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Addiction at work

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Helping an addicted co-worker requires diplomacy and delicacy. In the majority of cases, individuals are in denial about their problem, which can make the task all the more difficult. Challenging an addicted colleague about their drinking or drug habits could very well result in a defensive reaction on their behalf. In cases like this, it is important to think about the impact on their health and well-being, let alone productivity and morale. If those issues are ignored and allowed to fester, they will get progressively worse.

Helping an addicted co-worker

Alcoholism at work is becoming more of a problem, now more than ever. According to the NHS, ‘an estimated 1.6 million may have some degree of alcohol dependence’. Statistics like this illustrate just how many people fail to seek help with their alcohol addiction due to the fear of job loss and judgement from fellow work colleagues. Here, Port of Call offers advice on alcohol testing at work and alcoholism at work overall, to help guide you, or your colleague, towards the most appropriate alcohol addiction treatment.

How to help an alcoholic co-worker

Dealing with an alcoholic co-worker can be difficult, however, it is important in these situations to focus on the bigger picture and to try and be the difference they need, in order to recover. If you find confronting an addicted colleague about their behaviour daunting, the following tactics may help.

  • Intervention – A structured and professional intervention can be extremely effective, especially if you are unsure how to confront the behaviour proactively and sensitively. An intervention can be a powerful tool to help show a person the broad-ranging impact that their addictions are having, and can help encourage them to reach out for help and seek rehabilitation if this is what they need.
  • Careful wording – The words ‘addiction’ and ‘alcoholism’ carry a heavy stigma. It is advisable to use phrases like ‘problem’ or ‘struggle’ instead when approaching the individual. Fostering a caring, non-accusatory and non-judgmental dialogue could help your co-worker that is dealing with an alcohol addiction to open up to you without becoming angry or defensive. It is important, however, to highlight the effects of their alcohol or drug use and give an honest assessment of how it is affecting their ability to do their job.
  • Leverage – A stark ultimatum can often act as a powerful bargaining tool in these kinds of situations. Though it may seem harsh, sometimes telling an alcoholic co-worker that their job may be at risk – unless they resolve their drinking and drug problems – can provide the jolt they need.

Your main aim when helping an addicted co-worker is to assist with their recovery. It is important you do not try and take on the role of helping them recover and encourage them to seek help. Your main role when dealing with an alcoholic co-worker should be to assure your colleague that you will fully support them if they accept help and take this opportunity to point them in the direction of professional help.

Alcoholism at work

Signs of an alcoholic colleague

In order for you to assess if your colleague is in need of addiction help, it is important to know the common signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

  • Reduced productivity and increased absences.
  • Frequent hangovers and blood shot eyes.
  • Irrational behaviour including paranoia, irritability and emotional outbursts.
  • Secretive and dishonest behaviour.
  • Hiding evidence of their addiction.
  • Increased negativity and symptoms of depression.
  • Physical signs of withdrawal, such as shakes, perspiration and irritation.
  • Bloodshot eyes and larger or smaller pupils.
  • Sudden weight loss or gain.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

Behavioural signs of drug abuse

  • Poor attendance at work.
  • Suspicious or secretive behaviour.
  • Financial difficulties.

Psychological warning signs of drug addiction

  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or ‘spaced out.’
  • Unexplained changes in personality or attitude.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness.
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid.

Dealing with alcoholism at work

An alcoholic employee can have a huge effect on their colleagues and the company as a whole. Being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace puts the health and safety of all employees at risk and should therefore be addressed accordingly. Studies suggest alcoholism and work has grown due to the large amount of stress and heavy workloads placed on employees. Therefore, regular health and wellbeing meetings could be used as a preventative treatment method.

Of course, dealing with an alcoholic employee is an extremely difficult situation to be in, however it is important that action is taken and the issue is dealt with as soon as possible. By noticing the problem sooner, it will be easier to manage with addiction treatment. Employers have a duty of care to all employees and if a member of staff is thought to have an alcohol addiction, they must take reasonable action to help combat their colleague’s problem. Dismissal should be a last resort and an alcoholic employee should not be discouraged from seeking addiction help out of fear of losing their job.

This infographic from SHPOnline shows just how much alcohol and drug abuse has had a huge impact on the United Kingdom’s economy, with it costing the UK £36bn in total each year. Seventy percent of these substance abusers are in full time employment, and seventeen million working days are lost to alcohol misuse alone.

Alcohol in the workplace infographic

Common signs of alcoholism at work can include:

  • Frequent hangovers
  • Reduced productivity
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Change in temperament
  • Regularly speaking about their unusual drinking habits

Alcohol and work performance

Studies suggest there is a strong correlation between alcoholic employees and poor work productivity. A report published in the British Medical Journal has stated that alcohol is directly or indirectly responsible for 40% of workplace accidents and 17 million lost days of work per year, equating to a cost of £7.3 billion to the UK economy. Many companies have employee alcohol policies in place and it is important that these policies are actioned in order to ensure alcoholism and work don’t intertwine.

How does random alcohol testing work?

Alcohol testing at work is a common preventative method many companies undertake. The construction and railway industries commonly carry out alcohol testing in order to protect the health and safety of employees and the public. Random alcohol testing in the workplace is legal in the UK, providing the procedure is undertaken in accordance with the human rights act. For example, the individual’s privacy should be respected. There are three types of alcohol tests; urine, oral and hair testing. Testing an individual’s hair is the most intrusive form of alcohol testing and is also a relatively lengthy process. Urine and oral tests are the most common.

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To talk to an expert who can help when dealing with an alcoholic co-worker, please call our free phone line on 0808 301 9235 or email help@portofcall.com.

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