Signs of Drug Use at Work

Having an employee with substance use issues can set up risks in any company. Drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace can drive costs and introduce uncomfortable outcomes.

An employee’s lapse of attention, even for a moment, can cause significant consequences including:

Avoid jumping to conclusions but these signs may indicate a substance use problem:

Although these signs may suggest behavior common for someone with a substance abuse problem, the presence of any or all of the behaviors could be coming from performance issues or some other disability.

What Are Side Effects of Drug and Alcohol Misuse In the Workplace?

According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI), the loss to companies in the U.S. because of alcohol and drug-related abuse by employees is about $100 billion per year. 

And this doesn’t include the associated cost of redirecting company resources that could be used for other things toward substance abuse problems. It also doesn’t include the “pain and suffering” elements that can’t be measured in terms of money.

The misuse of drugs and alcohol among American workers creates expensive medical, social, and other problems that affect both employees and employers. 

Substance abuse among employees can:

What Are Some Problems Caused by Substance Use in the Workplace?

Besides deaths and accidents, absenteeism, and lost production, there are other problems caused by drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace including:

Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on the Workplace

The NCADI has reported that alcohol and drug users:

One of the surveys discovered that:

What Are The Costs of Drug and Alcohol Use for Employers?

Drug and alcohol use is expensive for the employers of this country. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (NCADD) has estimated that the cost of drug use is over $81 billion each year. A bundle of funding is spent on drug testing in an effort to hire people who are sober and to discourage drug use while employed. 

Employers spend this money on testing in an attempt to prevent the costly effects of drugs and alcohol use in the workplace mentioned previously. But, despite the testing by employers, NCADD estimates that 70% of the approximately 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. 

What Contributes to Substance Misuse in the Workplace?

Research studies have revealed that several factors can have a hand in drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace. Factors that may encourage or discourage substance abuse at work include:

Workplace Culture

The workplace culture can play a big part in whether drinking and drug use are encouraged and accepted or discouraged and restricted. The gender mix of employees can help form the culture of a workplace. 

In mainly female occupations, research has shown that male and female employees are less likely to have substance abuse issues compared to employees of both genders in male-dominated occupations.

Male-dominated occupations tend to create heavy-drinking cultures where employees drink to build solidarity and show conformity. As a result, these jobs have higher alcohol- and drug-related problems.

 Research has discovered that workplace alcohol use is more prevalent in these industries:

Workplace Alienation

The job itself can also contribute to high employee substance abuse. Work that’s stressful, boring, and isolating can bring about employees’ substance use.

 Employee substance use has been associated with: 

Availability of Alcohol

The availability of alcohol can be a big influence on employee drinking. Of the 984 workers surveyed in a large manufacturing plant, more than two-thirds said it was “easy” or “very easy” to bring alcohol to work, to drink at work stations, and to drink during breaks. In work cultures where alcohol is prohibited, drinking on the job and drinking in general is significantly decreased.

drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace


The amount of supervision on the job can have an effect on the rates of drinking and drug misuse at work. A study of evening shift workers when supervision was reduced disclosed that the employees were more likely to drink at work than during the more heavily supervised shifts. The existence and enforcement of substance abuse policies have an effect on the risky use of substances at work.

The Effects of Social Drinking In The Workplace

Surprisingly, research shows that it is the social drinkers, not the problem drinkers or those with alcohol dependence who are responsible for most of the lost productivity. This specifically ties the hangover issue to loss of production in the workplace.

The research also discovered that it was most often the managers, not the hourly employees, who were drinking during the workday. The study also reported that: 

Addressing Signs of Drug Use at Work

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, when the problem of substance use in the workplace is confronted by establishing all-inclusive programs, it is a winning situation for employers and employees.

A study of the economic impact of treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) in Ohio found substantial improvements in job-related performance such as:

Large and small companies and employers can enforce a workplace substance use policy that will lower the productivity lost and support a safer work environment for everyone.

Can You Ask an Employee About Substance Use Problems?

If you are a supervisor, you will work with the Human Resources department or another higher level of management to observe the individual and take further steps if necessary. However, there are some general guidelines you can follow to deal with potential employee substance use.

What To Do When You First Learn of an Employee’s Possible Substance Use at Work?

When you first find out about the possible substance use or of their impairment at work you should:

  1. Take steps to remove the employee from any safety-sensitive work and gather evidence.
  2. Send the employee for a drug or alcohol test if state laws and the employer policy allow it.

Don’t rely on hearsay or secondhand reports. Get your evidence from supervisors or people who directly observed the behavior. Focus on the signs mentioned earlier that indicate an issue.

What Laws Apply to Drug and Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace?

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) protects qualified people with a disability and requires reasonable accommodation of protected employees. 

The ADA:

Employers have to be careful when dealing with substance use disorder issues unless the SUD has an impact on the workplace such as job performance, behavior, or attendance. Then the employee may be held to the same standards as any other employee.

Company policies regarding substance use are subject to ADA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Plus any state workplace drug testing and any other laws that apply.

How Can a Company Help an Employee?

If the employee admits to a SUD, the company is required by ADA to take part in an interactive process, whether it involves legal prescription drugs or alcohol, or illegal drugs like cocaine. 

An interactive process:

There are substantial penalties for not taking part in the interactive process or for wrongful termination when dealing with an employee using legal substances. 

What If the Substance Use Occurs Outside of Work?

You should act on a substance use problem only when the employee is impaired at work. Workplace substance-use policies are not enforceable if an employee takes prescription or illicit drugs, drinks alcohol, or is legally using recreational or medical marijuana outside of the workplace.

Can You Get Fired for Having a SUD?

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. But an “individual with a disability” does not include someone who is currently using illegal drugs. Under the ADA, an employee can be terminated if they are using drugs or alcohol on the job if the substance use:

However, if your employer finds out that you are going to treatment, you can’t be fired for taking time off to enter treatment. According to the ADA, chemical dependency is a disability. The law doesn’t consider past mistakes. If you get treatment voluntarily, your employer can’t fire you for going to rehab or for past mistakes due to drug and alcohol use.

Getting Treatment for SUD

If you or someone close to you is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is qualified,  compassionate help available. Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center can provide SUD and mental health treatment to help you or your loved one rebuild your life and maintain long-term recovery. It is possible, with the help of our trained professionals, to achieve the goals you had envisioned.

If you are concerned about how entering treatment will affect your employment, take a minute and speak to one of our admissions specialists. They can help you with the best approach for entering treatment while protecting your job. Contact us today. Our only job is to help you succeed.