Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

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When employees abuse drugs or alcohol, their energy, honesty, integrity, creativity, judgment, productivity and reliability deteriorate. Gradually, they become less able to do the jobs they were hired to do. Their violations of company policy and poor job performance cause serious problems in many areas of the company.

Commonly abused drugs in the workplace The three most widely abused drugs in the workplace are: 1. alcohol 2. marijuana 3. prescription medications

Signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication • Smell of alcohol on breath • Slurred speech • Blurred vision; bloodshot eyes • Drowsiness and reduced reaction time • Staggered gait • Lack of muscular coordination • Sensory dullness • Concentration, memory and judgment impairment • Rapid and unpredictable mood swings

The 3 classes of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused are: 1. Opioids, which are narcotics most often prescribed to treat pain. Examples include Vicodin, OxyContin and Demerol. 2. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples include Valium, Xanax and Klonopin. 3. Central nervous system stimulants, which are typically prescribed to treat attentiondeficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (sleep disorder). Examples include Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine and Concerta

Signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication • Slurred speech • Slow pulse • Slowed movement • Calmness • Sedation • Drowsiness • Low blood pressure • Imperviousness to pain • Feelings of euphoria (prior to remaining list of intoxication signs) • Apathy • Dysphoria • Impaired judgment

Signs and symptoms of CNS depressant intoxication • Euphoria • Calmness • Drowsiness • Slurred speech • Dilated pupils • Mood swings • Impaired judgment • Impaired memory • Impaired balance

Signs and symptoms of stimulant/amphetamine intoxication • Increased alertness • Excessive physical energy and speech activity • Decreased appetite • Decreased need to sleep • Elevated mood and self-confidence • Mild euphoria • Agitation • Increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration • Dilated pupils • Runny nose • Paranoia and psychosis (in chronic users) • Convulsions, coma and death

Signs and symptoms of marijuana intoxication • Mild euphoria; excessive laughter • Increased sensory awareness and/or distortion • Alterations in time perception • Sedation or appearance of sleepiness • Impaired short-term memory; forgetfulness • Reddened eyes • Increased appetite • Odor similar to burnt rope on clothing or breath • Lapses of attention • Passivity • Depersonalization • Tachycardia (accelerated heartbeat) • Hypotension (decreased blood pressure) • “amotivational syndrome” (in chronic users)

Signs and symptoms of possible substance abuse Patterns of absenteeism and tardiness • Unauthorized absences • Excessive sick leave • Monday and Friday absences • Excessive tardiness, especially returning from breaks • Leaving work early • Peculiar or improbable excuses for absences or tardiness • Higher absenteeism rate than other employees • Absences due to accidents

On-the-job absenteeism • Unexplained absences from workstation or work area • Frequent trips to restroom or water fountain • Long breaks • Physical illness on the job

Accidents • Accidents on and off the job • Ignoring or violating safety rules

Work patterns • Difficulty concentrating • Work requires great effort • Tasks take excessive amount of time • Tasks are left uncompleted • Fluctuating quality and quantity of productivity • Missed deadlines • Waste of materials • Damaged equipment • Excessive error rates • Bad decisions and poor judgment • Difficulty recalling instructions • Improbable excuses for poor performance

Interpersonal interactions • Overreaction to real or imagined criticism • Mood swings • Social withdrawal or excessively talkative and outgoing • Outbursts of inappropriate anger, tears or laughter • Unreasonable resentments and blaming • Subject of complaints from customers, vendors or co-workers • Borrowing money or stealing from coworkers • Suspiciousness or paranoia Personal health and hygiene • Frequent physical complaints or unexplained illnesses • Deterioration of personal appearance (i.e., hygiene, grooming)

These are common signs and symptoms that a worker may be experiencing a personal problem of some kind, including a possible substance abuse problem. If an employee is experiencing a pattern of poor job performance, inappropriate behavior, and one or more of any of the signs and symptoms of specific drug intoxication and impairment previously described, there is a strong possibility that individual is experiencing a substance abuse problem and is in need of help.

Know your roles and responsibilities Familiarize yourself with your company’s substance abuse policy. Know the procedures to address substance abuse violations.

Your EAP can help Your employee assistance program (EAP) can help you: • clarify and validate why you are concerned about an employee • understand how you might be enabling the employee • break out of the enabling cycle • prepare for a corrective action session • reinforce and strengthen your “constructive confrontation” skills by providing emotional support • clarify the procedure for referring a troubled employee to the EAP