Contact Us

8 Signs of Substance & Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

Read Time: 5 Minutes    

Need to take this resource "to-go"?

Good news! This guide is also available in an eBook format to help you better identify the signs of addiction within the workplace.

Simply click the button below, complete the form, and we'll send you the link so that you can read it on your schedule on any device. 




Substance abuse in the workplace can be an invisible issue. Unless there are clear signs of a dangerous problem, many employers don't notice substance abuse — or even prefer to think there's not a problem.

But alcohol abuse can be dangerous both for your employees and your business. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, companies lose approximately $81 billion a year because of intoxication or substance abuse. Costs like absenteeism and lost productivity hurt your revenue; while healthcare costs are part of that $81 billion, preventative programs and employee assistance programs (EAPs) help resolve alcohol abuse and create safer workplaces.

By learning about the signs of substance and alcohol abuse in the workplace, you can more proactively manage your team and get your employees the help they need.

8 Signs of Substance & Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

Monitoring your employees can help you identify substance abuse earlier and help them seek treatment. Look for employees who exhibit any or all of these signs of alcohol abuse in the workplace so you can approach them about joining an EAP:

1. Swings in Attendance

Fluctuations in attendance can be an indication of substance abuse. Employees may begin to miss days entirely through unexcused absences, but they may also:

  • Become frequently tardy in the morning or at the beginning of their shifts
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Have an extended disappearance around midday or their standard lunch break
  • Leave work early
Any of these partial absences can be an indication of substance and alcohol abuse in the workplace, either due to direct consumption during work hours or due to the effects. However, swings in attendance can be due to a multitude of factors, so it's important to consider other signs, as well.
2. Attitude Changes

Look for sudden changes in how your employees behave, engage with others, and perform their work. Two of the most common attitude changes that can indicate substance abuse are sudden and unusual irritability and having a lack of motivation or productivity.

Like with work absences, it can be difficult to gauge the risk of substance abuse from this indicator alone. However, very abrupt and pervasive shifts in attitude are a strong indication of a problem.

3. Decline in Attention Span

This may seem like another change in attitude. But a shortened attention span and an inability to focus on work tasks can be dangerous and a symptom of taking many addictive, depressant, or psychoactive substances. Look for employees that are unable to stay focused throughout the day, struggle to transition from one task to the next, or lose focus in the middle of a specific task.

4. Diminished Performance

Another significant indicator of substance abuse in the workplace is not performing to their previous standards. If you notice an employee's performance dropping rapidly from one week or quarter to the next, this may be due to an inability to make good judgments. 

For blue-collar employees, look for increases in accidents, damage, or errors that endanger the employees or others around them. Diminished performance in jobs that require operating machinery or handling dangerous goods can be both costly and hazardous.

5. Excessive Breaks

Similar to having an increase in absences, employees taking excessive breaks may be consuming substances or alcohol during work hours. This can take the form of extended breaks throughout the day or several faster breaks. Employees suffering from substance abuse will often try to hide these breaks.

Depending on your workplace, you may not be able to fully track employee absences, especially if they stay within the building or briefly go out to their vehicle. However, you may notice indirect signs such as reduced productivity, missed deadlines, and irritability from other employees that work with them.

6. Physical Indicators

Some employees with substance abuse will have physical signs of taking substances or alcohol that can alert you or your team to greater problems. Look for signs such as:

  • Unkempt clothing and appearance
  • Lowered personal hygiene standards
  • Fidgeting or physical signs of nervousness and anxiety
  • Constant signs of illness, like symptoms of a cold

If these signs persist for a lengthy period of time, that is a strong indication of substance abuse. Different addictive substances can result in different physical effects, so speak to certified experts about specific physical indicators or the effects of substances that are common in your region.

7. Declining Social Relationships

Many employees create positive workplace relationships or are friendly with their coworkers. Look for signs that these relationships have ended or are increasingly strained over time. Even if your employees don't form friendships, declining social relationships can take the form of fewer greetings and interactions, less small talk, and a sudden tendency toward staying separate.

Because every employee and workplace is different, there is no set marker that you can look for. Instead, stay aware of abrupt changes and comparatively less social interaction than in previous weeks or months.

8. Being Frequently in Need of Money

One final indication of substance and alcohol abuse in the workplace is frequently borrowing (or asking to borrow) money. Employees with an addiction may be frequently short on funds and looking for loans or advances, especially in cash. As an employer, you may not be directly asked for money, but you may hear the same employee frequently asking their coworkers.

Help Your Employees With EAP Programs From Employee Recovery

Substance abuse in the workplace is costly and even dangerous. Monitoring your employees and educating yourself on the signs of substance or alcohol abuse is the first step to protecting your team and your business. The next step is having the resources available to help your employees. 

At Employee Recovery, we help employers implement comprehensive EAPs. and rehabilitate people suffering from substance and alcohol abuse through holistic treatments. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you provide employee assistance programs for your employees. We can help educate your teams about the signs of substance abuse and how to seek treatment.