My best employee is an addict, what do I do?

It’s a situation no manager ever wants to be in. Something is wrong with your best employee, and you just can’t put your finger on it. Maybe their work has become careless or sloppy. Perhaps their breaks have gotten longer and longer. Or maybe their once professional appearance has slipped due to poor personal hygiene.

These are just some of the warning signs they may be abusing drugs. But if you suspect an employee is an addict, what should you do? Here are some steps you can take to help get your employee — and your company — back on track.

Recognize the Problem

Spotting the signs of substance abuse can be tricky, and it is tough to know when it is appropriate for you to step in — and when it is not. The early signs of a drug problem often overlap with performance issues managers regularly deal with, however, there are some “red flags” experts say could be signs that your employee may be abusing drugs:

  • Frequently late to work
  • Unauthorized or unexplained absences
  • Extended breaks or lunches
  • Avoiding supervisors, especially after breaks or lunch
  • Accidents on or off the job
  • Careless or sloppy work
  • Poor personal hygiene or grooming
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Attitude changes (mood swings, anxiety, belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered behavior)
  • Erratic or unusual behaviors, such as extreme talkativeness, paranoia, sleepiness, tremors, sleeping on the job
  • Noticeable financial problems, such borrowing money from co-workers or frequently asking for paycheck advances


Document the Issues

As a manager, performance on the job is your responsibility, and you should document performance shortcomings just as you would with any other poor performing employee. It is important to be objective or specific, such as recording when an employee is absent, fails to show up on time, or does not meet a deliverable including dates and times. You don’t need to include your suspicions, and it is important that you do not share them with other employees.

Have a Discussion

Like any underperforming employee, it is important to sit down and talk to your employee in a private room away from other colleagues. Discuss performance concerns by referring to specific instances without making accusations about drug use. If an employee offers his/her drug use as a cause for performance issues, you may refer them to an Employee Assistance Program if one is offered at your company, or suggest that they seek advice from a accredited treatment facility, such as 12 Keys Rehab.

Get Advice from the Experts

Many companies have policies and procedures in place for dealing with drug use and you should follow those rules closely. However, you may also wish to seek advice about having this difficult conversation, or what to say if you are confronted with an employee who admits to abusing drugs. The caring staff at 12 Keys Rehab is experienced at dealing with these types of situations, and can help you set up a plan for dealing with your colleague’s addiction. Remember, research suggests that addiction treatment costs less for employers than replacing an employee — and with proper treatment and support, your employee can return to work more productive than ever.

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