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Dealing with addiction in the workplace

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8th Jun 2015
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We discuss the relationship between stress and high-pressure roles, and offer tips on supporting a colleague or employee with addiction with added insight from Dr Tim Cantopher from the Priory Hospital Woking.

Addiction is a mental health condition that can damage all aspects of a person’s life. Along with broken relationships, money issues and emotional instability, addiction can also lead to high costs for any business as an addict is likely to exhibit decreasing levels in productivity and attendance. 

Stress at work

A survey on alcohol abuse at work by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern found that 27% of employers say drug misuse is a problem at work, and the CIPD found that almost a third of organisations have dismissed employees where the reason or a significant factor was an alcohol addiction. So why is addiction such a prevalent problem?

Anyone can fall into an addiction although, as Dr Cantopher explains: “you can trace back the majority of addiction problems to overwhelming stress. Particularly at work - people’s addictions seem to start as an attempt to self-medicate their underlying stress problems.”

It may also be that the demands of a job are too high, leading to an addiction cycle that Dr Cantopher explains: “People across many industries take stimulants in order to get themselves going. These people are getting themselves livened up and taking their uppers during the day and then of course they’re completely wired come the evening.

“Being unable to settle down, lead a normal family life or sleep, they then turn to alcohol as their downer. Of course alcohol then makes them more anxious the next day and the whole cycle repeats itself.”

Most addicted industries

With a connection to stress, the cyclical routine of addiction is often seen in high-pressure industries. Dr Cantopher agrees: “certainly from my experience, people in high stress occupations are the ones who tend to self-medicate and that’s the most common route into addiction”.

However, because of the stigma surrounding addiction, an accurate picture of the most addicted industries could be a blurred one. Dr Cantopher talks of the possibility of skewed reports: “people like doctors and financiers are less likely to present themselves for treatment under the NHS because they’re afraid of it getting out ”.

There is arguably a way to go to ensure that employees can feel safe and supported in talking out about struggling with stress, addiction, and other mental health conditions.

How to support those with addictions

First and foremost, every business should have policies in place to support employees, so that they feel free to talk about any mental health condition, including addiction. If pressure is high in your industry, then sharing tips on managing stress and delegating workload fairly could help to alleviate the burden on employees’ shoulders.

If you have spotted certain symptoms of addiction in somebody you work with and want to help them it’s important to approach them in an understanding, sensitive, and supportive way. To address the topic:

  • Bring up your concerns in person and in private

  • Speak in a friendly way, without judgment or accusation

  • Avoid mentions of feelings – stick to facts instead

  • Mention specific instances or events, rather than general, vague attitudes

  • Be solution-focused and positive in the way you address the next steps

With the right support and treatment, addiction needn’t be a mental health condition that costs a person’s livelihood, or a business’ success.

Dr Tim Cantopher is consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital WokingPriory Group offers a free confidential addictions assessment and can help you or somebody you know onto the road to recovery

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