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Indra Cidambi, M.D.
Indra Cidambi, M.D.

Identifying Alcohol or Drug Abuse in the Work Place

Warning signs your co-worker may be abusing drugs

As the opioid epidemic continues to plague our communities, frightening statistics indicate over 77% of illicit drug users are employed. Substance abuse has the potential to destroy one’s personal life, drug and alcohol dependency can have similar effects on one’s professional life. Substance abuse (alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit drugs) at work is a serious issue with negative consequences for employers and co-workers alike.

Employees who use drugs are likely to miss work, which may negatively impact costs and customer service. They’re also more likely to file workmen’s compensation claims, as workplace accidents are more likely, or, in some cases, it may increase employer’s liability if employees harm others or steal.

In my line of work, I have found changes in behavior tend to be the biggest warning sign of substance abuse. Here’s five of the most common behavioral changes that may indicate drug abuse in an employee or co-worker:

  1. Personality Changes: Individuals affected by substance abuse show distinct changes in personality, with no identifiable cause. They are likely to become more moody and irritable and they have difficulty paying attention. They may lose their motivation and energy and display an “I don’t care” attitude.
  2. Physical Signs: Physical symptoms of addiction are also evident. The most common symptoms among substance abusers to watch for include: cold, sweaty palms and shaking hands; runny nose and frequent rubbing of the nose; red, watery eyes; and a loss of interest in personal care and hygiene.
  3. Frequent Restroom Use: People who use substances at work have a frequent need to carve out some private space – they may need to ingest, snort or inject drugs, sleep off the effects, or pass out. They may also experience nausea, vomiting or other drug/alcohol-related side effects, which could send them to the bathroom more frequently.
  4. Unexplained Absences/Tardiness: Individuals using substances are frequently unable to fulfill their responsibilities. They are more inclined to call in sick, or show up late for work. I always warn employers to keep an eye out for series of lost jobs on job resumes. These has the potential to indicate substance abuse disorder as those suffering tend to experience more job turnover as a result of absenteeism or overuse of sick time. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), employees with substance abuse issues were more likely to report frequent job changes in the past year.
  5. Always in Need of Money: The cost of obtaining drugs or alcohol for heavy, daily use can be prohibitive. Consequently, the need for money is chronic and employees using substances may frequently borrow money from colleagues. They may even build relationships with co-workers just so they can borrow money.
About the Author
Indra Cidambi, M.D.

Indra Cidambi, M.D., is the founder and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy (CNT), New Jersey's first state licensed Ambulatory (Outpatient) Detoxification care and treatment facility.

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