A workplace where drugs and alcohol are misused is bound to experience low efficiency, and productivity whilst suffering the cost of poor decisions,

accidents, declined mental health, and general loss of motivation of its workers. Worse still, workers abusing drugs and alcohol put their selves at risk of suffering from health complications, addiction, and death. It should be the employer’s or manager’s prerogative to know the signs of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace to manage the health risks and ensure the well-being of all employees at the workplace as well as uphold the integrity and performance of the business or organization.

There are various signs to help spot potential drug or alcohol misuse in the workplace. Although some of the signs are imperceptible, many of them are obvious and recognizable. It is, however, important to note that these signs which are easily categorized into physical and behavioral can be signs of other health concerns or medical conditions.




  1. Change in appearance

The misuse of drugs especially over a long period can cause major changes to a person’s physical appearance. Due to the effect of most drugs on appetite, a person misusing drugs may begin to lose weight rapidly and visibly. In some cases, weight may be gained and not lost. Overall, it is likely there will be an obvious change in the weight of an individual misusing drugs and alcohol.

Again, it may be noticed that there is a lack of or deterioration of care for personal hygiene and little or no effort in appearing professional; this can be an indication of drug and alcohol misuse and should call for immediate management action.


  1. Physical symptoms

There are frequent abnormal symptoms are signs pointing to the possibility that the person exhibiting them may be misusing drugs and alcohol. Some symptoms are visible by just looking at the individual and others may be seen only by observing their physical movements for a while. These symptoms may not be definitive signs of drug and alcohol misuse only; however, they are signs to probe into, especially if the individual having them seems defensive and unbalanced.

  • Bloodshot or glassy eyes
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Tremors
  • Tired look and excessive sweatiness
  • Slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Needle and tie marks around wrists and elbows
  • Unusual odors on breath, body, or clothing
  1. Paraphernalia

Finding equipment and suspicious items that may not be relevant to the workplace like syringes, soiled cotton wool swabs, lighters, disposed or stored bottles of alcohol, rolling paper and such are indicative signs to look out for.

It is common to find individuals who misuse drugs and alcohol downplaying the problem and hiding the physical telltale signs but behavioral signs are psychological and are more likely to be spotted.




  1. Inconsistent Behavior

This is a common sign of addiction due to the misuse of drugs. Depending on what drug it is, and the general mental health of the individual, aggression, recklessness, danger and other forms of violent behavior can be their actions or reactions in given circumstances. On the other hand, euphoria and paranoia, anxiety, nervousness, and isolation can be other forms of response by an individual addicted to drugs. These behaviors could unfold in series following each other, in a way that is altogether inconsistent and bound to cause stress, fear, and unproductivity within the work environment.


  1. Frequent absences and decreased productivity

Drug and alcohol misuse is associated with frequent absenteeism, and invariably, decreased productivity which is a high cost to employers and unfair strain on other workers. Many drugs make users either too shaky to perform tasks or have a sedative effect on them. In these cases, it is very likely to call in sick or take a leave of absence.  If a worker frequently requests unexplainable short-term leaves of absence for a higher-than-usual number of times within a month or gives a reason for feeling sick always, there is a possibility that there is substance misuse.


  1. Loss of interest

Working in whatever capacity requires the interest and diligence of the worker. The idea is, a worker wants to get work done well to receive the desired reward. Unfortunately, the misuse of drugs affects the mental appreciation for work and reward. Thus, if an employee is rather lackadaisical and complacent about their work or the repercussions of it not being done or done well, chances are they feel rewarded already due to the probable misuse of drugs and alcohol. For office-based workers, this may include missing meetings, canceling plans abruptly, a general lack of enthusiasm, or dormancy of a once vibrant talent.


  1. Mood swings

Workers who misuse drugs and drink heavy amounts of alcohol may experience mood swings because the drugs they consume affect their ability to properly manage their emotions. A worker of usually calm disposition may become erratic and seem hyper and vice versa. Others may seem confused as to what to feel and this can unfold as misery, irritation, or frustration towards work and colleagues in many situations.


  1. Dishonesty and theft

The ‘unexplained’ need for money that leads to constant borrowing and eventual theft case is one heartbreaking but common sign of drug and alcohol misuse. Persons misusing drugs will do just about anything for money to support their cravings and continue funding their habit. They are bound to run out of funds and begin seeking funding methods at all costs, legal or illegal. Whenever there are complaints of constant borrowing or cases of theft from company coffers, this is an indicator that there may be the misuse of drugs or alcohol.


  1. Deterioration in relationships with colleagues, family, friends, and customers

It is very easy for relationships to experience strain when one or both of the individuals in them misuse drugs and alcohol. This is because the focus of the individual will mostly be on attaining drugs and most often than not, leading to secrecy and defensiveness. This in turn will prevent the openness healthy relationships require.

If the person is pruned to aggression and violence due to the effects of these drugs, this can negatively affect their family, loved ones, and colleagues and the financial strain attached to obtaining drugs brings about uncertainty, loss of trust, and fear, all of which make a recipe for deterioration in relationships.


  1. Social media Posts

It has become increasingly possible and quite common today to tell a person’s state of mind from their posts on social media. Mental health is indeed a big picture with many angles; however, the misuse of drugs and alcohol can affect it. If a person misuses drugs and alcohol, chances are, their posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all other social media platforms may give a sign whether the posts are videos, pictures, or just comments.


Although it may be difficult to talk about the misuse of drugs and alcohol and the propensity of people to get addicted to them, the health and safety of the individual misusing drugs and the general safety of others in the workplace are too important to ignore the signs of drug and alcohol misuse. Therefore, when the signs are spotted, employers and managers should take action. Policies that would be made not only to check that workers are not misusing drugs or alcohol but also to see to the well-being of all workers in the workplace should be adopted. Intermittent careful screening sessions should be held and intervention specialists must be arranged for those who may be found to misuse drugs and alcohol in order to keep the work environment healthy, safe, and profitable. It is also advisable for all workers to document any possible signs of drug and alcohol misuse and speak to the human resource about it, for confirmation and necessary action.

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