What do you do when you realize a co-worker is in trouble with a substance like drugs or alcohol? What is workplace etiquette and where are the lines on the issue? Most everyone knows someone whose life has been impacted somehow by drug or alcohol use, so the issue often eventually turns up at the office.
A healthy and safe work environment is a priority. If the person appears to be endangering themselves or others due to substance use, then confronting the issue becomes imperative, though it should be done with graciousness.
Signs Of Potential Substance Abuse
- The person appears physically run-down
- The person demonstrates moodiness – depression, anxiety, aggression
- The person shows changes in behavior – appears uncoordinated, over-talks, is apathetic, or irritable
There could be other explanations for these symptoms, so don’t be quick to assume substance abuse is the problem. However, if the person demonstrates carelessness at work or is involved with frequent mishaps, if they are becoming undependable (they are not where they ought to be) and have elaborate excuses for unfulfilled duties and are not willing to take direction, then they may pose a hazard to themselves or others at work.
How To Approach A Co-worker About Their Substance Abuse
Remember that you are a co-worker, not a clinical diagnostician so make note of the person’s behavior and only comment on how their behavior affects safety issues. Be very specific about examples and avoid generalizations like “you always…” Make sure your tone of voice shows concern not accusation or judgment.
If you actually witness a co-worker abusing substances then it is appropriate to approach them about it. Talk to the person about how their drinking or drug use impacts you. Tell them what you saw and how it makes you feel. Do not make the conversation about what you think of them or their problem.
If a co-worker becomes inebriated during a lunch or dinner meeting, then it is appropriate to take their keys and offer to drive or call a cab. The next time you see the person it is fine to tell them how their condition made you feel, but also offer to be available for a talk or suggest an employee program where they could talk with someone else. You are not offering your counseling services; you are simply making yourself available as a support.
Don’t Turn A Blind Eye When A Co-worker Is Struggling With Substance Abuse
The workplace is usually the last place that a person’s substance abuse problem becomes evident. For this reason it is dangerous to look the other way. When a colleague is struggling with abuse, someone who cares enough to speak up can make a pivotal difference.