Impact on Workers When Family and Friends Drink or Use Drugs

A large number of Australian workers have family members or friends that use alcohol or abuse drugs on a regular basis. This has the damaging effect of causing these workers to become sidetracked on the job. Workers who are worried about addicted friends or family members have more absenteeism and have a history of being less industrious.

Inside the Addicted Family

While no situation can be termed typical, it is important to get an overview of what can occur inside the home of an addicted family. The drug problems of just one family member – a child, a teenager, or a spouse – can impact the entire household in a very short time.

A study completed by Glasgow University focused on what occurs inside the addicted home:[1]

  • In the beginning, all the family members will hover around the family member with the drug issue and attempt to solve the problem without seeking outside help. There is normally some embarrassment. This lack of seeking outside professional help will lead to a breakdown of the family dynamics. Physical and mental changes can occur at this early stage. It is at this early point that employers will begin to notice a change in the worker.
  • Over time the drug addicted family member will become the centre of attention in the family. Other family members will feel less important and may begin to act out, especially younger children. Relationships begin to change and close family ties are broken. This will typically cause the worker to become more distracted at work.
  • Without outside help the family will continue to disintegrate. Feelings of anger, anxiety, isolation, and depression are common. All of these feelings lead to increased issues at work.

What Can an Employer Do to Aid Employees?

How can an employer help employees that are experiencing problems with family members and friends who suffer from drug and alcohol related issues?

Employee assistance programs are one of the most positive ways to offer assistance to employees facing this problem.[2] However, it is up to the employers to make sure their employees know that assistance is available. In many companies workers are unaware of the benefits available, especially when it comes to drug and alcohol assistance programs.[3]

How far should an employer go in offering assistance to workers who have family members and friends who abuse alcohol and drugs? Statistics are not available to answer this question, but a great number of employees encourage their employers to offer substance counselling to family members with addiction problems since their addiction impacts the workplace. In a number of situations the counselling should be covered by health insurance. Another suggestion is for the employer to allow flex time in which the worker could assist in the treatment of the family member with the addiction and not have to worry about losing their job due to attending counselling sessions or providing family assistance during normal working hours.

The most important step in aiding the worker with the addicted family member is recognizing the problem. As mentioned earlier, the majority of families close ranks, and do not openly discuss the problems they are experiencing. As an employer, you must be diligent in looking for clues to at-home substance problems. Monitor your employees for an increase in missed days, loss of productivity, and at-work distractions. If you notice any of these behaviours occurring speak privately with the employee and offer the help set out in your company’s employee assistance policy when appropriate.

CMM Technology (http://www.cmm.com.au/) can provide the highest quality alcohol and drug testing equipment to support a drug free workplace. Workers dealing with the addiction of a family member at home should not have to deal with co-worker substance abuse in the workplace too.


References

[1] Drugs in the Family. (n.d.). Retrieved from Joseph Rowntree Foundation: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/drugs-family-impact-parents-and-siblings

[2] Guidelines for Addressing Alcohol and other Drugs in the Workplace. (n.d.). Retrieved from Safework Australia: http://www.safework.sa.gov.au/uploaded_files/drugsalc_guidelines.pdf

[3] Ibid

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