or breath tests. There should be programs in place, like an employee assistance program, to prevent further issues related to substance abuse.

Substance abuse starts when people misuse or overuse alcohol, drugs, or other substances. This type of behaviour can negatively impact the personal and professional life of a person. Identifying and addressing this is crucial for maintaining a positive and thriving work environment. The article will present the effects of alcohol and drug abuse, the types of tests available, and the preventive measures that both parties can take to create a substance-free workplace.

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Employees and businesses can experience detrimental effects because of alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace. Substance use disorder is a serious issue that can lead to safety risks, poor performance, and negative work behaviours. The influence of alcohol and illicit drugs can impair judgment, coordination, and cognitive abilities. This puts not only the abuser but also their coworkers at risk.

Heavy drinking and abuse of alcohol can greatly impact productivity. Workers who engage in excessive consumption are more likely to exhibit absenteeism and increased accidents. Its toxic effects can impair motor skills, decrease focus and concentration, and lead to chronic medical conditions such as liver disease and cardiovascular issues. Employers must create a supportive environment that promotes early intervention and provides access to resources.

Illegal drug abuse poses significant risks to both physical and mental health. People may experience mood swings and impaired decision-making abilities. Moreover, some cases of abuse can result in theft. There are also financial implications for employers. These include increased insurance premiums due to increased liability risks. Also, there are higher costs associated with hiring new employees if an employee needs to be replaced.

Early Signs and Warnings of Substance Misuse

  • Changes in behaviour – Exhibiting sudden mood swings, irritability, or aggression.
  • Decline in job performance – This can be frequent errors or missed deadlines.
  • Absences or tardiness – Frequent or extended periods away from work without a valid reason.
  • Physical symptoms – Slurred speech, unsteady gait, bloodshot or glazed eyes.
  • Poor personal hygiene – Neglecting personal grooming, appearing dishevelled.
  • Financial difficulties – Borrowing or stealing money from colleagues.
  • Relationship issues – There is conflict or strain in personal and professional relationships.
  • Social withdrawal – Isolating oneself from coworkers and team activities.
  • Increased secrecy – Being evasive or avoiding discussions about personal life or activities.
  • Physical evidence – Finding drug paraphernalia, track marks, or strange odours.

A lab technician putting a hair sample in a container

Types of Tests to Detect Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace

To avoid safety issues, employers must implement measures to detect alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace. One effective way is through various kinds of tests. Urine tests are commonly used to detect the presence of substances in the body. This testing method involves the collection of urine specimens from the employee. It can detect recent and long-term abuse.

Companies also employ a hair test. Lab technicians get a sample of head or body hair. Afterwards, they send the specimen to a laboratory for analysis. This type of testing is particularly useful for employers. This is because it can detect drug use even up to 90 days after consumption. However, this method can be more expensive than others.

Another type of test is the breath test. It specifically detects the presence of alcohol in the body using a breathalyser. It measures the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in the breath. This is used as an indicator of the level of intoxication. If an individual goes beyond the legal limit or the limit set by the organisation, it can mean that they are abusing alcohol in the workplace.

Common Misused Substances that are Detected

The common substances that tests can detect include illicit drugs. This includes drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines, which can have dangerous effects. Moreover, the testing methods can identify prescription drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines. Individuals can use this by taking the medication of others or taking more than the prescribed amount.

Alcohol, although legal, is a substance that many people overuse. Its effects can create a hostile or unsafe work environment for other employees. Alcohol-related problems include reduced morale due to unprofessional behaviour and disruption of the workplace. By taking appropriate measures, companies can create a safer and healthier environment for their employees.

A woman speaking in front of a group of people in the workplace

Prevention Strategies for Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Prevention strategies for alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace are crucial. Implementing a policy is an essential step in addressing substance abuse issues. This policy should outline clear expectations, consequences, and support systems for employees. It should also include regular testing programs to detect any substances that workers use or consume.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are valuable resources that can make a significant impact in preventing alcohol and drug abuse. EAPs provide confidential counselling and referral services to employees struggling with substance use disorders. With guidance and support, workers can overcome challenges and seek appropriate treatment options. This can ultimately enhance their well-being and productivity.

Promoting education and awareness about the effects of substance abuse is another important strategy. Providing employees with information about the risks, consequences, and resources available can help raise awareness. Moreover, it can encourage early intervention. By fostering an open culture, employers can create an environment that encourages workers to seek help when necessary. Also, this can hold them accountable for their actions.

Treatment and Recovery Options

Businesses need to provide access to comprehensive treatment programs for employees. These programs may include outpatient treatment. This is where individuals receive counselling and therapy while still fulfilling their work obligations. Additionally, professionals can play a vital role in guiding workers through their recovery journey. They can offer medical support and monitor their progress.

Recovery support groups also contribute significantly to the rehabilitation process. Peer support, understanding, and shared experiences can be instrumental. People can maintain sobriety and regain control over their lives through successful treatment options. These groups provide a safe and judgment-free space to connect with others, fostering a sense of community.

Conclusion

Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace is a growing problem. It threatens the safety of employees, decreases productivity, and increases financial costs to businesses. Substance use can lead to impaired judgment, unsafe work practices, physical injuries, as well as physical health and mental conditions. Employers need to recognise the signs of abuse. They can then intervene and provide appropriate support and resources to employees struggling with alcohol or drug use.

Implementing testing programs can significantly reduce the risk factors. By utilising urine, hair or breath tests, employers can effectively identify individuals who may be under the influence of illicit substances. Testing provides valuable information. It not only helps maintain a healthy work environment but also supports the overall productivity of the workforce. Employers need to offer prevention strategies and treatment options such as education programs and outpatient treatment. This can help decrease the negative effects of substances among workers.

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