Tips, Resources for Dealing with Workplace Addiction

By Kathy Gurchiek Jul 20, 2007

The Hazelden Foundation, a national, nonprofit foundation created in 1949 to address substance addiction, offers some ideas to organizations, managers and colleagues for addressing that problem in the workplace that include the following.


  • Candidly assess your organization’s beliefs about addiction among employees. 
    Are addicts seen as offenders or as struggling with a chronic, treatable disease?
  • Recognize the extent of addiction in your workplace. Is there a gap between your organization’s desire for a drug-free workplace and the reality of performance problems that could mask addiction?
  • Inform employees how your organization deals with addiction, and openly educate employees about treatment options.
  • Create a company culture that supports treatment and recovery, including providing support for workers dealing with an employee’s addiction and access to anonymous, independently run help lines.
  • Make confidentiality and respect the core of the organization’s approach to addiction in the workplace.
  • Evaluate the organization’s efforts to deal with addiction.
  • Make it easy for employees to access support for sobriety.
  • Hire people who have sought treatment for addiction and are in recovery.
  • Request inclusive health insurance coverage for addicted employees.
  • Support legislation that guarantees access to treatment.


  • Talk to employees about the organization’s policies regarding alcohol and drug use.
  • Keep track of employee work performance, good and bad, so you are able to document any change.
  • ​Informally talk with the employee about his or her unsatisfactory job performance, communicate expectations and discuss consequences. Do not discuss drug and alcohol abuse specifically.
  • Contact the company’s designated person, such as an employee assistance program representative or a medial professional for advice on confronting an employee who may have a problem.
  • Follow up with appropriate support.


  • Make sure you know about company resources that can assist a co-worker with a substance abuse problem.
  • Wait to talk to your colleague when he or she is sober.
  • Rehearse what you want to say before talking with the co-worker.
  • Choose your words carefully, expressing your concern in an honest, caring way, using phrases such as “I’m worried.”
  • Determine what is important to you colleague. He or she my get the help needed for the sake of his or her family.
  • Remember that addiction is a disease, and do not blame or criticize the person’s behavior.

One resource for employers that Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests is 1-800-Workplace (1-800-967-5752), a help line for employees and businesses dealing with problems related to substance abuse.

SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It released a report July 16, 2007 showing that one in 12 full-time U.S. workers admit to using illegal drugs in the past month

“The helpline provides advice on programs that can make a dramatic difference to everyone in the workplace,” such as substance abuse policy development, supervisor and employee substance abuse education, employee assistance, and drug testing, said Terry Cline, administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in a press release.

SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at

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