You’ve suspected it for a while — you’ve been analyzing the proof behind your suspicions and coming to grips with the reality of the situation. You’re afraid your colleague is suffering from substance abuse.
According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 70 percent of people who use illegal street drugs are employed. Drug and alcohol abuse is, unfortunately, an incredibly common occurrence in today’s society.
When a person has an addiction, it can be an extremely delicate situation that does not just affect the person. It also affects every person around them. But when it is a coworker who is suffering from substance abuse, what can you do — and how can you do it tactfully?
Unfortunately, no matter how tempting it may be to stay quiet, you can’t do anything. You have a responsibility to this person, your employer, and other colleagues to help ensure a safe environment. Here are some things you can do to help your colleague get the assistance they need.
1. Decide on the Best Course of Action
We tend to spend a significant amount of time with coworkers, which means we often develop relationships that go beyond simply “coworker.” This tends to make it even more difficult when we suspect someone has a substance abuse problem. Depending on the actions we take, feelings of betrayal can creep in.
It may feel dishonest or even cowardly, but not approaching your colleague about your suspicion could make sense depending on the situation.
Think about a person suffering from an addiction problem outside the workplace — they could do absolutely anything to postpone facing their demons and avoid the embarrassment of someone finding out their secret.
If you prefer to approach your manager instead of directly approaching your colleague, book a meeting with them to professionally and politely explain all of your concerns. Ensure you have accurate proof and tangible evidence before doing so.
2. Be Non-Confrontational
However, there is also nothing wrong with talking directly to the person about their drug use and how it affects work. A flexible and caring approach as opposed to a harsh one is imperative.
The idea is to remain non-confrontational and persuasive and to manage your expectations. Expecting your colleague to be defensive will help you keep your cool when and if this happens.
Presenting the facts instead of making moral judgments will be best received. Be specific about their behavior. For example, instead of saying, “You drink far too much”, you could say, “You were slurring your words last night and you were very aggressive to the taxi driver. You left your house keys somewhere in the bar and it was very worrying.”
3. Consider How You or the Company Can Help
Just like professional health workers advise someone’s friends and families, tough love for people suffering from substance abuse is sometimes the best way to help them.
Do not enable your colleague by covering up for them, lending money, or allocating your colleague’s work to others.
You should reiterate that it is not a moral weakness they are suffering from, but rather an illness — and one that could have a fatal outcome. Tell them they need to seek help but that you can support them (if you are willing to do so).
Many employers prefer their employees to seek help for addiction as opposed to hiring and training a new replacement. Therefore, it’s likely your company can help or even offer drug and alcohol treatment programs in-house.
Policies should then be implemented at your workplace to make clear what is and what is not tolerated regarding alcohol and drug addictions at work.
To ensure employees with substance abuse problems have access to the help they require, employers are encouraged to offer comprehensive health plans that cover treatment for such disorders.
These plans should cover all steps of the treatment program, including counseling, outpatient care, education, and initial treatment.
4. What About Outside Help?
Alternatively, why not suggest an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting or a SMART Recovery program? These are entirely independent of any other organization, meaning your employer — and your colleague — may feel safer on a route to sobriety that is entirely removed from the office.
The 12 Steps in AA have proven to actually help addicts recover and live a life free of substance abuse time and time again. However, if your colleague is more inclined to follow a scientific recovery program, SMART is exceptionally self-empowering and is also a worldwide community.
Regardless of the entry point to finding help, your colleague could take a lot from group support meetings. Addicts can educate themselves on how to deal with any underlying emotional or psychological issues without resorting to the bottle.
They are also introduced to new, authentic friends and as a byproduct of this are encouraged to emancipate themselves from unhealthy, enabling relationships and social groups.
5. What to Do If You’re Wrong
If you are mistaken, you may feel some embarrassment, but it will not be the end of the world. As long as you handled it correctly, with professionalism and discretion, and it came from a genuine motive, there is no reason why it cannot be forgotten and moved on from. There likely won’t be any significant consequences from the event.
Why It’s Important to Speak up
10 to 20 percent of American workers who die at work test positive for the presence of alcohol or drugs. If you suspect a colleague has developed an addiction for either alcohol or drugs, it is your responsibility to speak to your coworker or your manager.
Saying or doing nothing will allow the problem to worsen. It will affect your relationship with them and your productivity, too.
Furthermore, it could endanger lives. While it can be awkward to step forward and express your concerns, if your suspicions were correct, it benefits everyone in the end.