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Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Employee substance abuse can cause many expensive problems for businesses and industries, ranging from low productivity, injuries, and an increase in health insurance claims. An individual may struggle with physical and mental problems that could impact their ability to work and even influence coworkers.  

According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI), the cost of substance abuse in the workplace in the U.S. is $100 billion a year.1 If you’re concerned about an employee or coworker, below are some signs of drug use in the workplace to look out for.   

Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace  

The $100 billion cost of employee substance abuse does not include costly medical, social, and other problems that impact both employees and employers. Substance abuse among employees can also threaten public safety, impair job performance, influence other coworkers, and even put an individual and others at risk of harm or injury.  

In addition to deaths and accidents, substance abuse in the workplace may result in: 

  • Tardiness 
  • Sleeping on the job 
  • A decline in productivity at work 
  • Poor job performance due to hangover or withdrawals 
  • Poor decision making 
  • Secretive behavior 
  • Lying or stealing from the company or coworkers 
  • Lower morale of coworkers 
  • Increased likelihood of having trouble with coworkers, supervisors, or tasks 
  • Poor attention and concentration due to preoccupation with obtaining and using drugs or drinking alcohol at work 
  • Illegal activities at work, including selling drugs to other employees 
  • Higher turnover 
  • Disciplinary procedures 

Addiction is an issue in every U.S. workforce. Approximately one out of every 11 workers in the U.S. (almost 9%) had a substance use disorder in the last 12 months, with alcohol use disorders making up more than three-fourths of these cases (6.7%). Other commonly abused drugs in the workplace include:2  

  • Marijuana (1.6%) 
  • Prescription opioids (0.6%) 
  • Cocaine (0.4%) 
  • Tranquilizers (0.2%) 
  • Sedatives (0.2%)  

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the U.S., or $1,685 per employee.3 So not only is finding drug or alcohol addiction treatment necessary for the individual but for their place of work, as well.  

Signs of Substance Abuse at Work 

Although you’re not expected nor qualified to diagnose the problem, there are various physical and behavioral signs of substance abuse in the workplace that can alert you to drug-related issues, including:  

  • Angry, defensive, and argumentative behavior 
  • Careless or sloppy work or incomplete assignments 
  • Complaints from coworkers or customers about the person’s behavior 
  • Erratic or impulsive behavior 
  • Excessive use of sick leave 
  • Frequent accidents on the job 
  • Frequently missed deadlines and excuses for poor work performance 
  • Frequent or patterned absences or tardiness (i.e., at the beginning or end of the work week, on payday) 
  • Frequent unplanned absences due to false emergencies  
  • Lying about work-related tasks  
  • Mood swings 
  • Poor hygiene (i.e., coming to work in the same clothes as the day before, disheveled appearance) 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Reduced job productivity and efficiency 
  • Secretive behavior 
  • Smell of alcohol 
  • Lack of coordination, staggering 
  • Appearing confused or forgetful 
  • Excessive use of mouthwash or breath mints 
  • Falling asleep while on duty 
  • Erratic or impulsive 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Slow or exaggerated movements 
  • Inattentive, spaced out, or drowsy 
  • Disheveled 
  • Trembling or shaking 
  • Incoherent, low, or rambling speech 
  • Profane, excessively loud, or hostile speech 
  • Glassy eyes or blank stare 
  • Belligerent, argumentative, or short-tempered, especially in the mornings or after weekends 
  • Isolation from other coworkers   

How to Deal With Substance Abuse in the Workplace 

If you’re concerned about possible employee substance abuse at your place of work, consult with your HR partner regarding your response. If the possible intoxication presents immediate risks, call 9-1-1. Note that you must document any problems with conduct related to substance abuse.  

Additionally, if you know someone struggling with drug or alcohol abuse – whether that person is an employee, family member, or friend – our Heartland recovery center can help. We offer various levels of addiction treatment, including inpatient and outpatient options for all ranges of substance use disorders.  

Whether the individual requires medically assisted detox and 24/7 support, or a flexible option that will allow them to work as they recover, our Illinois drug rehab offers different options and substance-specific treatment for all types of addictions. Not only can we help the individual recover, but we can also help you improve your workplace.  

For more information about our Illinois addiction treatment, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 



  1. Recovery Ohio - The Impacts of Substance Use Disorder 
  1. National Safety Council - Substance Use Disorders by Occupation 
  1. CDC Foundation - Worker Illness and Injury Costs U.S. Employers $225.8 Billion Annually 


Related Reading:  

How to Tell if an Employee Has a Drinking Problem 

How to Help an Employee Get Sober from Heroin Addiction 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.