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If You Have an Employee With a Substance Use Disorder, You Could Be Their Lifeline

When the holiday season arrives, workplace parties are a common form of celebration. Some amount of alcohol consumption is expected during these events, and most who attend will drink responsibly and in moderation.

But you may have one or more employees who use the holiday party season as an excuse to release their inhibitions. In some instances this is just a sign of irresponsibility, but in other cases it could be an indicator of legitimate substance abuse issues.

If you’re planning a holiday party for your employees during the Christmas/New Year’s season, it would be wise to let them know ahead of time what your expectations are with regard to alcohol consumption and general behavior. Most will undoubtedly listen and take your proclamations seriously, but there may be some who are unable to resist the temptation to drink to excess.

Overindulgence at holiday parties is common among those who suffer from alcohol addiction. As an employer or manager you need to be aware of this reality, and when you observe this type of behavior you should take it very seriously.

Does Your Employee Really Have a Substance Use Problem? Here’s How You Can Tell

If you have an employee or employees dealing with substance use problems, drinking too much at a Christmas or New Year’s party will almost certainly not be the first indicator of trouble.

It is only a matter of time before men and women suffering from drug or alcohol addiction reveal themselves to everyone in their lives. Inevitably their off-the-job behavior will bleed into the workplace, and if you as an employer, supervisor, manager, employer or HR professional are paying attention, you will undoubtedly realize something is wrong, even if you aren’t sure what it might be.

When your employees are fighting a losing battle with drugs or alcohol, or in denial about their problem, here’s what you can expect:

  • Frequent tardiness or unexplained absences
  • More workplace accidents
  • Inconsistent on-the-job performance
  • An overall decline in productivity
  • More complaints or criticism from co-workers
  • Moodiness, irritability and an increased tendency to be argumentative
  • Questionable excuses for missed work days or botched assignments
  • Increasingly sloppy appearance; a lack of concern with personal grooming
  • Low energy and initiative
  • Symptoms consistent with a hangover or other types of physical illness
  • Denial and defensiveness if anyone tries to confront them about their drinking

While there may be other causes for such behaviors, substance abuse will always be one of the likeliest explanations. Ultimately, employees who manifest these types of symptoms need to be fully evaluated by medical professionals before a substance use disorder can be diagnosed, and when this occurs their right to privacy must be protected and they must receive a guarantee that honesty will not be punished.

Employee Assistance Programs, Health Insurance and Workplace Wellness Initiatives

It is never too late to help a valued employee suffering from a substance use problem. But prevention is the only sure cure for addiction, and if you take a proactive approach you may never have to worry about an employee or colleague embarrassing him or herself at a holiday celebration.

To stay ahead of the curve, many businesses have sponsored employee assistance programs (EAPs) that specifically target substance abuse and related health issues. These initiatives are multilayered on-the-job outreach programs that offer information, advice, guidance, therapy, educational sessions and referrals to substance abuse treatment providers as needed, all backed by a guarantee of 100% confidentiality for employees who come forward on their own to ask for help.

In some instances, employers choose to offer substance abuse assistance under the umbrella of company wellness programs that encompass and address a wide range of physical, behavioral and emotional health issues. Open and honest dialogue about the risks of drug and alcohol abuse can be and should be a major part of such programs, since six out of 10 American adults who abuse drugs and alcohol are employed full time and substance abuse costs the U.S. economy almost $300 million each year in lost productivity.

Under current law, all health insurance plans, including those offered through the job, must cover essential inpatient and/or outpatient treatment services for substance abuse. Unfortunately, many workers do not realize they have such protections, which is why any anti-chemical dependency outreach programs you sponsor should inform employees they are eligible for up to three months of unpaid leave each year if they need treatment for a substance use disorder.

This would be the case if your company provides health insurance as a benefit of employment, but even if you don’t, your employees should still be eligible for drug and alcohol rehab through whatever private health plan they’ve purchased.

Saving Businesses and Saving Lives

Drinking to excess at holiday parties is still relatively common and not always a sign of addiction. But sometimes it is, and you as an employer should be aware and alert enough to realize it.

If the person overindulging at your office party is an employee you already suspect is having personal problems, it would be a mistake to let this incident pass by without comment. Any approach you make should be cautious, sensitive and non-accusatory, but it is in your best interest and the best interest of your employee to be proactive and not wait until things get completely out of hand.

From a business perspective this is a smart strategy, since no one likes to lose a valued employee. But there is also a human element to be considered:  if you’ve hired someone or are supervising someone with an unacknowledged and unaddressed substance use problem, you might be in a perfect position to make a positive impact in their life.

Losing a job or career is something that everyone fears, and interventions initiated by employers might carry more weight (in some cases) than the well-intentioned efforts of family and friends.  Addicts need to break through the walls of denial that keep them trapped inside the smothering bubble of chemical dependency, and caring, compassionate employers are often the ones best positioned to help them finally admit the truth.

There is still hope.

Our licensed addiction experts can help. Call us today for a confidential assessment.

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