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What to do if a Coworker Struggles with Addiction

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

What to do if a Coworker Struggles with Addiction

When entering the workforce, very few people are prepared with information on how to help someone with an opioid addiction in the workplace. Because a large number of individuals with substance use disorder are still able to function at their jobs and at home while continuing to misuse drugs, they’re often struggling in silence. There are certain signs to look for when a coworker or employee begins to underperform or act out of character and recognizing these symptoms could potentially save their life.

Notice the Signs

With nearly 23.5 million Americans facing some form of addiction, the chances of coming across a coworker misusing substances are relatively high. While it may not be evident to everyone, changes in behavior and appearance rarely go unnoticed. Keep a lookout for these signs:

  • Performance is lacking, and deadlines are missed

  • Drastic and unusual mood changes

  • Changes in appearance and hygiene

  • Frequent disappearances from the workspace

  • Forgetfulness and disorganization

  • Theft and disappearance of valuables

  • Slowed down or lethargic mannerisms

  • Recurrent illness and failing to show up for work

Industries at Highest Risk

Research shows that the prevalence of substance use disorder is higher in certain lines of work than others, contributing to the annual average of full-time employed people dealing with substance misuse or addiction of nearly 9.5%. Workers in hospitality and food services have a high value of 16.9% rate of substance misuse, along with construction at 14.3%, arts, and entertainment at 12.9%, along with labor jobs like mining, utilities, and administrative workers at 11%, putting them well above the average.

Often overlooked sectors of workers that are at particularly high-risk are first responders such as firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement. About 30% of these workers have untreated mental health conditions that may lead to substance misuse as a form of self-medication. The often stressful and traumatic nature of these vocations can expose workers to PTDS, depression, anxiety, and many other issues that can often be identified as a dual-diagnosis among those in treatment for addiction.

How to Help

Approaching a colleague that is exhibiting signs of suspected substance misuse or addiction can be tricky, and it’s not unusual for people to avoid this kind of confrontation. However, when dealing with close coworkers, it can significantly improve their chances of seeking help if approached by supportive and caring peers in the workplace. There are several ways to know how to help someone with opioid addiction, and those types of environments include:

  • Clear directives of the American with Disabilities Act

  • Resources for outpatient treatment programs

  • Consulting others to maintain a safe space

Workplaces handle substance misuse differently; however, when in the position of a coworker, these situations can become precocious and affect other people if there’s an alarming concern for a coworker suspected of illicit substance misuse while on the job or otherwise, there may be a time for an intervention among coworkers or superiors who are willing to help the person seek treatment and help.


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