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Four Signs Employers Can Use to Spot Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Unfortunately, substance abuse in the workplace is becoming a more common issue with each passing day. Alcohol is one of the biggest offenders, causing 500 million sick days each year with employees calling out who are simply too sick to work. Employees who use illicit drugs are more likely to ask for time off (or experience an increase of absences in general), file worker's compensation claims, and either cause or add to accidents that occur in the workplace.

Here are four signs in particular that can alert an employer to the possibility that one of his or her employees may be suffering from a substance abuse problem.

1. Changes in Mood

Mood changes are one of the biggest red flags of substance abuse. Sure, we all have days where we're cranky or just not in a great mood. Sometimes it's difficult to leave our problems at home and start the workday fresh, or maybe there are even issues in the workplace that are contributing to our sour mood. However, someone who is suffering from issues with substance abuse will display erratic change in mood that significantly differ from how they act on an average day.

In particular, mood changes that can be attributed to substance abuse issues typically involve feelings of depression, irritability, paranoia, and being more withdrawn or more talkative than usual, especially if the employee has just come back from a lunch break where they may have snuck a quick hit.

2. Changes in Appearance

Employees suffering from substance abuse issues can also experience significant changes in their physical appearance, which may make it easier for an employer to detect that there is a problem. Are the employee's eyes bloodshot? Does his breath smell like alcohol? Do his clothes smell like marijuana?

Over the long-term, an employee may experience a dramatic loss or gain of weight in a short period of time. He or she may also stop caring about personal hygiene and arrive to work poorly dressed and looking messy. More serious cases of substance abuse may present themselves in the form of tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

3. Decreased Productivity

Employees with substance abuse issues may stop meeting their deadlines on time, slack off at their desks, show a significant decrease in their output, or otherwise drastically change how they perform while on the job. Keep an eye out for the employee who may appear to have more downtime than his peers, and especially take note of longer bathroom breaks or trips outside. Some employees with substance abuse issues may even fall asleep at their desks.

4. Calling in Sick/Late

Employees with substance abuse issues may call in sick or late any day of the week, but this tends to occur more often on Monday mornings after they have had the whole weekend to "binge." They may also show up to work with a hangover, or they may show up late or leave early with no warning or explanation. When hiring a new employee, be sure to evaluate their job history. If they have frequent job changes listed in the past year, then they may have been let go for abusing their sick time as a result of having issues with substance abuse.