Ta'booze' '“ alcohol and drug addiction in the workplace

Suzannah Robin, an alcohol and drug safety expert at AlcoDigital, explains what to do if an employee tests positive for alcohol or drugs, and discusses how to identify and support individuals who are struggling with addiction.

As businesses in the UK become more aware of the impact that alcohol and drugs have on safety and productivity in the workplace, many have implemented professional procedures for testing employees.

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Whether this is regular or random screening, companies have found that adopting a testing strategy has resulted in benefits such as lower absenteeism, a decrease in staff turnover and, of course, a safer working environment for everyone.

However, setting up a best practice policy extends to more than putting in place a screening strategy and conducting tests professionally. The best employers recognise they have a moral responsibility beyond a test result to make sure staff who require help receive the appropriate level of support.

Depending on the severity of the situation, some employees could be asked to stop working for a short period of time or be suspended pending further investigation, whilst others could face instant dismissal.

Danger signs

The signs that someone is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction might not always be immediately apparent.

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Erratic behaviour, consistent absenteeism, a deterioration in physical appearance and personal grooming habits, and relationship problems are all examples of the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse.

Lee Ali, Head of Medical at Broadway Lodge – a treatment centre for addiction, and the first in Europe to set up a treatment centre based on the 12-step model – explained: “It’s important to realise that people from all different backgrounds can be affected.

"What many people don’t realise is that addiction is a mental health issue and illness. It can be triggered by numerous factors including stress, bereavement, relationship problems and financial difficulties. It is definitely not a lifestyle choice or an inability to maintain self-control or willpower.”

Charlie, who had suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, including cocaine abuse, for years, was helped by his new employer to access the services of Broadway Lodge.

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He said: "Taking drugs became a weekend thing. But slowly I started to cross the line. I was spending all my salary on drugs and alcohol and leaning on credit cards to get through the month.

"I had a job at a media agency, but it was a high pressure environment and I had no idea what I was doing. I was hardly sleeping and depressed all the time. The doctor prescribed antidepressants, but they affected the high I got from cocaine so I shut them away in a drawer.

“I left my job, but the pattern repeated itself with two or three more jobs over the next few years."

Charlie is just one of the hundreds of people who have been helped thanks to funding from their employer.

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Caroline Cole, interim CEO at Broadway Lodge, said: “We are predominantly funded through statutory sources, receiving referrals from local authorities. We also accept private clients who may fund their own treatment or be funded through their employer or a sponsor.

“Unfortunately, only 2 per cent of people requiring treatment for drug dependency are offered the chance of funded residential rehabilitation.

“We are actively seeking to diversify our funding mix so we can offer our life-saving programmes to as many people as possible. Partnering with companies, such as AlcoDigital, is just one of the ways we are hoping to achieve that.”

AlcoDigital provides free reviews for companies looking to implement drug and alcohol policies. Visit www.alcodigital.co.uk for more information.

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