Every year thousands of lives are ruined by alcohol and drug abuse, with people’s careers one of the first areas to suffer. Problems with drink and drugs are on the rise in the UK and naturally this is having a major impact on the world of work. One of the first places problems can surface is the workplace, manifesting in the form of everything from taking sick days to recover, to dismissal for gross misconduct.
If you are suffering from alcohol or drug addictions the likelihood is that colleagues or managers will have noticed some problems or at least have an idea of what’s going on.
Whether, it’s the odd late start or arguments with colleagues, substance abuse will eventually have an impact in the workplace and this can have dire consequences for everybody involved.
How Big is the Problem?
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of people dying from alcohol abuse has doubled in the last 13 years, with more than 8,000 drink related deaths a year.
Alcohol related hospital admissions are also at a record high with 183,400 patients requiring medical attention during 2005.
According to Alcohol Concern 11-17 million working days are now lost because of excessive drinking and this is costing the British economy £1.8bn every year.
Another survey by the Portman Group – the organisation dedicated to promoting responsible drinking – shows that 63 per cent of workers phone in sick after a getting drunk, rather than turning up for work.
Absenteeism is just a low level symptom and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is also deeply concerned about the problem because it contributes to so many Workplace Accidents and episodes of bad behaviour.
Drugs are not quite as widespread but they are certainly emerging as a significant problem for employers and can have an even bigger impact on individuals lives.
The British Crime Survey shows that at least 4 million people of working age are regular drug takers, while research from DrugScope found that a third of all British adults had used drugs at some point.
The Legal Position
The laws around alcohol and substance abuse at work are complicated but dismissal is defiantly an option open to employers. Although many companies are now looking at ways to help and support problem staff this type of abuse is dangerous and damaging for both sides.
- Under health and safety laws employers have a Duty of Care to protect staff, while employees have a duty to turn up to work in a fit state.
- Many companies now have a strict policy on alcohol and drugs which will describe exactly what is acceptable. Some will explain support and rehabilitation structures in place for employee, whereas other expressly ban any alcohol consumption during working hours.
- Certain industries, such as transport, are covered by separate laws that make it a criminal offence to work under the influence of drink or drugs.
- Testing is now becoming more widespread with around 4% of employers carrying out random tests on staff and 9% planning to do so in the next year.
- Check the rules carefully as more and more companies are adopting a zero tolerance policy that bans staff from drinking, buying, selling or even being in possession of alcohol while at work.
- Some organisations will include a moral clause in the employment contract, usually to protect the corporate image. This effectively bans the use of drugs even outside the workplace.
What to do if You Have a Problem?
The first thing to do is face up to the problem and accept that some sort of medical help may be required. If you are drinking or taking drugs during working hours then you will end up in serious trouble and could be endangering yourself and the colleagues who work around you.
There are plenty of ways of seeking advice about the problem – anonymously if necessary – and a range of professionals who will be able to help you move forward. Even if you aren’t abusing drugs or drinking in work time this could still have an impact on your job.
If the problem is getting out of control you should set up a confidential meeting with your employer to discuss what’s happening. This may be easier than you think as many firms will provide help and support before things get out of hand.
Where to go For Help
The following organisations can help with drug and drink problems:
- The government advises people concerned about their drinking to see their GP.
- NHS direct offers advice on Coping with alcoholism
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Alcohol Concern
- Hope UK
- Narcotics Anonymous
- The Portman Group
Last Updated on 25 May 2021