Substance abuse in the workplace is defined as overdependence on or overindulgence in a certain chemical substance resulting to effects that harm the mental and physical health of the individual or the wellbeing of others. The substance taken by the abuser does not have any medicinal or therapeutic effect on the individual. Substance abuse at the workplace is not a new issue but the problem has affected many companies and business organizations for a long time.
Some of the most common substances that are abused in the workplace include alcohol, opium alkaloids, cocaine and barbiturates among others (King and Chassin, 2008: 629-637). Abuse of substances not only affects the workplace but it may also lead to criminal penalty and at the same time the individual involved may be harmed socially, physically and also psychologically depending on the local authority within the individual’s environment. Substance abuse in most cases results to substance dependence or addiction to the substance and so the individual is unable to work without the substance.
Individuals who are addicted or dependent on a certain substances need to develop some tolerance for them to cope with the problem and these results to withdrawal symptoms. Substance dependence and abuse are different from substance addiction in that addiction involves duress to using the substance no matter the negative effects of the substance on the individual and in some cases it may involve chemical dependence although not always. Substance dependence implies some kind of abuse although abuse takes place without dependence and in most cases it occurs when an employee first engages in the abuse of the substance.
Dependence is a physiological process and on the other hand substance abuse shows an intricate interaction between the individual, the society and the substance abused by the individual (King and Chassin, 2008: 629-637). SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN THE JOB Substance abuse in the workplace is not a new concept and at various instances throughout history there have been issues of substance abuse in the workplace. In the past years the abuse of substances in the work place has encountered a dismissive attitude and so many organizations have tried to adopt working with the problem rather than developing ways to counter the issue.
Many organizations have therefore come to a conclusion that substance abuse and especially alcohol abuse in the workplace is not a problem that can easily be secluded from the workplace. Currently it has emerged that substance abuse is detrimental both to the workers and the organization although this concept has not been universally accepted. Most organizations have realized that for them to be internationally competitive they need to deal with the issue of substance abuse among the employees in an effective manner.
The following are some of the reasons behind substance abuse in the workplace: Psychological disorders are a cause of substance abuse in cases where some employees use substance abuse so as to reject, adapt to or hide a fundamental psychological disorder. Depression in the workplace may also lead to substance abuse because it affects an individual’s ability to work effectively in the daily activities like caring for family members and going to work. Schizophrenia is also another cause of substance abuse in the workplace.
Panic disorder in the workplace leads to periods of irrational fear and this may lead to substance abuse so as to get rid of the fear. Social phobia may also lead to substance abuse. Social phobia affects an individual when he or she has an intense fear of being humiliated socially, this happens when the person does not want to embarrass himself in front of other workmates. Emotional stress may also lead to substance abuse in the workplace. Emotional stress in the workplace may be as a result of a lot of work or difficulties in the family of the affected individual.
There are a number of syndromes that may lead to substance abuse in the work place, these include: Austrian syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and also the Gulf War syndrome. Harassment in the workplace may also lead to substance abuse as a result of trying to cope with the threats posed by the harassment (wrong diagnosis, 2009). Although the above factors may result to substance abuse in the workplace some individuals may become addicted while others do not. This is because of the following factors: The genes that people are born with are very unique and this means that the level of addiction of people varies due to the genes present.
Gender, social status, ethnicity and other mental disorders also affect the level of addiction to a certain substance. An individual’s environment which includes the family, friends, workmates and the quality of life affect the individual’s risk of substance abuse. Peer pressure and parental guidance affect the course of substance abuse and the level of addiction of an individual. The level of addiction vulnerability is affected by developmental stages of the individual.
Although substance abuse at any developmental stage may lead to addiction there is evidence to show that the earlier the substance abuse begins the more likely it is to progress to serious cases of addiction. Adolescents have a higher chance of trying substances because their brains are still undergoing development in the sections that determine self-control, decision making and judgment (Robert and Neil, 2009). SYMPTOMS OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE AT THE WORKPLACE Different substances may have differing effects on the overall health of the individual but the pattern of the effects on the individual’s mental and physical health is similar.
