How We Can All Help Those With A Substance Addiction To Get Back Into The Workplace

The Scale Of The Overall Problem

Alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for their employer, business and industry ranging from lost productivity, injuries, accidents and an increase in health sick days not to mention theft, deception and malpractice in certain industries and professions.

The loss to companies and the United Kingdom due to alcohol and drug-related abuse and addiction by employees totals £7.3 billion a year.

These staggering numbers do not include the cost of diverting company resources that could be used for other purposes, toward addressing substance abuse issues, nor does it include the “pain and suffering” aspects which cannot be measured in economic terms.

Drink and drug abuse and addiction among the UK workforce create costly medical, social, mental and other problems that affect both employees, employers, industries and the national workforce/workplace and overall economy for the UK.

Substance abuse/addiction among employees and employers can threaten public safety, impair job performance, damage relationships, ruin businesses, increase the burden on the Government benefit system as well as burdens on the NHS and physical/mental healthcare industries, threaten the safety or themselves, their customers, patients, clients, employees and service users.

Problems Caused Directly In The Workplace

In addition to deaths and accidents, absenteeism and loss of production as well as other problems that alcohol and drug abuse/addiction can cause on the job can include:

  • Tardiness/sleeping on the job
  • Hangover, physical or psychological withdrawal affecting job performance from addicts without having had drugs or alcohol
  • Being drunk or high from addicts who have used or drank before or during their time at work
  • Poor decision making
  • Loss of efficiency/productiveness
  • Theft or fraud
  • Lower morale & mental health of co-workers, employees, employers, CEO’s and the self-employed
  • Increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers, supervisors or bosses
  • Reduction in the quality of services provided or product creation, repair or disposal
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using drink or drugs while at work, interfering with attention and concentration
  • Illegal activities at work including selling, making and using drugs or alcohol to other employees or customers
  • Higher turnover of staff
  • Training of new or replacement employees
  • More disciplinary procedures being enacted

Measuring The Costs Of Substance Abuse & Addiction

However, costs to businesses and government organisations can be measured at the expense of absenteeism, injuries, health insurance claims, loss of productivity, employee morale, theft, malpractice, reduction in quality of services or products, increased burden on services and demand as well as serious, life changing injuries, illnesses or fatalities.

Impacts Of Drug & Alcohol Abuse

According to NCADI statistics, alcohol and drug abusers/addicts:

  • Are far less productive
  • Use three times as many sick days as compared to those without addictions
  • Are more likely to injure themselves or someone else
  • Are five times more likely to file a compensation claim

One survey found that 9% of heavy drinkers and 10% of drug users had missed work because of a hangover or withdrawal, 6% had gone to work high or drunk in the past year and 11% of heavy drinkers and 18% of drug users had skipped work on more than 2 occasions in the past month.

Factors Contributing To Employee/Employer Substance Abuse Or Addiction

Recent research has shown that several factors can contribute to problem drinking and drug use in the workplace. Factors that can encourage or discourage workplace substance abuse or continuation of addictions or addictive behaviours include:

  • Workplace culture and acceptance of drinking/drug use
  • Workplace alienation
  • Availability of alcohol and drugs
  • Existence and enforcement of workplace substance abuse policies
  • The type of industry they work in
  • Whether it is a private business or public service such as the NHS
  • The amount of staff development, training and promotion opportunities offered
  • What support options are in place for staff who admit to having an addiction
  • The amount of hours they work
  • Whether they work fixed hours, rotational/unstable Rita’s or shift patterns
  • Whether they work during the day or night, during the week or include weekends
  • The amount of responsibility they have
  • Their pay grade & level of education
  • Whether they work from home or external specific worksite
  • How much travelling is required & by what type of transportation used
  • Whether they have to work/stay away from home regularly or infrequently for work
  • Which countries they work in
  • Whether they work/perform more than one job
  • The amount of work experience they have

Workplace Culture 

The culture of the workplace can play a large role in whether drinking and drug use are accepted and encouraged or discouraged and inhibited. Part of this culture can depend on the gender mix of employees/employers, their ages and which industry(ies) they work in.

In predominantly female-led occupations, research shows that both male and female employees/employers are less likely to have substance abuse problems compared to employees/employers of both genders in male-dominated occupations and industries.

Recent studies and ever growing bodies of evidence have found that male-dominated occupations create a heavy drinking culture in which employees drink to build solidarity and show conformity. Therefore, these occupations have higher rates of alcohol- and drug-related issues.

Any industry or organisation can be affected by workplace alcoholism, however research shows it is prevalent in these following industries: food service, construction, hospitality and tourism and other perceived “macho” occupations & industries.

Drug use is also more prevalent in the medical profession, social care, administration and industries and professions that involve high risks or fast-paced action.

Workplace Alienation 

Research has concluded that the job itself can contribute to higher rates of employee substance abuse/addiction. Work that is boring, stressful or isolating can contribute to employees’ drinking. Employee substance abuse has been linked to low job autonomy, lack of job complexity, lack of control over work conditions and products, boredom, sexual harassment, verbal and physical aggression and disrespectful behavior.

