Boss Lady

5 ways to spot an addicted colleague and what to do about it


Business is hard. Work is hard.

You have to face the morning and evening commutes, you’re probably doing the work of two — or three — people, and you have to finish those expense reports on time.

We all face different pressures on the job. Interpersonal problems can turn into professional problems—and if we’re having problems with our coworkers or employees, it can make it even harder to do our jobs.

Addicted coworkers or employees are one such problem. While drug or alcohol abuse obviously affects individual employees, it can also affect so much more. Addicted coworkers take more time off work, are less productive when they do show up, and cost the company more in medical insurance expenses. They also hurt the overall morale of the company.

Addressing addiction early is important. People who seek rehab early in their addictions have a better chance at effectively treating these addictions. This early treatment can prevent lost productivity and restore office morale.

Many people do not realize their addictions are out of control until they affect the most important aspects of their lives—like work. Even if employees are not necessarily actively using on the job, drug use can still strongly affect them. This drug use can leech into other aspects of their professional and personal lives.

Here are some ways to address the alcohol or drug abuse of a coworker or employee:

1. Do your research

There are many resources to guide you on how to spot the symptoms of abuse and how to find treatment. Looking into the situation is far more important than making assumptions. After all, your coworker isn’t alone, and there’s a great deal of others out there who need resources and help, too.

Some useful sites include government-related sites, including:

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA for Teens),

National Institutes of Health (NIH),

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP),

Other useful sites dispense medical information:

Mayo Clinic,


Several other sites also provide useful information about drugs and alcohol, signs of addiction, and treatments for addiction. If you search for information, look for sites affiliated with government agencies, major medical centers, universities, and other institutions with good reputations. There are a lot of opinions out there, but you’re searching for facts.

2. Pay attention

You can apply the research you’ve gathered in step one to examine your coworker’s appearance, personality, and behavior.

This observation can help you determine if he or she is truly an addict.

If you suspect a colleague is abusing drugs and it is affecting his or her work, it will be important to specify exactly what behaviors give you reason to suspect substance abuse. More generally, changes in behavior, absences or tardiness, changes in energy levels, and the neglect of hobbies, family, and friends can all be indicators of substance abuse. While other problems might be occurring, observation can reveal the real extent of the problem over time. You may then wish to bring up these problems with an HR Manager. If there are specific ways that your coworker’s work has affected their performance or your ability to do your own job, write those down so you can have specific examples.

3. Know the policy

With a comprehensive substance policy, it’s crucial that companies inform employees about their companies’ drug policies. By providing informational sessions about the dangers surrounding substance abuse and drug addiction, employees will come to work with a clear understanding of the company’s posture toward substance abuse.

Some industries have strong drinking cultures. This may alienate some employees or provide a negative influence on others. If workplaces provide clear information on their substance abuse policies early, they can better prepare themselves to provide for those employees who may demonstrate issues with such abuse later. This information can also clarify important company standards and make certain that important policies are being exercised correctly.

4. Help them find treatment

There are different kinds of services that can help your employees or coworkers find the substance abuse treatment they need.

There are firms that provide resources to addicted individuals and their human resources (HR) departments. These firms educate people about drugs, alcohol, and addiction and describe how these factors can have an impact on both individuals and their workplaces. These centers also discuss treatment options and work to help connect addicts to those options.

For example, an employee might be in serious need of integrated dual diagnosis treatment, as they are battling both depression and alcoholism. The support of an employee that helps them move toward treatment could be life-saving.

5. Offer confidential, continuous support

If your coworker or employee seeks help at an addiction treatment center, he or she could still experience problems afterward. When this person returns to work, it might be very difficult for him or her to feel welcome in the office environment. Despite some progress, many people still stigmatize addiction. Human Resources (HR) departments have only recently begun to openly address the problems of substance abuse at work. However, this positive advancement only means that the recognition of addiction as a disease will help to shift the perspective of the addict to that of an ill individual in need of a great deal of support.

By continuing to show positivity and trust in the employee or coworker who has returned from treatment, the company can demonstrate its important investment in the employee. This employee can return the investment by continuing to provide value through his or her consistent standing within the workplace. These actions show that treatment, not dismissal, can provide great benefits to individuals and their workplaces.

By moving through a tricky situation like an addicted coworker with care and understanding, an employee can continue to develop their career in important ways, no matter the curve balls that are thrown at them.

About Simone Flynn

Simone Flynn blogs about addiction, recovery, mental health, and wellness. Check out her blog and twitter

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