Acquiring and at the same time using the substance becomes more essential to an individual as compared to everything else like friends, workmates or the family. Substance abuse causes some emotional and physical damages to the individual and so the individual is faced with a problem of functioning in the right way and also the ability of the individual to make appropriate judgments is also affected. Substance abuse affects the brain and the physical body in a direct way as it is the case in some substances that increase the blood pressure and the heart rate.
Some substances that act as stimulants in the body for example cocaine increasing the activities of the body resulting to increased blood pressure and therefore the individual lacks the ability to sleep. On the other hand there are some substances that slow down the level of activities in the body for example barbiturates, these substances reduce the blood pressure of the body and also reduce the level of breathing and sometimes it may go to some dangerous levels. There are several physical signs of substance abuse and addiction in the workplace which include some instances of increased energy.
This is when an individual is seen to act in a way that shows he or she has some increased energy although the source of the energy may not be known. One major symptom associated with stimulants is restlessness and the lack of sleep by the worker. Although some workers may be naturally restlessness it is always necessary to carefully note any changes in the workers’ levels of restlessness as it may be as a result of substance abuse. Some strange behaviors expressed by the workers may be a symptom of substance abuse, some of these behaviors include: slow reaction time, unusual slow movements, slow speeches or confusion at the workplace.
Most of these behaviors are common with those individuals who abuse opium or barbiturates. Another symptom is a rapid loss of weight or in some instances it may be a sudden gain in weight. Cycles of abnormal sleep is also a symptom of substance abuse. A rapid change in the manner of dressing may also be a symptom of substance abuse, for example wearing long sleeved shirts at all times so as to hide the scars caused by injections in the process of substance abuse. An increased severe dental condition is a symptom mostly with those workers who use methamphetamine.
If a certain worker is suspected of being in possession of drug paraphernalia like syringes and pipes, this may be an indicator of substance abuse by the worker. A major symptom for those substances that are snorted is severe troubles with nosebleeds or frequent nose bleeding. Substances that are normally smoked have a major symptom of continuous coughs which at high levels of substance abuse may increase to coughing of blood or excessive mucus. Substance abuse affects the mood of the individual because the substance is consumed to provide temporary feelings to the individual.
The temporary feeling resulting from substance abuse may vary with the substance used by the individual although the following are the major emotional and mental symptoms of substance abuse. A period of an individual being unusually talkative with a lot of energy or some times the individual becoming unusually cheerful is a major emotional symptom of substance abuse. An increase in the level of verge for violence expressed by the individual is another emotional symptom of substance abuse. Workers who show signs of increased irritability, fury and agitation may be involved in substance abuse.
Another major emotional and mental symptom of substance abuse is unexpected calmness or workers becoming unresponsive. Lack of interest and depression may also be an emotional symptom of substance abuse. Other minor emotional and mental symptoms include hallucinations, fear, temporary psychosis and increased anger (Joanna, Jeanne and Deborah, January 2009). Other physical signs that indicate a person is abusing a certain substance or he is under the influence of a certain substance vary from one substance to another, for example: A worker who uses tobacco will have a frequent odor of tobacco, discolored teeth and finger tips.
Individuals who use cannabis experience abnormal levels of hunger, excessive happiness and the white parts of their eyes are red in color. Those who use cold medications have slow heart rates and are sleepy at most times. Inhalants are characterized by running noses confusion and irritability of the users. Users of narcotics experience pain at a lower level, slow rates of breathing and excessive happiness. Those who use anabolic steroids experience an increase in their levels of irritability, increased muscle development and loss of hair.
Dissociative anesthetics are associated with an increase in the heart rate resulting to increased blood pressure, loss of memory and also increased irritability. Hallucinogens are associated with sleeplessness and blurred perceptions. Club drugs are associated with very active individuals who do not sweat and they also seem to like everyone they meet or having excessive euphoria. The following behavioral symptoms are associated with the abuse of substances. Mood swings: All the substances abused end up producing some changes in the moods of the individual, a person may shift from euphoria to depression.
A person who is into abuse of substances may be passive at one time and in the next few minutes he is angry. Personality changes are also a symptom of abuse of substances in the workplace. This is evident in that individuals become depressed and avoid communication with their workmates. Defensiveness is also a symptom of substance abuse in the workplace because individuals blame others and they claim to be accused falsely. Those who are into substance abuse soon become self-centered and they do anything their own way without consulting their workmates.
