Drugs and Alcohol

The use of drugs and alcohol can be a serious workplace issue.  Not only can their use lead to significant health problems, but also workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be a hazard to themselves and others.

Employers who knowingly allow workers to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, where this affects the safety of themselves and others, could be prosecuted under safety and health law.  Workers affected by alcohol and drugs are likely to have increased sickness absence and poorer performance.

It is not only illegal drugs that cause problems at work.  legal ones, including prescription drugs, can be misused or have adverse effects.  However, some people have conditions that require drugs to help them live a normal life and couldn’t work without them.  Many drugs can also have psychological effects that can affect performance or mental well-being, especially after long-term use or if a dependency develops.

The causes of substance misuse may include the following:

•  workloads, staff shortage, risk of redundancy, change, shift work, bullying and harassment

•  the existing workplace culture that encourages the use and perhaps the misuse of alcohol or drugs

•  long working hours and working away from home.

The following behaviours in the workplace may indicate the existence of a problem:

•  absenteeism

•  poor time-keeping

•  high accident levels

•  tendency to become confused

•  poor performance of duties

•  mood swings

•  irritability or aggression

•  misconduct

Alcohol and drug misuse can affect work performance in four main ways:

•  it increases the likelihood of mistakes, errors of judgement and increased accidents

•  it can impair both work attendance and performance

•  it can lead to a range of social, psychological and medical problems, including dependence

•  carers may find the impact of dealing with the problem affects their work performance.