When someone has an addiction it can seriously affect their work life. Addiction in the workplace is a concern not only for the individual sufferer but for their employer and those with whom they come into contact, whether work colleague, client or customer.

With drug and alcohol abuse so prevalent in society it is no surprise that it will be evident in the workplace too.

● There are now over 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions each year. However, health figures reveal over 10 million people are drinking at levels which are harmful to their health.

● Drug related addictions are taking their toll too - in 2016 there were 7,545 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders.

● In 2016/17, around 1 in 12 (8.5 per cent) adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year. (1)

How can addiction in the workplace affect the sufferer and those around them?

Addiction in the workplace can result in a range of problems. For example:

● Addicts are more likely to have increased sickness and lateness absences due to suffering from their addiction. Alcohol is estimated to cause at least 3-5% of all absences from work - about 8 to 14 million lost working days in the UK each year.(2) A strong relationship between alcohol use and short- and long-term absence has been found, with consistent links between frequency of sick leave and frequency of drinking, number of drinks per week, indicators of binge drinking and problem drinking. (3)

● the work of those affected by substance abuse is likely to be suffer, leading to a higher degree of ‘presenteeism’ and loss of productivity.

● Stress at work or long working hours may negatively influence a person’s drinking habits, use of prescription drugs or tempt them to try illicit drugs. Ultimately this itself leads to further work-related stress creating a catch-22 situation.

● Significantly, addicts in the workplace may pose a health and safety concern to themselves and those around them. This has been a particular concern in some sectors - construction, transport, road haulage etc. The press frequently reports on accidents caused at work, and on the road, due to excessive alcohol or drugs.

From the employer’s perspective

Substance abuse can be a challenging issue for employers to deal with. It can be difficult for them to know when and how to address a problem with an employee who may be suspected of struggling with addiction. However, employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Transport and Works Act 1992 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to ensure that their employees are not operating under any impairment. (4) Employers should encourage their employee to seek the professional help they need – the good news is that with the right treatment people can return to their job and previous level of work performance.

Acknowledging addiction and seeking help

Sometimes the truth about being an addict can reveal itself at work. Addicts can be in denial about the true extent of their substance abuse until its effects become apparent to them in their workplace. Work colleagues too may notice the effects of heavy drinking or drug-taking in a co-worker – some will have to work extra hours to cover for absences and under-performance. Workers suffering from substance abuse will often feel anxious about the potentially negative consequences of revealing to others their harmful behaviour.

If you have acknowledged you have an addiction, or you are a close co-worker or loved one, then it is important to know that help is available. Support and treatment can be given to addicts to help overcome their addiction.

At Broadway treatment centre we specialise in successfully treating people suffering from addiction. We are proud to see our former clients overcome their harmful behaviour and go on to live full and healthy lives.

In addition to outpatient or residential treatment, Broadway can also offer effective workplace-based training and consultancy to develop drug and alcohol policies for work – find out more here.



1. NHS Digital. Statistics on Drug Misuse: England, 2018. Feb 2018.

2. Don’t mix it: A guide for employers on alcohol at work. Health & Safety Executive. Accessed Feb 2018

3. Schou L, Moan IS. Alcohol use - sickness absence association and the moderating role of gender and socioeconomic status: A literature review. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2015.

4. Alcohol and drugs policies. ACAS. Accessed Feb 2018.

- Alcohol and drugs at work. Health & Safety Executive. Accessed Feb 2018

- Schulte B, O’Donnell AJ, Kastner S, Schmidt CS, Schäfer I, Reimer J. Alcohol screening and brief intervention in workplace settings and social services: a comparison of literature. Front Psychiatry. 2014;5:131.