Withdrawal from family activities is also a symptom of workers engaging in substance abuse, this includes rejecting any family events or not eating together with the other family members. Change of friends, for example termination of a long relationship or spending time with suspicious friends is a behavioral symptom of substance abuse. Sudden lack of self discipline and capability to follow rules and regulations in the workplace is a sign of substance abuse too.
Work problems like absences, tardiness, avoiding senior staff members, missed deadlines and a drop in the quality of results obtained is a behavioral sign of substance abuse. EFFECTS OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE ON PERFORMANCE AND WORKSAFETY According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in the recent years there has been an increased realization in many countries concerning the effects of substance abuse on the performance of the employees. The fact that substance abuse is detrimental to both the employees and the organization has been widely accepted in the past few years although the issue has not been recognized universally.
Substance abuse does not only affect the performance of the work as a whole but it also results to increased accidents, absenteeism, mortality and illness. These effects of substance abuse are related to the cost of doing business and therefore for businesses to succeed they should come up with ways of reducing substance abuse among the employees. Over the past few years studies have shown that absenteeism is three times higher for substance users compared to other employees (ILO, 2009).
Absenteeism has a direct effect on the business in that the business may not achieve its target therefore it may be unable to satisfy its customers and hence a negative reputation from the public in general. Absenteeism due to substance abuse leads to overwork of the other employees which may then result to poor quality of work leading to poor quality goods and reduced sales. Very high rates of absenteeism in an organization as a result of substance abuse may lead to complete closure of the organization due to lack of employees.
Study has also shown that employees who are substance abusers may claim three times more sickness benefits compared to the other employees (ILO, 2009). The sick benefits increase the cost of operation of the business and so the business suffers financially because a huge portion of its returns is used to cater for the sick benefits. Workers who are substance dependent file more compensation claims as compared to those who are not, this increases the expenses the organization incurs in litigation processes and therefore it reduces the profitability of the organization.
Study has also revealed that almost a quarter of all the accidents that occur in the workplaces are caused by intoxicated workers who either harm themselves or end up harming other workmates, this reduces the performance of the organization as resources are used in treating the injured. Accidents due to intoxication of some workers also lead to absence of workers which is fatal to the organization (ILO, 2009). As a result of increased research in the area of substance abuse and work performance it is evident that the problems in the workplace as a result of substance abuse are not restricted to alcoholics and drug addicts only.
Although alcoholics and heavy drinkers are groups most likely to cause accidents in the workplaces their numbers are quite low in most of the workplaces. Due to this moderate and occasional drinkers are responsible for most accidents in the workplace resulting due to alcohol or intoxication. The level of consumption of some substances is directly related to the performance of the individual. According to a research carried out to investigate the effects of alcohol on the performance of pilots, it was noted that before any consumption of alcohol 10% of the pilots could not carry out their operations in the right manner.
After consumption of alcohol up to an alcohol-blood concentration of 0. 11/100ml of blood, 90% of the pilots could not perform all the necessary operations in the right way. After all the alcohol had gotten out of their systems 65% of the pilots could not carry out all their operations in the right way (ILO, 2009). A similar research to the one carried on pilots was carried on workers who use other types of substances and the results were almost the same. This is a clear indication of the fact that substance abuse negatively affects the performance of workers therefore leading to poor results.
Research has identified not only those areas that are at the risk of substance abuse but it has also identified the reasons behind the occurrence of substance abuse problems in some industries and not in all industries. Out of a number of major workplaces that were researched upon the following were identified as the areas that are most likely to be affected by substance abuse: construction industry, military, transport sector, catering sector, maritime sector and the entertainment services industry.
Workers who are of a lower status and young are more likely to indulge into substance abuse and hence their performance in the workplace is quite low. The other groups of workers who reduce the performance of their industries due to substance abuse are lawyers, doctors, police officers and company directors. The performance of workers who engage themselves in substance abuse is highly affected due to the fact that this group of workers tends to fall sick more frequently as compared to the other workers and therefore their level of performance is below the optimum.
Substance abuse also affects organizations in that it lowers the productivity of the organization because of absenteeism, accidents and health issues related to the workers. Family problems also occur due to substance abusing and these problems may end up being extended to the workplace, for example a husband who is into substance abuse may cause problems in his home that may affect the productivity of the wife in her workplace.
