A Guide To Recognising Drug Abuse In The Workplace

As an employer, you have both a legal and a moral obligation towards the welfare of your employees which can apply to such diverse areas as ensuring you pay them on time, and supporting them if they have medical needs, such as being required to enter a drug rehab program. Most employers reading that will acknowledge the first of those two examples as a given, but as for the latter, drug rehab, there may be a few raised eyebrows.

Thankfully, the number of raised eyebrows will be a lot fewer than if we had posed this same scenario thirty or so years ago. Then, an employee found to be addicted to drugs, such as an ice addiction, would have been summarily dismissed and shown the door immediately. Today, thanks to more enlightened thinking towards employment rights and acknowledgement of drug addiction as an illness, most businesses, and their owners, take supportive stances rather than judgmental ones.

Note that we are not suggesting that we condone drug talking in the workplace, nor that it should in any way be encouraged. However,  given that drug addiction is now classed as an illness rather than a crime, a more positive culture exists within businesses and the aim of supporting those blighted by shrug addiction prevails rather than punishing them.

Of course, to offer the support drug addiction requires, a business must first be aware that an employee requires it. Drug addiction is not something most individuals will voluntarily admit to, so how do employers recognise it? Well, there are indicators of drug addiction that can be split into three categories, namely physical, behavioural, and psychological.

The order that we have written them is in descending order of being the most obvious. Further, in most cases, it will be a combination of several signs, across all three categories that should indicate strongly that an employee is suffering from drug addiction. Here are some examples of those signs.


  • Eyes are glassy or bloodshot
  • Pupils are dilated or enlarged
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Shaking or tremoring
  • Loss of coordination
  • Face either flushed or pallid
  • Poor personal appearance
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Unusual odours


  • Lethargy
  • Showing a lack of energy
  • Becoming extremely talkative
  • Showing signs of hyperactivity
  • Missing meetings and appointments
  • Taking excessive sick days
  • Frequently arriving late for work
  • Lack of social interactions
  • Showing an increased need for privacy and secrecy
  • Increasing levels of dishonesty
  • Asking for advances in wages
  • Asking work colleagues for loans


  • Showing signs of paranoia
  • Increased anxiety
  • Sudden outbursts
  • Lack of motivation
  • Seeming disengaged or disconnected
  • Instability
  • Significant mood swings
  • Increasingly defensive
  • Taken on a different personality

Bear in mind no single one of these is proof that someone is taking drugs because you can argue that every one of us might suffer from some of these occasionally but for reasons a lot different from taking drugs. Instead, it will be an employee showing signs of several of these indicators across all three that alerts you that they suffer drug addiction.

Within your business, you do not want yourself to be the only person looking for these symptoms therefore it will be useful if all employees are made aware of them. This could be done as part of drug awareness training which highlights your businesses policy on drugs, how you want openness about the subject, and the supportive stance you have, which is more likely to encourage those with drug problems to come forward for help.