Identifying Substance Abuse in the Workplace

substance abuse
Credit: Sean Gannan

Substance abuse in the workplace can create many safety hazards and contribute to many workplace injuries. Here are some warning signs that substance abuse might be an issue at your workplace:

  • Excessive absences with no note from a doctor – if someone is missing a lot of work or habitually late, always making excuses, etc., it is possible that substance abuse is occurring.
  • Increased mistakes and the inability to concentrate – we all have “off” days where we don’t perform to our best. However, if this is occurring very often with a worker, it can be hazardous to them and everyone that has to work in their proximity. Sometimes increased errors and decreased concentration occur because of stress, which can itself lead to substance abuse.
  • Personal appearance declines – often, substance abusers will start caring less about their appearance. If a worker starts showing up disheveled and unkempt on a regular basis this can point to substance abuse. Physical changes such as skin tone and bloodshot eyes are other signs that something is wrong.
  • Your business is high stress – unfortunately, some industries are higher stress than others. If you are in the food or restaurant industry, investing, sales, etc., things can get pretty hectic when you are having to deal with a lot of customers.

Your role as manager

As a workforce leader, you need your employees to know that you care about their satisfaction in the workplace. A dissatisfied worker is far more likely to abuse substances. Here are some ways to help keep your employees productive and substance-free:

  • Always listen and consider their concerns – if employees have a problem that is making them uncomfortable, always listen to them. Mockery, anger, etc., will make sure that employees never approach you with an issue again. When employees feel like their opinions do not matter, they can become more stressed and dissatisfied. This can lead to them turning to illicit substances in order to deal with their problems.
  • Confront substance abuse with care and compassion – just because an employee has a problem, it does not mean there is no hope. Reach out and offer them support. Point them in the direction of counseling and services that can help. If your health insurance provider covers substance abuse treatments, make sure the employee is aware of it. Don’t make them feel like they are a failure or a bad person. Often, people can make full recoveries and get back to being healthy and productive employees.

Combating the problem for the overall health of your business

Since it can be impossible to know for sure that an employee has a problem, a simple oral fluid lab test can provide the answers you need. This is one of the first steps to making sure that substances have no place in your business. This will prevent injuries, costly errors, and the loss of productivity that can decrease the overall success of your business. Combating the problem can also help lead to resolutions of other workplace problems that you might not have been aware of previously.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.


  1. Stephanie says

    This was a great article and such an important topic. Being overly stressed at work and feeling overwhelmed can really push someone to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. I agree that in the situations where an employer may suspect that an employee is using drugs and the signs are there, requiring that they take a drug test would be the best thing to do.

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