Job loss is another effect of substance abuse and these leads to lack of enough workers in the workplace and therefore the productivity of the organization is greatly affected. Substance abuse affects the employers in that it leads to safety problems that affect the whole organization, the employees and the general public and it also increases the costs incurred by the organization, decreases the productivity of the organization and reduces the competitive advantage of the organization.
Security of most enterprises whose workers are into substance abuse is also affected because some substances may cause individuals to be angry and violent. Violence in any enterprise affects the performance of the enterprise because the workers are not freely working as they fear being affected by actions of those workers who are into substance abuse. Substance abuse also leads to continued disagreements in the workplace and therefore the workers spend a lot of time arguing, this time would have however been spent in productive activities of the enterprise.
Health issues that are as a result of substance abuse affect the performance of the workers; a good example of this is the case of alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol leads to health problems as a result of liver failure, workers who are affected by this condition may find it difficult to work at their normal rates and this causes them to reduce their performance level in the workplace. Employers will mostly make the decision of not adopting substance testing policies because they assume that they will confidently detect the abuse of substances among their employees.
Regrettably the effects of substance use are rarely noticeable in the first stages until the employers have greatly incurred losses as a result of substance abuse. Those beginning substance abuse are not likely to portray the typical characteristics of a substance user although the substance in his body affects the ability of the employee to function efficiently. At the entry level of the substance the employee has shifted from the recreational use of the substances and now the substances are required by the employees to help them cope with their daily stress.
The major effects of the abuse on the employee performance at this stage are seen by: increased tardiness and absenteeism, an increase in the rate of errors as a result of lack of attention and proper judgment and the increase in the number of unachieved deadlines at the workplace. At the second stage the employee develops a habit of using the substance in secret place so as to hide the increase in the intake from other workers.
At this stage the employee develops the following problems lower quality of work notable by all people even the workmates, lower levels of concentration in the workplace, high rates of hospitalization leading to increased absenteeism and the employee is no longer dependable. At this point the co-workers can feel the effect of the substance abuse as the abuser becomes more irritable and begins to borrow money from workmates. At the third stage the employer begins to notice although the employer may not clearly see the relation between the poor work performance and the substance abuse.
This stage is also characterized by the abuser disappearance from work and the refusal to discuss the issue of substance abuse with other people. At this stage the abuser no longer hides the use of the substance and he or she suffers from financial or legal issues. The last stage is when the abuser sees the work as an obstacle to his substance use and therefore he or she might accept drug test so as to be laid off or the abuser may just disappear from work (Elliot and Shelley, 2009).
AMELIORATIVE ACTIONS According to the U. S Department of labor, the issue of workplace substance abuse is best dealt with by establishing all-inclusive programs so as to achieve a win-win situation to both the workers and the employers. Developing a workplace program to deal with substance abuse at the workplace can reduce the cost incurred by businesses and at the same time improve the health status of the workers (U. S Department of Labor).
There is no accurate model that can be perfect for a specific company but the needs and the circumstances of the individual organization are what determine the kind of program to adopt in solving substance abuse in the workplace. Training education is another action that can be taken to counter substance abuse in organizations. The supervisors are trained to understand the policy governing the issues of substance abuse in the organization so that they are able to correctly identify those employees who are in the vice and then refer them to the appropriate people for assistance; say counselors.
The employees also need to be educated about the substance abuse program adopted by the organization so that they learn of any assistance that is available to them from the organization. Depending on the size of the organization it may either adopt an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) within the organization or outsource the program to other organizations specialized in the area. Drug testing is another action that can be used to reduce cases of substance abuse in organizations.
In this method the employees are tested for certain chemicals in their bodies and if the levels are too high then the employees are laid off from the organization depending with the formulated policies of the organization. The method is not feasible to many organizations because the drug test package is very expensive and drug testing is not allowed in all countries. Developing a strong discipline within the organization is a good option for those organizations that cannot afford the drug test (Patrick, 2009).
In conclusion substance abuse has fatal effects on organizations both to the management and the employees. Substance abuse should therefore be eliminated in the workplace as it can lead to severe damages to the organization and at times it may also lead to the complete failure of an organization if the number of abusers is at a high level. Substance abuse not only affects the organization and the employee but it also affects the public as a whole.
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