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January 29, 2007
How to Spot Substance Abuse Among Your Employees

Do you have substance abusers among your employees? According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), you probably do. DOL reports that the chances your organization employs one or more of the millions of American workers who abuse drugs or alcohol is greater today than ever. DOL also says that their studies reveal that substance abuse has a tremendously negative impact in the workplace. Substance abusers are more likely to:

  • Be absent and/or show up late.
  • Make mistakes.
  • Take risks.
  • Be involved in workplace accidents.
  • File workers' compensation claims.

Getting a handle on this dangerous and costly problem begins with recognizing the symptoms and identifying possible abusers.

How can you tell if an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol? DOL says that the following performance and behavior problems are common to many employed individuals who abuse alcohol and/or other drugs:

Performance problems include:

  • Inconsistent work quality
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced productivity
  • Increased absenteeism and lateness
  • Unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
  • Carelessness, mistakes
  • Errors in judgment
  • Risk-taking
  • Disregard for safety
  • Extended lunch periods and early departures

Behavior problems include:

  • Frequent financial problems
  • Avoidance of friends and colleagues
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Blaming others for own problems and shortcomings
  • Complaints about problems at home
  • Deterioration in personal appearance
  • Complaints and excuses of vaguely defined illnesses

Please note, however, that an employee who displays any of these

Why It Matters...
  • One in five American workers report that they have been put in danger or injured as a result of a fellow employee's substance abuse.
  • Over 70 percent of substance abusers are employed.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to substance abuse, and substance abusers are more than three times as likely to have an accident on the job.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses billions of dollars every year in lost productivity, healthcare costs, and workers' compensation claims.

symptoms doesn't necessarily have a substance abuse problem. There could be other reasons (health or emotional problems, family problems, etc).

What else should you look for? In addition to looking at an employee's performance and behavior, you should also look at what's going on around that employee. For example, when there's a substance abuse problem, there might also be an increase in:

  • Complaints from other workers (about mistakes, the employee not doing his/her share of the work, coming in late and leaving early, risk-taking behavior, etc.)
  • Near misses and accidents either involving the worker or taking place around the worker
  • Disputes with or aggressive behavior toward other workers and supervisors
  • Theft from the company and co-workers

Over time you may also notice deterioration in morale among employees who work with or around substance abusers.

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