4 Steps to Dealing with Addiction in Your Business

For some of your company’s employees, the struggle may be very real.

Variegated data from 2008 to 2012 suggests that on a yearly average 8.7 percent of full-time employees between the ages of 18 and 65 have abused alcohol within the past 30 days; 8.6 percent have used illicit drugs in the past month; and 9.5 percent have become dependent on alcohol or other substances during the past year.

Employees that come to work hungover, or otherwise too impaired in their ability to function fully and productively are a problem in businesses across the board. This is NOT a private or personal matter that employees must be left alone to work out for themselves — not when it impacts your business.

Professionals in the field of addiction behavior suggest following these steps to deal with substance abuse in the workplace:

Know the Level of Risk in Your Business

Not every job carries the same amount of stress or satisfaction. Every profession varies when it comes to opportunities and motivations to abuse chemicals. Treatment centers such as Recovery Village have developed detailed profiles of addiction by profession. Lawyers, doctors, food and accommodation services and law enforcement personnel are more at-risk than accountants or scientists.

Check the latest job description of your employees to see where they stand when it comes to incidents of substance abuse.

Be Aware of Substance Abuse Signs

According to the NCAAD, these include, but are not limited to:

  • Bloodshot eyes or constricted pupils;
  • Nose bleeds;
  • Sudden weight loss, or gain;
  • Unusual body odors or halitosis;
  • Sudden obsession with money;
  • Poor grooming;
  • Chronic tardiness and increased use of sick days and sudden emergencies;
  • Sudden mood swings, increased irritability or unexplained fits of laughter;
  • Complaints from co-workers of sloppy work, lack of interest in social interaction or alleged impairment.

Preliminary Steps

Before confronting an employee you suspect has an addiction problem that is impacting their work, check out the resources in your community that offer help for addiction and abuse.

Your employee may actually open up to you when you talk to him or her and if you can offer some specific places to go for help, it will reassure the employee that you really do care.

Call your insurance company to see what kind of coverage your employee has when it comes to rehab. This can be very reassuring to an employee who is having financial problems. And talk to your business lawyer before you have any contact with the employee. Make sure you understand your workplace policies concerning alcohol and drug use on the job and what you can and cannot tell or offer an employee.

It may not be a bad idea to have your attorney or some other reputable second party with you when you finally talk to your employee.


You may be the one initiating the discussion with an employee, or he or she may be the one who comes to you demanding to know the reason for being passed over for promotion or why a recent job performance review was so negative. Either way, experts suggest you begin the discussion with some general questions, such as “How are you feeling lately?”

Listen to what your employee has to say. He or she will probably begin sensing where you are going to take the discussion, and may become anxious or defensive. Make sure you have scheduled plenty of time for this important conversation. You are about to influence someone’s life and career in a major way.

Be gentle, but be firm. Let your employee know that this problem has real costs for your business.

Offer options and let the employee respond to your offer. Decide ahead of time, with your attorney and HR people, just what is an acceptable response from the employee.

Make it clear and sincere, and then let the employee have the final word and make their decision.

Act appropriately. And document everything that has been said in the meeting. If you are keeping the employee on probation, make sure to schedule a follow up meeting no more than five days later.

Intervention Photo via Shutterstock


Melissa Thompson

Melissa Thompson Melissa Thompson is a freelance producer and writer at USA Today for the web only video interview series 'Your Take'. She lives in Utah with her 2 kids and husband.

3 Reactions

  1. Brian Hughes

    Melissa, I commend you for covering this topic. This is not an easy subject to bring up. When I was a sales manager I had two sales reps that were suing elicit drugs and coming in hung over. I pretty much did everything you outlined in this article. One was successful and the other one had to be terminated. This topic can actually have the influence of saving someone’s life or their demise. The one thing I would add to this article, would be to find out if any current employees are in recovery from addiction. It’s a touchy subject in the marketplace – but some will let their management know for the exact purpose of helping other employees struggling with addiction. This could be extremely beneficial in the efforts of addressing and helping the suffering employee. The positive consequences can lead to even a better employee on the other side of this difficult situation.

  2. Aira Bongco

    This is the reason why you should keep your employees happy. The more stressed they become, the higher the likelihood that they will use substances to ease their worries.

  3. Yes, this is the most important topic which mostly never focused by companies. The most important fact of company is to put same vision in their employees so with that vision, they’ll be able do deliver work. For building vision it requires a lot of hassle and take employees goals and requirements seriously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *