How to Tell Your Employer You Have an Addiction

Contrary to popular misconception, many people with a substance abuse disorder are actually employed. The idea that someone with an addiction engages in a volatile lifestyle is inaccurate in the majority of cases. However, maintaining employment is not the same as performing well and many employees with an addiction are likely to underperform.

Addiction causes a wide range of problems in the workplace and has far-reaching effects on colleagues and the organisation as a whole. Perhaps the most important issue caused by addiction is safety. Any organisation working in manufacturing, transportation or with heavy machinery for example, will be severely compromised by employees working under the influence. The risk of accident, injury or fatality is a major concern.

In addition to the health and safety issues of substance misuse, there are numerous ways in which an organisation can be negatively impacted. Many addicts will try to disguise their substance misuse; explaining away absenteeism and out-of-character behaviour as illness or personal problems. Presenteeism is a prevalent issue. Simply because an employee is physically present at work, doesn’t mean they’re firing on all cylinders. Whether hungover or suffering from withdrawal symptoms, an employee’s performance may be impaired.

This lost productivity costs employers dearly and has a knock-on effect on the morale of colleagues and the organisational culture as a whole. Managers’ time may be spent handling absenteeism and performance issues and colleagues may have to shoulder the additional responsibility of picking up the slack for their co-workers.

Substance abuse affects the way you feel and think. This can lead to impaired judgement, concentration and performance. On a personal level, you may become less concerned about your appearance, hygiene and general wellbeing. As addiction develops, the consumption of drugs or alcohol becomes all-consuming. Your priorities may change and you may lose the enjoyment of work responsibilities and achievements. From punctuality problems to strained working relationships, prolonged substance abuse can negatively affect how employers and peers perceive you as a colleague.

It’s important to remember that an individual can be high-functioning and simultaneously suffer from addiction. You may be able to perform well at work, maintain your position and live with an addiction in denial. Ignoring the issue is not a long-term solution. Chances are, your addiction will eventually catch up with you.

As daunting as it may be, reaching out to your employer demonstrates a desire to deal with your problem. The reality of substance abuse is self-limitation; addiction will prevent you from reaching your professional potential. If your job hasn’t been a stressor for misusing drugs or alcohol, then holding onto it can be a lifeline on the road to recovery. Telling your employer and seeking professional help could prevent the potential loss of employment. The more honest you are about your situation, the more your employer can help you.

Discussing addiction and seeking help should not result in inevitable loss of employment and livelihood. Most company policies should recognise addiction as an illness, like any other. It should not be grounds for instant dismissal. Dismissal without the offer of any help may present a case for unfair dismissal from an Employment Tribunal.

The Health and Safety at Work Act outlines an employer’s responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees. Familiarise yourself with your company’s policy on drugs and alcohol misuse and know your rights as an employee. While employers are not legally required to implement alcohol and drug policies nor to fund rehabilitation treatment, employment protection law requires employers to treat addiction as a form of sickness and provide the employee with the opportunity to overcome their problem.

While there may still be a considerable amount of stigma surrounding alcohol and drug misuse, you may be surprised at the level of support and understanding you receive. Feeling comfortable telling your employer about your addiction is crucial. As such, who you tell in the workplace about your situation is your choice. You are at liberty to keep your addiction as private as you choose. By law, employers must maintain confidentiality surrounding information regarding an employee’s addiction or substance abuse treatment.

Increasingly today, employers are choosing to offer consistent support and continued employment to improve an employee’s chances of recovery. Costs to terminate an employee’s contract for reasons related to substance misuse are significant. Additionally, the expense surrounding hiring and training a new member of staff to cover the loss is considerable. For many, helping an employee while saving on the costs associated with their potential loss, is a win-win situation. Whether directly or by means of company health insurance, funding an employee’s rehabilitation and supporting their long-term recovery can be a cost-effective investment.

Treatment for substance misuse is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some rehab programmes allow individuals to continue to work while in treatment, while others require a leave of absence to fully focus on recovery. Residential rehab offers one treatment path and may involve a medically-monitored detox to provide relief from withdrawal symptoms and help to manage cravings in a controlled setting. This approach, combined with talking and behavioural therapies, can be effective in treating addiction.

Outpatient programmes often form part of a follow-up plan of care following successful inpatient rehabilitation. Ongoing care is a crucial phase of recovery and should be in place before an employee returns to the workplace. Supporting reintegration is essential. While an individual shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or stressed, it’s equally important to discuss and set clear performance expectations.

Working in partnership with the rehab facility, employers can prepare a back-to-work plan with clear boundaries and progress reviews. A Return-to-Work Agreement can be implemented if an employee has been given the opportunity to participate in rehabilitation as a condition of their continued employment.

Substance use in the workplace is illegal and potentially dangerous for you and your colleagues. If you are struggling with addiction issues, telling your employer and seeking treatment could protect your reputation, save your career and enhance your life. Your employer may be able to deliver the support you need to return to work as a fully-functioning member of the team.