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Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

October is National Substance Abuse Awareness Month. Drug and alcohol abuse is a growing issue, affecting many directly and indirectly; it deserves to be appropriately acknowledged and understood. Let’s briefly go over how substance abuse can affect your workplace.

While OSHA does not currently have policies requiring a drug-free workplace, the Division of Workplace Programs (DWP) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) strives to have all workplaces become drug-free, starting at the federal level. It supervises programs that implement a drug-free atmosphere in a variety of workplaces.

Scary Statistics

  • 75% of adults who have a substance abuse disorder are part of the workforce
  • In the construction industry, reported workplace drug use has increased by over 13% between 2015 and 2018
  • The transportation & warehousing industry saw a 34% increase (Source)
  • In 2017, more than 72,000 adults died of a drug overdose
  • About 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes
  • 24% of American workers report drinking during the workday at least once during the year

These statistics should give you pause. Substance abuse causes a loss of productivity, increases workplace accidents and injuries, and increases illness. However, these are not merely rising numbers, but a representation of a massive group of individuals. They may be the strangers you pass on the street, the employees in your workplace, your friends, or even your family members. Chances are you know someone personally that is now or at some point struggled with substance abuse or addiction.

There is not just one demographic or type of person subject to drug and alcohol abuse. Due to the complexity and combination of factors that put someone at risk, anyone could fall victim to a substance-related addiction or disorder. Often times it could be those you least expect.

Signs & Symptoms of Abuse

There may come a time when an employee in your workplace displays indications of an alcohol or drug abuse issue. These behaviors impair the employee and hinder their functionality and productivity at work. It is important to become familiar with potential signs because they can be subtle and manifest in ways you would not expect.

Remember, oftentimes people with an addiction do not recognize the harm they are causing, or if they do, they cannot “just stop” their behavior. Taking action in response to these warnings of substance abuse will be of benefit to both the employee of concern and your company.

Physical – Physical signs are most easily noticed. The employee may have bloodshot or glassy eyes, an unkempt appearance, nosebleeds, or smell of strong odors. Recurrent flu-like symptoms, weight change, or constant congestion are also common physical symptoms of substance addiction.

Emotional – Emotional symptoms can include mood swings from extreme cheerfulness to irritability or depression. The person may also experience anxiety, fear, or severe paranoia.

Behavioral – The employee may appear lazy or experience extreme sleepiness. Their productivity decreases, and although they may be physically present, they are spaced out or very distracted. They may begin stealing from the company or become unreliable.


What do you do when you observe an employee exhibiting behavior indicating substance abuse? Your answer can be found in your company’s Drug and Alcohol Policy. Dealing with an employee struggling with substance abuse may be an extremely delicate and difficult situation. The policy helps you respond by dictating what steps to take and when to take them.

In our next blog post, we’ll go over some of the actions employers can take if they suspect an employee has a substance abuse issue. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about substance abuse in the workplace, check out these trainings:

Good luck and stay safe!