Have you noticed or spoken to any colleagues struggling with illicit drugs or alcohol, even misusing prescription drugs, at your workplace? Although these are not new problems, drug and alcohol abuse can significantly affect employees' performance, causing extensive issues and delays for companies. These problems include illness, absence, lost productivity and ultimately, missed days at work.

Problematic substance use can interfere with the efficiency and accuracy of work. We present facts about addiction, information about how it affects individuals and the wider workforce, and suggest measures for helping your addicted employees so that you can support them in the right way.

‘Functioning’ Addicts

There is a common stereotype that those who have fallen in the grip of an addiction are unemployed or homeless. However, many work every day while struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. According to the Providence Projects, 70% of people with substance abuse problems are full-time employees.

Addiction can affect a person regardless of income level or background. As an employer, when adjusting how you think about addiction, it is helpful to focus on solutions like ongoing treatment.

Addiction and Mental Illness Are Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders entail one or more health conditions. Most people suffering from an addiction tend to have co-occurring mental health disorders. The most common include depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders, and psychotic disorders. Individuals with mental illness are highly likely to use illegal drugs, while the use of drugs can cause depressive bouts.

Relapse Can Happen to Many Individuals During Recovery

Relapse is not a sign of failed treatment. Most people have one or more relapses before attaining long-lasting recovery. A relapse can occur when a person is struggling to get better or even when they are doing well. The individual should try to take this as a learning opportunity to understand what caused the relapse.

Addiction Is a Treatable Illness

Addiction should not be considered a moral failing but a treatable disease. There is no specific treatment or medicine to get rid of addiction forever. But with proper support it is possible to build a substance-free life.

The bottom line is that addiction is treatable but not curable. That means even with treatment, it needs long-term management to maintain sobriety.

How Addiction Affects the Individual and Wider Workforce

Employees who have alcohol and drug problems may impact businesses negatively in the following ways:


Loss of productivity is one of the greatest costs a company can experience. Long-term addiction can affect the quality and quantity of the worker's work. Addiction affects their memory, judgment, and ability to concentrate.


Addiction causes absenteeism because the employee may keep taking sick days, which costs money for the company and lead to staffing issues.

Health Problems

Prolonged drug and alcohol abuse can cause serious health problems like cognitive impairment, high blood pressure, and liver problems. Alcohol can cause mood disorders, making employees grumpy or irritable with their colleagues.


Small amounts of drugs or alcohol can impair coordination and reaction time. This can be particularly dangerous for anyone who works with machinery.

Negative Effects on Client Relationships

When an employee is intoxicated at work, they may behave inappropriately. This can negatively affect client relationships.

It is important to raise awareness against stigmatisation and hatred within your workplace. Even if someone struggling with an addiction is obstructing your workflow, you have hired them because of their exceptional abilities and skills. They are worth your respect, the respect of your other employees, as well as the effort to try and help them sober up.

How to Change Attitudes Toward Addiction and Mental Health at Work

Addiction, mental illness, and stress are closely related. Talking about addiction at the workplace can help improve mental wellness. Reduce stigma in the workplace by:

Switching the Conversation

Many people have the misconception that addiction is a sign of moral weakness or failure. Employees worry that they can be perceived as "worthless" if their addiction is public knowledge or that their colleagues will start to doubt their skill or professional expertise.

Employers can improve addiction training to challenge and change these negative attitudes. Increasing drug and alcohol awareness among staff will help everyone to recognise signs of addiction and offer support. Companies can encourage their staff, especially those in leading positions, to share their stories and so promote a supportive work environment.

Providing Support to Others

If employees open up about their addiction and mental health, it is appropriate to treat them with compassion and respect. Listen to them and ask what they think you can do to help them.

Try to share strategies that can help affected employees deal with issues like depression or stress. This should include giving them information about addiction and mental health resources provided at work. Where appropriate, you can also encourage them to let management know what's going on.

Measures That Businesses Should Put in Place to Support Staff

Eliminate Inappropriate or Discriminatory Language

People use terms such as "junkie" or "disturbed" when talking about those suffering from addiction. This type of language is derogatory and dehumanises those with substance use disorders. Eliminating inappropriate speech in external and internal communications promotes a more sensitive and kinder company culture.

Watch For Signs of Stress

Stress is a leading risk factor for substance abuse. Internalising emotions can lead to alcohol abuse and self-medication with drugs. Employees need to be able to recognise when they are struggling and get appropriate help. Colleagues should be encouraged to check on each other to increase the chances of knowing when someone is suffering from mental health issues and addiction. Signs of stress at work include missed deadlines, avoiding social activities, irritability, trouble concentrating, and poor job performance.