Alcohol Availability 

The availability and accessibility of alcohol can influence employee drinking.

During a survey undertaken in 2018, more than two-thirds of the 984 workers surveyed at a large manufacturing plant said it was “easy” or “very easy” to bring alcohol into the workplace to drink at workstations and/or to drink during breaks.

Likewise, jobs that sell, make, test or distribute alcohol such as pubs or bars are also at greater risk of developing or already having an alcohol abuse/addiction issue due to alcohol being consumed around them by customers in their job. Likewise, the culture of also buying staff a drink by way of a tip or gratuity also increases and worsened the problem.

In cultures where alcohol is prohibited, drinking on the job and drinking, in general, is decreased significantly.


The level of supervision on the job can affect drinking and drugging at work rates. A study of evening shift workers, when supervision was reduced, found that employees were more likely to drink at work than highly supervised shifts.

Casual Drinkers Are a Problem, Too 

Remarkably, research shows it is the social drinkers, not the hard-core alcoholics or problem drinkers, who are responsible for most of the lost productivity, according to a Christian Science Monitor article, specifically tying the hangover issue to production in the workplace11nullWhat are the Symptoms of a Hangover?

This study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. And 21 percent of employees said their own productivity had been affected because of a co-worker’s drinking

Twenty-three percent of upper managers and 11 percent of first-line supervisors reported having a drink during the workday, compared with only 8 percent of hourly employees.

Prevention Works 

When the issue of workplace substance abuse is addressed by establishing comprehensive programs, it is a “win-win” situation for both employers and employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A study of the economic impact of substance abuse treatment in Ohio found significant improvements in job-related performance:

  • 91 percent decrease in absenteeism
  • 88 percent decrease in problems with supervisors
  • 93 percent decrease in mistakes in work
  • 97 percent decrease in on-the-job injuries.

Companies and employers, large and small, can adopt a workplace substance abuse policy that will reduce the loss of productivity and provide a safer work environment for all.

8 Steps To Take For Employers

1. Overview

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees’ health, safety and welfare. Understanding the signs of drug and alcohol misuse (or abuse) will help you to manage health and safety risk in your workplace, develop a policy to deal with drug and alcohol-related problems and support your employees.

What the issues are and what to look out for

Misuse is not the same thing as dependence. Drug and alcohol misuse is the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter medicines and substances such as solvents, aerosols or other types of chemical products.

Consider these warning signs, which could indicate drug or alcohol misuse:

  • Unexplained or frequent absences
  • A change in behaviour
  • Unexplained dips in productivity
  • More accidents or near-misses
  • Performance or conduct issues
  • Changes in the persons presentation and personal hygiene
  • Sweating, shaking, agitation or lethargy
  • Bruising or marks on their arms or other visible body parts
  • Drug paraphernalia and equipment

These can also be signs of other things, like stress or illness.

2. Consult Your Employees

You must consult employees or their representatives on health and safety matters. Consultation involves you not only giving information to employees but also listening to them and taking account of what they say.

You could ask your employees what they know about the effects of drugs and alcohol on health and safety and the restrictions or rules on drug and alcohol use in your business. Placing drug and alcohol policies in visible areas at work reminds people that they still have an obligation to their work and must follow the policies set.

Likewise, you can put up drug and alcohol awareness posters, advice and contact information for help and support services such as your nearest drug and alcohol service and/or you nearest AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). Contact information for all of these services can be found on our help and support page here.

3. Look At Safety-Critical Work

Think about the kind of work you do and any safety-critical elements where drug or alcohol misuse could have a serious outcome, for example:

  • Using machinery
  • Using electrical equipment or ladders
  • Driving or operating heavy lifting equipment
  • Moving heavy objects
  • Working from a height
  • Healthcare or medical roles
  • Emergency services personnel
  • The use, handling and access to controlled drugs

You can use this information to help with your risk assessment.

Where employees in safety-critical jobs seek help for alcohol or drug misuse, it may be necessary to transfer them to other areas of work, at least temporarily until they have undergone a fairly considerate amount of recovery therapy, treatments and support. Although drug and alcohol services cannot release information about particular people or patients, they can help you to decide when it is safe for them or anyone else to return to their previous roles that involved a possible risk to themselves or others had something gone wrong.

4. Develop A Policy

All organisations can benefit from an agreed policy on drug/alcohol misuse. You could include a drug and alcohol policy as part of your overall health and safety policy, staff training and induction process for new members of staff.

If an employee tells you they have a drug or alcohol problem, an effective policy should aim to help and support them rather than lead to dismissal.

But it should also highlight when you will take disciplinary or other action, for example that you will report drug possession or dealing at work to the police straight away.

There are examples of drug and alcohol policies in Health, work and wellbeing (PDF)- Portable Document Format – an Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) booklet and Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work – a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) booklet. More information about this can be found on our downloads and media page.

