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How to manage drug and alcohol misuse at work

Simon Walter

The pandemic has increased the number of employees misusing drugs and alcohol. This is backed by a 54% increase in positive drug test results. Pandemic pressures have put a lot of stress on everyone. 

“Employers are responsible for identifying risks and putting measures in place to minimise workplace accidents”. says Rhino Safety Director Simon Walter. “From having a health and wellbeing policy to conducting regular training, employers must promote health and welbeing practices in the workplace.”

To support staff wellbeing, retaini talent and protect productivity, employers and managers should follow the following guide on how to manage drug and alcohol misuse at work.

Create a supportive workplace culture

It’s crucial for organisations that want to take a thorough approach to employee health build a supportive culture that protects the interests of both employees and the organisation. Simply by being open to offering support for problems associated with drugs and alcohol will allow you to help employees before their problems become disciplinary issues.

Managing employee stress

If the demands of a job role create a high pressure environment, then employees are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate some of that pressure. This could become the norm whilst working remotely. As there is no clear demarcation between work and home life employees can often find it difficult to switch off for the night and relax. 

Keeping work hours manageable 

An expectation of staff to work extended hours over a long period of time will negatively affect their mental health. Regularly working late into the evening or waking up earlier in the morning to get work done can cause an employee to get burned out. This would be exasperated if they misused certain substances, like amphetamines to allow them to stay away and focused for longer. 

Have alcohol free socials

If a significant number of social occasions take place in a pub or bar then you could be cultivating a culture based on alcohol consumption. Not only are you constantly in a social environment where there is alcohol, but employees who don’t drink might not go to these events because of the expectation to consume alcohol. Thereby creating a divide between your employees. 

Offer internal support

Ensuring any support you offer is aligned with your overall approach to health and

wellbeing is vital. Treating drug and alcohol issues ‘differently’ from other areas of health and wellbeing is likely to create a discord between the two. By clearly communicating the support on offer, employees will be encouraged to disclose any problems, meaning people professionals can work on preventing/addressing issues rather than waiting to take disciplinary action if any incidents occur.

Develop assistance programmes

Organisations with more resources can have more support put in place for their workers. This includes employee assistance programmes, private health insurance or access to a specialist counselling service. Smaller organisations should also consider other

forms of support that are not expensive and are relatively easy to implement, such as

allowing flexible working to attend appointments.

Create clear policy

It is important to remember that a policy can only provide guidance about your general

Approach. It cannot be too prescriptive and must have some flexibility as every situation will be slightly different. A different situation requires a different response. Whilst a policy cannot be prescriptive, it still has to be clear. You will need to state how you will approach an issue, what support you provide and what type of behavious will result in disciplinary action.

Get external consulation

Once the first draft of the policy has been agreed, it should be presented to an expert or an employee representative. This ensures any unforeseen consequences are aired and resolved before they are implemented. Any amendments to the policy should be made here. 

Communicate the policy to your employees

You will need to consider how to communicate your new policy to staff. There could already be an internal system in place to get relevant information to everyone. You should consider the longevity of the policy. Keeping a hard copy in the office or a digital copy on the company intranet is the best way to ensure the policy can always be found. There’s also the option of running through the policy via team briefings or workshops. It’s very important for employees to not only get the policy but understand it as well.


A key part of implementing your policy is giving employees and line managers the knowledge and skills they need to handle any situations that may occur. This could be covered within any broader health/wellbeing training. Other training, such as in communication skills or managing difficult situations, may also be useful when dealing with drug or alcohol problems. You could also set out a day to train managers so that they are aware of drug and alcohol problems and have the knowledge to deal with it. 

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