Identifying alcohol or drug abuse in the workplace

Chemical dependency can dramatically affect an employee's ability to contribute to your company's success. In economic terms, an addiction can lead to a drop in productivity, reduced product quality, increased absenteeism, and higher health care costs. In human terms, an addiction can lead to failed marriages, broken homes, severe emotional problems, and even death. Depending on the nature of the individual's work, public safety can be jeopardized.

Because an addiction impacts every facet of a person's life, the problem must be addressed at many different levels, including the place of employment. The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital allows employers to offer a comprehensive program of evaluation, treatment, counseling and support for employees and their families. The following information may help you determine if an employee or co-worker is having a problem with alcohol or drugs:

Six possible symptoms of addiction in the workplace:

  1. Change in work attendance or performance
  2. Alteration of personal appearance
  3. Mood swings or attitude changes
  4. Withdrawal from responsibility or associate contacts
  5. Unusual patterns of behavior
  6. Defensive attitude concerning the object of addiction

How an alcoholic employee behaves

Early Phase:
Drinks to relieve tension. Alcohol tolerance increases. Experiences blackouts (memory blanks). Lies about drinking habits.
Visible signs
Attendance­ Arrives late (after lunch). Leaves job early. Is often absent from work.
General behavior­ Overreacts to real or imagined criticism. Complains of not feeling well. Lies. Fellow workers complain about the individual.
Job performance­ Misses deadlines. Makes mistakes because of inattention or poor judgment. Experiences decreased efficiency.
Middle Phase:
Engages in surreptitious drinking. Feels guilty about drinking. Experiences tremors during hangovers. Experiences a loss of interest.
Visible signs
Attendance­ Takes frequent days off for vague ailments or implausible reasons.
General behavior­ Statements become undependable. Begins to avoid associates. Borrows money from co-workers. Exaggerates work accomplishments. Is hospitalized more than average. Has repeated minor injuries on and off the job. Feels unreasonable resentment.
Job performance­ Experiences general deterioration and a spasmodic work pace. Has wandering attention and a lack of concentration.
Late Middle Phase:
Avoids discussion of problems. Fails in efforts at control. Neglects food. Prefers to drink alone.
Visible signs
Attendance­ Takes frequent time off, sometimes for several days. Fails to return from lunch.
General behavior­ Is grandiose, aggressive or belligerent. Domestic problems interfere with work. Has an apparent loss of ethical values. Garnishes salary; experiences loss of money. Hospitalization increases. Refuses to discuss problems. Has trouble with the law.
Job performance­ Is far below expected level.
Late Phase:
Believes that other activities interfere with drinking.
Visible signs
Attendance­ Prolonged unpredictable absences.
General behavior­ Drinking on the job. Totally undependable. Repeated hospitalization. Visible physical deterioration. Worsening financial problems. Serious family problems and/or divorce.
Job performance­ Uneven and generally incompetent.
Source: CompCare Publishers