Health, Safety & Environment Consultants

Substance Abuse in the Workplace


Substance abuse can cause a number of issues in the workplace such as absenteeism, reduced productivity, mood swings, impaired concentration, an increased risk of accidents and in some cases, violence. Substance abuse and misuse can take many forms and includes the misuse of prescribed drugs, non-prescribed drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol. It should also be noted that even those taking prescription drugs as prescribed by their doctor, could demonstrate some form of impairment.

 The best way to deal with substance abuse is to develop a drug and alcohol policy in consultation with the workforce. Consulting with the workforce, whilst a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work Act also creates ownership of the policy and makes it more likely to be successfully used in the workplace. If these policies are developed where employees can come and ask for help prior to being caught under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, employees feel that they are more valued, as the employer is actively looking to care for its workforce.

 Some companies chose to employ random drug and alcohol testing, and for cause testing where they believe drugs or alcohol may have played a part in an incident or near miss. This should be considered during the development of the drug and alcohol policy.

 Another point to consider when developing your drug and alcohol policy is the effects of prescription drugs. The policy should detail the requirement for employees to inform their employer if they have been prescribed and drugs which may impair their ability to carry out their work. It may be necessary in some cases to look at alternative duties for employees who are taking prescription drugs that may affect their ability to perform their usual job.

Being aware of changes in your colleague's normal behaviours can help identify persons who may be dealing with substance misuse. The HSE details typical signs to look out for:

  • sudden mood changes;
  • unusual irritability or aggression;
  • a tendency to become confused;
  • abnormal fluctuations in concentration and energy;
  • impaired job performance;
  • poor time-keeping;
  • increased short-term sickness absence;
  • a deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers or management;
  • dishonesty and theft (arising from the need to maintain an expensive habit).

It should be noted that the behaviours listed could also be indications of other issues a person is experiencing, be they mental health issues or physical health issues.

 Having approachable senior management and leaders assists the success of any drug and alcohol policy. Where workers feel they can approach management if they have concerns over their substance misuse or even use of prescription medication, there are less likely to be workplace accidents, incidents or near misses.

 If you need help developing  a substance abuse policy and program, contact us to find out how we can help you: or 01843 6399711

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