It’s hard enough to deal with a close friend or family member who has a drug problem. In most cases, you can expect a lot of drama—and even violence in some cases—if and when you muster enough courage to stage an intervention and convince your drug-addicted loved one to get help. So you can only imagine how much harder helping a drug addict can be if that person is someone you work with.
Helping a colleague with a drug problem is, without a doubt, a daunting task for anyone in the workplace. However, no one can deny that it’s an issue that needs to be immediately addressed. Ignore the problem, and you can only expect your colleague’s drug issues to have an impact on the productivity, health and safety of the entire workplace.
Signs and symptoms of a drug problem
However, before you can do something to help a colleague with a drug problem, you need to be sure he or she actually has one. That means you have to know what the signs and symptoms of addiction are. They include:
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Deteriorating physical appearance
- Bloodshot eyes
- Impaired coordination, slurred speech and tremors
- Breath, body and clothing that smell unusual
And those are just the physical signs. There are also behavioural and psychological signs of drug abuse or addiction, such as:
- Plunging performance at work
- Seemingly constant financial problems, to the point where borrowing or stealing money has become a habit
- Gets into fights or any other kind of trouble
- Sudden mood swings
- Irritability, or angry outbursts
- Sudden and unexplained personality changes
Discussing a colleague’s drug problem with your supervisor
Now let’s be realistic about something: it is not your place to diagnose drug addiction in a co-worker just because you’ve spotted the signs and symptoms listed above. Keep in mind that there could be other reasons for the above symptoms. So if you’re really concerned that a co-worker has a drug problem and you want to help, the wisest thing you can do is to sit down with your supervisor and discuss your concerns.
Admittedly, however, things can get a little more complicated for co-workers. For one thing, no one likes to be forever known in the workplace as a snitch. Employees are also averse to the idea that their decision to discuss such concerns with their supervisor could eventually lead to someone losing their job.
However, if you really care not only about the drug-addicted co-worker but all your other colleagues as well, you may have no other choice but to tell your supervisor about your concerns, particularly when that person acts as if there isn’t any problem at all.
Why it’s best to tell your supervisor
Directly confronting a person about his or her drug habit usually doesn’t work. After all, it is expected of most drug abusers to be in denial about their situation. The person, however, has to be confronted eventually, and the person in the best position to do that would be your supervisor.
For workplaces with clearly established drug policies, supervisors and managers are typically trained to handle cases of drug problems within the workforce. Their approach in confronting affected employees is not focused on interrogating them about their suspected drug habit itself, but by discussing other surrounding issues such as their tardiness, absenteeism or declining performance at work. More often than not, they will be taking note of these issues before they talk to the worker directly. In such discussions, supervisors will usually be able to determine if there are any underlying causes for these work performance issues.
If the employee opens up about a drug problem, supervisors will then refer them to the human resource department for assistance, particularly if the company’s policies and programs on drugs on the workplace stipulate that kind of help for troubled workers. The affected worker could get assistance through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and participate in drug and alcohol treatment programs.
If your coworker remains in denial, the case will still be referred by your supervisor to the HR department, which will then opt to recommend a drug test at work, especially when there is reasonable suspicion that the employee is indeed suffering from substance abuse. Any further action will depend on the results of the drug test and the stipulations of the established drug and alcohol policy.
Remember, helping a colleague with a drug problem is helping yourself and everyone else in your place of work. After all, everyone’s livelihood and safety will always be affected when someone you work with is under the influence.