How to Help a Coworker Struggling with Substance Abuse

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When you think of substance abuse, images of someone homeless, face down on a bar or lazing around on the couch might come to mind. The truth of the matter is that substance abuse can wear a suit and tie and pressed khakis, much like one of your coworkers or employees. High Focus Centers is here to help you identify the signs of abuse in the workplace and offer tips on what you can do to help.

Indications of Abuse

One of the main signs an employee or coworker might have a problem with substance abuse is constantly being late for work or missing work entirely. While you shouldn’t be bothered by infrequent or explainable tardiness or absences, something more might be amiss if the person offers paper-thin excuses or doesn’t even bother to try coming up with a good reason.

An employee or coworker struggling with substance abuse might also not keep up with him or herself like he or she used to, coming in with wrinkled clothes, having poor personal hygiene or simply looking tired all the time. Another indication of potential abuse is degrading work performance and quality. Employees and coworkers who were once open about their lives but suddenly shut down emotionally, mentally, and verbally might also have developed a problem, and the same is true of anyone who displays such physical indications as:

  • Falling asleep at work
  • A sudden and inexplicable loss of weight or bursts of energy
  • Being unbalanced in her or his gait

Again, the mild or temporary existence of the above indications is not always cause for alarm or a meeting. Over time, you get a sense of someone’s natural personality, habits, and performance, so always trust your gut if you feel something might be off.

So, if there is a substance problem, how can you help a struggling coworker or employee?

What You Can Do

One of the best things coworkers and employers alike can do to help employees struggling with substance abuse is to encourage them to seek treatment, but then let them get back to work. Establishing and adhering to a routine is essential for creating a healthy structure and foundation. The brain has something new to focus on, which is better than sitting alone with one’s thoughts and thinking back on past mistakes and potentially using again.

Employers should sit down with troubled employees to create a legal agreement that outlines what is expected upon the individual’s return and the consequences of failing to meet that agreement. Many organizations offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) specifically for situations like this, and employees can be referred for help at no cost. As for other employees who are aware of the abuse, they should act as sources of support for the returning or struggling individual, doing their best not to churn up the rumor mill in the process. Both coworkers and employers should also make sure the employee in question does not become obsessed with work, something that can block her or him from recovering or succumbing to another addiction.

If you suspect an employee or coworker is abusing substances, or if a coworker or employee is returning to work from rehab, know that High Focus Centers is here to help. Reach out to us for more information.