• Jim Toth

Addiction in the Workplace by David Ross

David Ross from the Mental Health and Recovery Board in Ashland, Ohio:

View the Speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:


  • The United States is one of the few countries in the world where pharmaceutical companies advertise directly to consumers. We are constantly exposed to commercials with people having a great time while the narrator talks for about 15 seconds describing all the wonderful benefits of their medication. The remaining 45 seconds consists of the narrator talking like an auctioneer about all the side effects that may kill you if you take their product. On a more practical level, the media has greatly influenced younger generations to experiment with drugs and alcohol via music, movies, and other mainstream mediums which impact people on a monumental scale. The point of this article is not to make excuses for those who abuse drugs, but rather to serve as a much needed resource to more effectively manage employees who live in a society where drug abuse is quite common. Below are national workplace substance abuse statistics from the National Safety Council.

The Big Three:

  1. Alcohol: Difficult to regulate because it is legal for those above the age of 21. Alcohol abusers are mentally and physically impaired while under the influence. Abusers have a wide range of emotions from mellow and sluggish to violent and aggressive. With the wide range of emotions comes drastic mood swings when entering withdrawal.

  2. Marijuana: Rules and regulations for marijuana are changing on a state-by-state basis. It is important to view your state's laws to avoid legal conflicts when creating policies and managing employees. Common characteristics for abusers include carelessness and tardiness. Some abusers may be easily aggravated when refraining from regular use.

  3. Cocaine: Not nearly as common as alcohol or marijuana, but is found more often times in high-stress positions such as sales. Although behavior may vary drastically from person to person, typical traits of abusers include hyperactive, aggressive, and impulsive activity.

What can businesses do to develop a drug-free workplace?:

  • Create Written Policies: Do not fall into the trap of writing a policy when you need it. It is a sure way to find yourself facing legal repercussions. There are many free resources available including templates that are easily customizable to any business. Establish policies before mishaps so that employees know exactly what the company expects. Policies must be universal and impartial to all employees in the company regardless of level, role, or position.

  • Provide Education to Employees: It would be wise to inform all employees in the company of what behaviors to look for, as well as what resources are available to those who need help. Creating an environment of awareness is one of the best ways to get people treatment before they reach a point that they may not fully recover from.

  • Train Supervisors: On top of the employees being aware of addiction in the workplace, supervisors must know how to correctly manage those abusing and what steps to take to get them help. The plan of action that supervisors take should be explicitly outlined in the company's policies and procedures.

  • Implement Testing: Establishing policies are important for defining what is expected of employees, but drug testing is necessary for enforcement. Whether it's random or periodical, testing should be conducted to help create a drug-free workplace. An all inclusive test is an extremely expensive process, which is why only particular drugs are tested at a time. It's important to emphasize that the goal of drug testing is to help create a drug-free workplace, not a witch hunting environment.

  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): The company needs to decide whether or not they will enforce a one and done policy or be willing to get people back on track. A couple of issues facing the one and done policy is that it must be impartial. If a stellar employee makes a mistake, there are to be no exceptions in regards to terminating that employee. Another issue is that in the current state of the economy we are not at a surplus of employees. It will take a great deal of time and money to replace that employee with training and on-boarding costs. Employee assistance programs can create company loyalty and a more positive rehabilitation attitude. If your company offers an EAP, be aware that recovery is not a linear progression. It often times consists of 3 steps forward, one step back.

Definition of Addiction:

  • "An understandable, unconscious, impulsive use of psychoactive materials in response to abnormal prior life experiences, most of which are concealed by shame, secrecy, and social taboo." by Dr. Vincent Felitti, MD, "The Origins of Addiction"

  • Addiction typically starts with a choice but develops into a mind-altering dependency. The abuser's brain matter physiologically changes after repeated drug use, and it becomes much more difficult to quit than simply stopping on a dime. Treatment requires a great deal of patience.

Treatment Options:

  • Out-Patient Treatment: Typically the best way to treat addiction. Serve more people on a limited budget while maintaining a life that is as normal as possible. Employees seeking help will meet with a therapist multiple times per week in an attempt to reach the root of the problem to cease dependency.

  • In-Patient Treatment: If addiction is severe, in-patient treatment is a great short-term solution to help those overcome the urge to use again in a controlled environment. It starts with a 5 to 7 day detox, and the patient cannot return to work while receiving treatment. This form of treatment is extremely expensive. He or she would be forced to live in a confined area with no chance of abusing the drug while in the facility. Patients cannot stay there forever and often times relapse as soon as they return to the real world if not transitioned to out-patient treatment.

  • Medication Assistance Treatment: Treatment and medication with out-patient orientation. Continue to work while recovering. Medical assistance treatment is out-patient treatment, and in addition receives medication along with regular therapy to reduce the side effects of withdrawal.


  • Often times the most successful method of treatment is prevention. Building self-control, support, and awareness of kids and parents are the best ways to stop drug abuse. Know what to look for. Many people struggle to find healthy ways to control aggression. It is imperative that children and adults have a healthy outlet to manage emotions such as music, physical exercise, academics, or other productive hobbies. If children are exposed to substance abuse at home, they have a much greater chance of abusing substances themselves in the future. For those students with tough backgrounds, it is often times helpful for schools to provide after hour activities that students can attend to learn from positive role models. It will also reduce exposure time to substance abuse at home.


  • Drug abuse and addiction is often times a taboo subject to discuss, especially in a business setting. However, the best way to treat and help those who are struggling is to be as transparent as possible in company policies. Employees must know what is expected of them as members of the organization, and they should also be aware of the resources available that may help them during tough times.

Article Written by: Jim Toth

References from David Ross

Opioid Toolkit – Ohio Chamber of Commerce:

Drug-Free Workplace Self-Implementation Workbook – Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation:

Mental Health & Recovery Board of Ashland County:

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