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Five Ways to Support Employees with Addiction or Substance Abuse

Employee With Substance Abuse Problem

According to a study conducted in 2004, 76.8% of people with alcohol or drug addictions are employed. The impact of addiction in the workplace is costly but more importantly can affect the health and safety of all stakeholders involved. How can we improve the health and safety of Canadian employees? As an employer, what are your responsibilities? What can you do to support your employees?

There is so much information available about mental health for workplaces to help them understand how to provide a culture that is stigma free and open for discussion. Nevertheless, many challenges still exist for employees struggling with addiction. A lack of experience and information on how to manage addiction in the workplace along with stigma- remain as factors that create barriers for Canadian employees to seek help.

Perhaps, the question that often comes to mind when people encounter someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol while on the job: Is this a workplace issue or a personal issue? Should I address the problem?

When alcohol or drugs are being abused on the job it affects the health and safety of those employed at the company and those using its goods and services. Therefore, THIS IS a workplace issue that needs to be addressed. Bill C-45 a criminal code that governs corporations and their representatives, states that employers have a responsibility to ensure that they prevent any bodily harm to everyone that is involved or affected from work or tasks performed.

Employers have a responsibility to address substance abuse in the workplace because everyone can benefit when an employee recovers and gets well. When companies begin to support employees that have addiction or substance abuse problems it can lead to an improvement in absenteeism and lateness, reduction in accidents, improvement in productivity and reduction in company’s wasted materials.

Here are some simple ways to support employees that are struggling with addiction or substance abuse:

  1. A Substance Abuse Policy is an effective way to communicate employee expectations and the company’s commitment to support and accommodate employees who need support with addiction recovery. A substance abuse policy must be communicated on a regular basis to employees that are covered under the policy. This can explain and provide direction on what to do when an employee uses drugs or alcohol while on the job, the consequences that employees face if they don’t abide by the policy, drug testing procedures, employee assistance programs available, and return-to-work procedures.
  2. Create a list of resources and addiction treatment options that employees can reference. This list should be made available to all employees and should be easy to access.
  3. Provide education about what addiction looks like and why people begin to abuse drugs/ alcohol. Education can help employees understand how to support those that are struggling as well as remove negative stereotypes often associated with addiction. Stigma is often the reason why people who want help don’t communicate their struggle with others. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association in Ontario, “employees who have battled these issues say that having a supportive manager says, ‘We need your skills, we need you here, so tell me what you need from us’ can make a big difference. Employers can help employees build their self-esteem, confidence and loyalty to the organization when they make employees feel valuable and valued.”[1]
  4. Provide health benefits that offer a more “comprehensive coverage” for addiction that includes addiction assessment (screening), treatment, aftercare and counselling.[2]
  5. An employer may approach an employee. This should be done in a safe, confidential manner and at an appropriate time for the employee and all other parties involved. Please note: It is NOT the responsibility of the employer to diagnose, merely offer support and the evidence for concern within the workplace. Leave it up to the professionals to accurately diagnose and start treatment planning. To learn more about how to effectively approach an employee whom you suspect is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, click here.
  6. The Edgewood Health Network is the only national network of adult inpatient and outpatient treatment services across the country, provides 24/7 help, and an open-source assessment tool. We can help you with workplace interventions and provide a range of addiction treatment programs. In addition, we supply continuing care post-treatment services that includes testing, reporting and workplace re-integration. Give us a call to learn how we can help your workplace: 1-800-683-0111 or email us: [email protected]


[1] Substance Use, Misuse and Abuse at Work. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (February 2016) Retrieved from:

[2] [2]Slavit, Wendy et al. An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Substance Abuse: Strategies and Treatment. National Business Group on Health: Center For Prevention and Health Services. (August 2009) Retrieved from:


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