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Oct 07
2013

Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Workplace

Posted by: Steve Marr

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A number of times I have dealt with alcoholism and drug addiction in the workplace. If you have not, you likely will in the future. Of the 12 people I was involved with through intervention only one turned around.  The others had to be fired.

I have seen statistics that 10% of Americans have some type of addiction. The sad part is that only 13% of this group will ever seek help. Even bleaker is the fact that only 20% of those who seek treatment will be able to stay sober over 90 days. When you look at the statistics after one year, the situation is even worse. Most people who become addicted are unable to break free.

The people I know who have stopped drinking long term were either part of AA or the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation program. These people have testified that the Lords strength pulled them through. While every day is a challenge, Jesus provides the strength needed. Those who have stopped cocaine, meth, and other destructive drugs have only walked this new path with the Lord’s help.  Some people may have the ability to do this on their own; I just don’t know them.

In the workplace we need to understand that these addictions are very strong. The information I have reminds me that it only takes one experience with meth or cocaine to hook a user.  One time! Some businesses have a policy of requiring drug testing before hiring; others require testing periodically. This testing can be a useful screening tool.  Just be sure to validate your state law requirements about using these tests. 

Paul wrote, “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21, ESV) I believe this covers drunkenness and drug abuse.  While some Christians hold a different perspective, I believe we are better off abstaining from alcohol. The first reason is because it protects people from tempting someone already struggling with drinking and causing them to stumble. Second, there is no way to tell if you are vulnerable to alcohol addiction until you are hooked.  Breaking that addiction can be very difficult. Better to avoid it completely.  Besides, I never met anyone who was more effective at work after a drink or two at lunch.

When an employee demonstrates potential addiction problems, you need to confront it very quickly and directly. Understand the employment law in your state and city, and follow a legally permissible path.  In principle, focus on work-related issues rather than speculating about abuse.

Most of us are likely to miss the early warning signs.  When a problem becomes obvious, the situation is likely advanced. The first several people I attempted to confront about addiction problems played me like a violin. I was a sucker.  Later I learned to be tough and direct. I gave the person the option to enter a treatment program. If they declined or denied there was a problem, I placed them on a no nonsense performance improvement plan.  I terminated them if they failed to meet the agreed standard. One person acknowledged the problem and was successful in breaking the addiction. A second person was later fired, but several years later got his act together. He contacted me later and thanked me.  He believed that his discharge was the first step on a road to recovery.

As Christians we may be tempted to intervene and encourage a person who has an addiction to choose a better path. Avoid becoming their counselor.  You aren’t any more qualified than I was. Instead, encourage them to enter a treatment program, preferably Christ-based; and then, pray they will accept Christ and allow Him to make the changes they cannot make in their own strength.

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