Dealing With Addiction In The Workplace

09th September 2019

Reportedly, in the UK 2 million people (1 in 30 adults) are struggling with an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. What’s even more shocking is that last year, there were 14,053 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs, as recorded by the NHS.

Naturally, when people are suffering from addiction, their performance in the workplace is affected. They’re likely to have higher levels of absenteeism, have lack of motivation and concentration, and overall perform less productively; not to mention the increased possibility of accidents occurring! As well as thinking from a business point of view, as employers you have a duty of care to protect your employees and ensure the right support is in place for them. Learn a little more about addiction below, and how to deal with it effectively in the workplace.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a disease which leaves people with both the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a substance, or perform a set behaviour; despite it causing them harm both physically and/or mentally.

Generally, addiction begins with an action that was initially seen as pleasurable, perhaps someone likes the feeling whilst they are drunk, or after ingesting a substance. It becomes an addiction when this behaviour spirals out of control. That person can no longer stop performing the action, and it has become part of their ‘normal’, to the extent that the substances no longer have the intended effect on the body. Addictive behaviours can be physical, where the body adapts to the use of a substance, or behavioural, such as in the form of eating, gambling or using technology.

Different Forms Of Addiction

Addiction isn’t limited to solely drug and alcohol misuse, it presents itself in many forms; each of which can have a significant impact on a person at work. As an employer or manager,  it is important to be aware of the different forms of addiction and how best to support an employee struggling with the disease. Some of the most common forms of addiction include:

  • Alcohol: Where a person is dependant on alcohol and feels the need or urge to have a drink, rather than to enjoy one for pleasure.
  • Drugs: A person has formed an unhealthy relationship with either legal, illegal or prescriptions drugs. Perhaps they began taking them recreationally, and over time an addiction has developed.
  • Eating: An eating addiction, or as the condition is more commonly known, an eating disorder, is most commonly when a person’s eating habits dramatically change to fuel an obsession with their body being a certain shape/size.
  • OCD: A person has obsessive thoughts and exhibits compulsive and repetitive behaviours.
  • Gambling
  • Computer/Internet use

So How Do We Handle Addiction In The Workplace?

There are various ways as an employer you can help to manage addiction within the workplace:

Policies & Procedures

Having the correct policies and procedures in place is half the battle in approaching addiction in the workplace. Make sure you have a drug and alcohol policy in place so that if someone is misusing a substance and it is affecting their work, you have a procedure in place to follow when it comes to drug & alcohol testing. We’ve created a separate resource of how to prepare your drug and alcohol policy for some additional guidance.


The importance of education and awareness should not be underestimated. Make sure that all employees are aware of your policies around substance misuse, and that they are able to recognise the signs of addiction. In doing so, you help to create a workplace culture where employees look out for one another and are aware of any potential disciplinary actions that could be faced as a result of not abiding by these policies.


As well as having the right policies and procedures in place, being able to support and advise employees is really important. There are various ways you can support employees suffering with addiction, and it should be assessed on a case by case basis. However, some workplace adjustments that can be made include adjusting their day to day duties, offering time off work, creating a sickness management plan for a phased return to work or helping them to seek medical help if they haven’t already.

Addiction is a complex disease that affects an individual in various ways. If you suspect substance misuse, or that someone suffering with addiction in your business get in touch with our team. We offer both drug & alcohol testing and sickness management services to help you to best manage this in a way that works for both you and your employees.

Request a callback

Tell us your name and number below and we'll give you a callback to discuss your requirements.

Request a callback