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  • Signs of Substance Abuse

  • In a National Survey report released in 2006, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMHSA) estimates there are 13.4 million illicit drug users employed in the U.S. workforce. An estimated 3.1% of all employed adults use illicit drugs before reporting to work and another 2.9 % use illicit drugs while on the job. Additionally, an estimated 42.9 million binge drinkers are also employed in America’s workplace. SMHSA estimates 7.1% of America’s workforce drink while on the job.

    These grim statistics also reveal that substance abusers are 5 times more likely to file for workers’ compensation, 4 times more likely to have an accident, and 3 times more likely to use sick time and be late for work than non-substance abuses. Employers who do not know the signs of substance abuse face potentially damaging costs that can shrink their bottom line.

    These signs might indicate that one of your employees could have a serious substance abuse problem:

    • Recent or rapid changes in quality of work and level of output
    • Irregular attendance, being late or missing more time than normal
    • Atypical or unexpected emotional reactions to ordinary or everyday situations such as random and explosive outburst of temper or dramatic mood swings
    • Expressing a lack of interest in their job performance and avoidance of responsibility to their regular duties.
    • Observable changes in their normal attitude when interacting with others in the social context of the workplace.
    • A deterioration in appearance and personal hygiene and the advent of sloppy grooming
    • Abnormal physical motor skills such as inexplicable nervousness, twitching, odd gait, poor muscle control, rapid or loud speech, or a mask-like facial expression
    • The unnecessary use of sunglasses, dilated pupils or redness in the whites of the eyes, or a distorted sense of sound, time perception, and touch
    • Sleepiness or a trance-like state, speech that trails off or slurs, or unusual forgetfulness during a conversation
    • Breath or clothes with an unusual odor
    • Runny nose, repeated nose bleeds or sniffling, and watery eyes, especially if other cold/flu like symptoms are not apparent or the individual has no known allergies that can account for the appearance of these symptoms
    • Reluctance to expose the arms: wearing of long-sleeved shirts, especially in unusually hot circumstances
    • The appearance of irregularly spaced scars on the inside of the arm or other parts of the body
    • Suddenly appearing to be secretive or furtive, the frequent but inexplicable absence of the employee from their work station, or frequent access to out of the way locations such as basements, restrooms, or storage areas.
    • Excessive activity, maybe in the form of manic behavior or a general inability to sit still
    • Theft of small items from employer, co-workers, friends, or family
    • Excessive borrowing of money from co-workers.

    Many of the above physical, mental, or emotional changes can be attributed to a variety of everyday or exceptional physical illnesses, diseases, or non work-related problems that might be of brief duration. Carefully evaluate what appears to be suspicious or unusual behavior because outside influences can be at work as well. Employers must be cautious because if you act irresponsibly and jump to conclusions, you might not be able to avoid potential civil action.

    Make sure that a multitude of substance abuse symptoms appear concurrently and persistently before making a decision about how to proceed. The best approach in learning how to recognize and combat substance abuse problems is to contact substance abuse experts through local, state or federal programs. A good second step is to implement a solid workplace policy on substance abuse for your business.

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