If you choose to use Screening and testing for drugs and alcohol, you should include that in your policy.

5. Check And Review What You Have Done

You should regularly check if your policy is working and whether you need to make changes. As with anything else, new information, research and best practice are being constantly improved so make sure that your policy contains the latest, most up to date information that will best support the employee and also the employer/business.

6. Screening And Testing For Drugs And Alcohol

Some employers have adopted screening as part of their drug and alcohol policy. If you want to do the same, think carefully about what you want screening to achieve and what you will do with the information it gives you, as certain types of information must be dealt with correct for data protection, privacy.

There may be a case for screening, particularly in certain jobs (for example employees who make safety-critical decisions like drivers, pilots, healthcare professionals, emergency services personnel and certain types of machinery operators). In jobs like these, the misuse of drugs or alcohol could have disastrous effects for the employee, colleagues, members of the public and the environment.

Bear in mind that:

  • Employees must consent to screening for practical and legal reasons
  • Screening by itself will not solve problems caused by drug and alcohol misuse and Where introduced, should be part of a company’s overall health and safety policy
  • Screening must be carried out properly to ensure samples cannot be contaminated or tampered with, and that testing procedures and analysis are accurate
  • Employees can’t be made to take a test but, if they refuse when an employer has good grounds for testing, they may face disciplinary action

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has more information on screening in their guide Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work . You can also find out more information about data protection and information sharing here.

For advice on how to make sure drug testing is reliable and accurate go to the European Workplace Drug Testing Society (EWDTS) website .

7. Support Employees With A Drug Or Alcohol Problem

When you’ve assessed the risk and have a policy on drug or alcohol misuse (or abuse) in your workplace, make sure your employees know about the policy and the support you offer. Again, displaying posters and signage in highly visable areas not only reinforces the rules that are to be expected whilst they are working but also to show that you are interested and care for your staff and employees by providing contact information for relevant local help and support services. You can find this information on our help and support page here.

Training And Awareness

You could increase awareness by including an explanation of the drug and alcohol misuse policy in your induction process for all new staff and employees.

You could also brief managers and supervisors so they are clear about:

  • How to recognise the signs of drug or alcohol misuse and addiction
  • The organisation’s rules on drug and alcohol misuse and addiction
  • What to do if they suspect an employee is misusing drugs or alcohol or are addicted to a substance
  • What to do when an employee tells them about a drug or alcohol abuse or addiction problem

We can help you develop unique policies, offer advice and support and training materials and content for businesses who want to best help their staff, employees and their business overall. You can find more information about this at the end of this article.

Support For Employees & Staff

Employees with a drug or alcohol problem may ask for help at work if they are sure their problems will be dealt with discreetly and confidentially, without fear of any negative consequences as a result of their admission. Also, consider your own legal position if you are given evidence or information that suggests an employee’s drug misuse or addiction has involved breaking the law at work.

Drug and alcohol dependence (physical & psychological addiction) are recognised medical problems which are protected under UK law. Someone who is misusing drugs or alcohol has the same rights to confidentiality and support as they would if they had any other type of medical or psychological condition.

Encourage them to get help from their GP or a specialist drug or alcohol service and refer them to your organisation’s occupational health service (if you have one). Contact information for these services can be found on our help and support page here.

Consider allowing someone time off to get expert help, support and treatment to overcome their addiction. Often the cost of recruiting and training a new employee may be more than the cost of a short period of time off.

Think about whether drug and alcohol misuse in your workplace is treated as a disciplinary matter or a health concern. If you dismiss someone because of drug or alcohol misuse without trying to help them, an employment tribunal may find that you’ve dismissed them unfairly.

But, if their normal work is safety-critical you may need to temporarily move them to another job. Talking and communication throughout the whole process is vital. Even though becoming an addict is tough, knowing that you have the support of your employer or company will make a huge difference to their treatment outcomes if they are not constantly worrying about losing their job and income. It also shows that you truly care for your staff and employees and that you only want the best for them. This also creates a stronger bond within the job or business.

Health Advice & Information

If you don’t have access to occupational health services, you can still support employees’ health and well-being. You can make sure there is information at work about where they can go for advice and help if they’re concerned about drug or alcohol misuse by using posters and signage as mentioned previously. There are organisations that can help. Likewise, us at Drink ‘n’ Drugs can also help you develop comprehensive, workable policies that contain the latest, up to date, most effective treatment and recovery tools and workplace campaigns and awareness information. You can contact us through our site or by emailing:

8. The Law

You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of your employees. Employees must also take reasonable care of themselves and anyone who could be affected by their work including fellow colleagues, customers and the general public.

There is up-to-date information on laws, such as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and The Road Traffic Act 1988, which apply to drug and alcohol misuse. Frank and our Drink ‘n’ Drugs website and blog also has useful information on the law.

We Can Help You

We can help you develop unique, comprehensive, up-to date policies and offer advice and support for business who want to best help their staff, employees, customers or patients and their business overall. You can contact us through our website or by emailing us at:

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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