Many of us have preconceptions of what an addict should look like. Strip away the cliché and the reality is multifaceted. An addict can be of any nationality, religion, ethnicity and gender. They could be rich or poor, work as a menial labourer or have a high-profile job. It is possible that many people can drink against their beliefs.
Addiction does not discriminate and has no borders. So if you have wondered about a colleague but dismissed the notion because it doesn’t meet your preconceived ideas you would be wise to think again.
Have you noticed a colleague lapsing with their work responsibilities? A decrease in output, recurring absence and a disregard for their appearance are all signs that addiction in one form or another is present. Presenteeism (the unwarranted practice of performing excessive working hours due to job insecurities) could also be another sign especially if the quality of work and productivity is not up to standard.
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Has the odd moan about having a bad hangover on a Monday morning turned into a habitual grumble? Sweating, tremors and uncharacteristic agitation are usually signs of withdrawal, which your colleague will try to dismiss as flu-like symptoms by stating they are ‘feeling under the weather. This could mean that they require a medical detox.
If they continue down this road they could jeopardize their job and end what was once a promising career. In the process, they will ruin the stability and security that comes with a regular income.
Helping a colleague is difficult because it means tiptoeing around workplace boundaries, an ethical minefield at the best of times. Your colleague is not family so there is no burden of care one would expect within a family dynamic.
Ignoring a colleague with addiction in the hope the issue will rectify itself is in itself reckless because it will end up creating a rift within the workplace and lower morale, which in turn will affect productivity. In other words, pretending nothing is wrong could jeopardize the business. There is also the question of safety.
A colleague who is not completely aware and alert runs the risk of causing an accident and if it involves heavy machinery the result could be catastrophic. As well as co-workers the safety of the public could be in question especially if your colleague is a nurse or care practitioner and is tasked with dispensing medication or performing complex tasks.
Another detriment of ignoring a colleague’s addiction could be a worrying trend in illicit activity. An addict’s moral compass is often off-kilter and in desperation to sustain their habit they may resort to workplace theft.
Drugs and alcohol can also disrupt the brain’s circuitry drastically changing your colleague’s personality. This can include memory loss, paranoia and psychosis, which in some cases can lead to aggressive outbursts, depression, suicidal thoughts and even violence. The longer your colleague is addicted the more chance their cognitive faculties will be irreversibly damaged.
Making your colleague aware their current behaviour is not going unnoticed could be the fuel needed to spark change. Often an addict’s lowest point, where the ramifications of their addiction become too great to ignore, is an excellent springboard.
Open dialogue in a private environment without the prying eyes of other coworkers is an ideal way to broach the matter. A caring approach is a far better method than being accusatory and it is important to stay factual as opposed to being opinionated. For example, it would be better to say ‘I saw you pouring alcohol into your coffee’ instead of ‘I think you are drinking too much.’ Remember to remain non-judgmental and if possible refrain from using stigmatised words such as ‘alcoholism’ and ‘junkie’.
Convince your colleague the matter will be dealt with in the strictest of confidences. Many addicts may be too embarrassed to admit they have a problem but assuring them they have every right to confidentiality and support will go a long way to alleviate their concerns.
Due to the fear of dismissal, an addict may go to extreme lengths in order to hide the signs. However, if there is a supportive framework, one for example that grants a leave of absence for the colleague to attend a rehabilitation programme, they may be inclined to seek help sooner rather than later.
Helping a colleague struggling with addiction is admirable but you cannot be their saviour. The best you can do is emphasise your concern and make them aware of the support offered. Every company, office and place of work is susceptible to addiction. Businesses that ignore the problem are not only irresponsible but risk a whole host of consequences and sustained repercussions.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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