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Helping a co-worker through addiction

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

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.

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.

Signs of drug abuse in a co-worker

Here are some of the most common symptoms of drug abuse in order to help you assess your situation, so that you can take your first step towards recovery.

• 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.

To talk to an expert who can help when dealing with an alcoholic co-worker, please call our free phone line on 0800 002 9010 or email

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