Substance Abuse in the Workplace: A Discussion

Substance abuse sometimes causes serious problems, not just for the person suffering with a substance abuse disorder, but also the people who lives and works with them. It is, unfortunately a huge problem. Every year, one out of every five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem, and substance abuse causes 47,000 deaths in Canada annually. Then there’s the $8 billion it costs the Canadian health care system.

Substance abuse at work can be one of the hardest situations to both detect and deal with. Explore the dangers and the possible causes in the workplace below:

Dangers of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

There is no doubt that substance abuse in the workplace cannot be encouraged, condoned, or ignored if you want to maintain a safe work environment. Besides being a health and safety problem, it can also affect profits and productivity. Some reasons for this include: sleeping on the job, tardiness or absences resulting in work left undone, poor decision making, especially when it comes to client relations or business deals, possible theft from the company, a loss of efficiency, and even the lowered morale of coworkers.

In addition, intoxicated employees are much more likely to hurt themselves on the job, use more sick days, and file workers compensation claims. In jobs involving vehicles, tools, or heavy equipment, the danger is literally deadly.

Sometimes, compassionate employers will ask alcohol and drug abuse counselors what they can do to prevent substance abuse in the workplace. Sadly, there aren’t any easy answers.

Factors Contributing to Employee Substance Abuse

Most of the time, an employee’s drug or alcohol abuse use has little, if anything, to do with their jobs or work environment. Instead, relying on substances is a way of coping with mental illness or issues at home. Even so, stress in the workplace can certainly be a major factor in accelerating self destructive behavior.

Ask yourself some questions about the culture of your workplace. Is substance abuse accepted? Are substances available for abuse, or are there opportunities that would make their use easy? Is there alienation, bullying, or social divisions that would make substance abuse at work a likely escape or defense mechanism?

The workplace culture could have a very real effect on how far a workplace substance abuse problem is allowed to go unnoticed.


Once you have assessed the risk and prevalence of these issues, it’s time to think about prevention. Some strategies might include strictly enforced policies, a strike system, or an employee assistance program. Many companies have a representative trained in compassionate employee assistance, who can help refer struggling employees to resources like inpatient rehab centres or outpatient addiction treatment centres.

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