Substance Abuse in the Workplace

There are many dangers of substance abuse in the workplace, be it substance abuse of drugs, alcohol, or both. In this blog, we are going to take a closer look at addiction in the workplace as well as highlighting some of these dangers.

Contrary to popular belief, there are a substantial number of people in Ireland struggling with a substance use disorder, that still manage to continue to hold down a job. Last year, 40% of clients that attended Tabor Lodge for treatment were employed at the time of attending their residential treatment.


Substance abuse by employees can pose many dangers and issues to a business. The probability of accidents occurring in the workplace rapidly increase when employees are under the influence. Other dangers of substance abuse in the workplace include:

  • Absenteeism
  • Loss of production
  • Job performance negatively impacted due to withdrawal symptoms or hangover
  • Increased chances of trouble or issues with colleagues and supervisors
  • Lack of ability to focus and concentrate on the work they are doing if under the influence leading to poor decision making
  • Needless risk taking which can substantially damage the business
  • Illegal selling of drugs to colleagues and other unlawful activities
  • Tardiness
  • Sleeping at work
  • Loss of efficiency
  • Theft
  • Higher turnover, which includes having to train new employees
  • Disciplinary procedures

Those suffering from a substance abuse disorder are ordinarily far less productive, use three times as many sick days, are a lot more likely to cause injuries either to themselves or colleagues, and are five times more likely to make a compensation claim. However, it’s not just their own employers that are in danger of being negatively impacted. Friends, family members, loved ones and even work colleagues all report mental stress at work also as a result of their loved ones substance abuse behaviour. This all has a knock-on effect to all their businesses as well as the employers of the individual who is suffering from substance use disorder.


So, what are the signs you can look out for to identify someone suffering from substance abuse in your workplace? Often, those suffering from a substance abuse can hide their issues quite well from their colleagues, but at times there are signs that suggest a problem might be there. These include:

  • Deliberately avoid colleagues at work or irrationally blame them for personal mistakes
  • Discussing openly their financial problems
  • Issues or a sudden decline with their personal appearance and or hygiene
  • Failing relationships at home can sometimes be a sign
  • Taking days off for vague illnesses or family problems


Employers and businesses can sometimes be a major contributor themselves to alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace. Workplace culture is one of the main contributing factors that can encourage or indeed discourage individuals in the workplace. Culture can play a leading role in whether alcohol and drug use are accepted and encouraged among employees in the workplace or if they are actively discouraged and inhibited. Take for example if a company has a bar or alcohol readily available for employees to consume within its offices as a reward or perk to the job. This has rapidly increased in popularity over the last number of years, and something that can undoubtedly be a contributing factor to substance abuse in the workplace. Alternatively, a lot of companies might celebrate a success by going for a drink after work together. Some other contributing factors of the workplace to substance abuse include alienation in the workplace and substance abuse policies being in place and enforced.


It’s important for employers, individuals suffering from a substance use disorder, concerned colleagues and loved ones to be aware of their legal rights. If you are worried that you may be fired, have no fear. Employers must make accommodations for those entering addiction treatment programmes and hold your position for you. However, if you continue using or drinking on the job, or even off the job – and this is affecting your performance – your employer has the right to fire you.

It has long been established by the Employment/Equality Tribunals that alcoholism is a disability, for which protection against less favourable treatment in the workplace is provided.

If an employee is suffering from an addiction to an intoxicant, consideration should be given to the duty of an employer to put in place appropriate measures of reasonable accommodation as are required, to enable an employee to fulfil the duties of his/her role.

While this duty would not ordinarily extend to providing treatment, it would go so far as to imply a duty to at least afford an employee some support, including allowing time and flexibility to the employee in seeking treatment to overcome substance abuse issues, whilst keeping his/her job open.

Employers must maintain confidentiality regarding any information they receive regarding the addiction or substance abuse treatment of any of their employees. 


If you, a colleague or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.