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Spotting the Signs of Employee Drug or Alcohol Abuse


In June of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 13% of Americans said they had started or increased their substance use to cope with the stress and isolation of the pandemic. With more and more employees returning to the workplace, this sharp increase presents a new challenge to business owners and human resources professionals.

Drug and alcohol abuse is costly to employers, adding up to over $80 billion annually in lost productivity, healthcare, and turnover costs. To reduce the impact on their workplace, and most importantly, know when to seek help, employers should learn the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.

Changes in Behavior

One of the first signs of a substance issue is a change in an employee’s normal behavior or demeanor. Dramatic shifts such as lashing out at colleagues or lying are easy to flag, but other behavioral changes may be more subtle. Is a typically social employee becoming withdrawn? Someone who is always on time now chronically late? While not all of these behaviors mean the person is abusing a substance, it is crucial to have a conversation with the employee to determine the reasons behind their actions, whether or not it is a substance abuse problem.

Decreased Quality of Work or Productivity

Another sign of a potential employee drug abuse is a change in job performance. If you start to see a noticeable dip in an employee’s productivity or unusually poor quality in their work product, seek out the cause. However, for some professionals in addiction, their work is the last area to slip, so if your ordinarily reliable employee shows signs of decline, don’t wait to address it.

Increase in Absences

Studies show that employees with untreated substance use disorders miss more work than their counterparts — taking an average of two weeks more time off. People struggling with addiction tend to lose control of their daily lives and schedules as their dependence increases, making excessive absences from work an indicator of a potential issue.

Constant Health Issues

Frequent health and/or general wellness issues could be another sign of a substance use disorder. Recognizable physical symptoms include:

  • Constant pains/cramps or injuries
  • Terrible breath/dental issues
  • Bags under the eyes
  • Flu-like symptoms such as aches and chills
  • Severe changes in weight
  • Marks or blemishes on the skin

On their own, these kinds of symptoms more than likely are part of an isolated event. However, if they display concurrently or are chronic, a conversation may be in order to determine the cause, especially if substance use is suspected.

Financial Concerns

Addiction often impacts a person’s finances. Frequently discussing or indications of money woes could be a sign of a substance problem. Some signs to consider include: asking for raises or advances regularly, borrowing against retirement savings, or asking colleagues for personal loans.

Help for Employers

Employers can be proactive in addressing substance abuse issues in the workplace and ensuring that their employers have options for getting the treatment they need. Many Employee Assistance Plan and addiction treatment providers, including Bradford Health Services, offer training and resources for human resources professionals to help them spot the signs of abuse, seek help, and maintain compliance with Drug-Free Workplace requirements.


Take a proactive approach to the health of your organization by having a plan in place for addressing employee substance use issues. Bradford provides support to HR teams through free Drug-Free Workplace seminars, confidential consultations, intervention services, and more. Call 205-251-7753 today to learn how we can help your company.