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Workplace Substance Abuse


Employers have a unique opportunity to lower the prevalence of substance abuse in our communities. Individuals who abuse substances are typically slow to seek help.

Workplace substance abuse prevention is designed to assist companies effectively deal with drug and alcohol as a matter of (1) safety, (2) health, and (3) performance. Most companies (particularly small- and medium-sized) do not retain the services of mental health professionals. In addition, privacy and human rights legislation create a minefield of potential liabilities for companies who wish to take direct action with an employee. Therefore, the diagnosis and treatment of employees that show symptoms of drug or alcohol problems is best left to others.

If you are concerned about the impact that substance abuse is having at your workplace, this section is for you. Employers, human resource staff, and employees will all benefit from being better informed about how they can minimize the negative impact of drugs and alcohol.

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The following resources provide addiction prevention resources for employers and human resource specialists who work are concerned about drugs and alcohol as a matter of (1) health, (2) performance, and (3) safety.

Additional resource information for parents, public health providers, and law enforcement who work in communities is available in the Addiction Prevention Resources section. Teachers and law enforcement officers that work in schools are referred to the School Drug Abuse section.

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General Reading on Workplace Substance Abuse

Addiction At Work: Tackling Drug Use and Misuse in the Workplace (2005) is a guide for occupational health professionals, human resource managers and other professionals concerned with the risks associated with drugs at work. An essential reference for organizations seeking a way through the human, ethical, and legal issues of workplace substance abuse. Hamind G Ghodse

The Working Addict (1976) reveals that the working addict differs significantly from the general population of addicts undergoing treatment. David Caplovitz

Printed Resources – Company Policy and Workplace Substance Abuse

Workplace interventions: alcohol and diet (June 2004) recommends that employers should have an alcohol policy setting out signs to look for and procedures to follow. Health Development Agency, UK. ISBN 1-84279-278-4.

You Are the Key: 10 Steps for Employers to a Drug Free Workplace (2006) is a guide for employers that gives a step-by-step way to implement a drug-free workplace program. Sunshine Coast Health Center. To order your copy of the You Are The Key guide, see the Order a Brochure section.

Printed Resources – Drug Testing and Workplace Substance Abuse

Drug Testing in Hair(1996) attempts to prove hair testing as an accepted form of evidence for use in courts and elsewhere, such as the military and the workplace. Pascal Kintz.

Drug Testing Technology: Assessment of Field Applications (1999)evaluates various methods used to determine abused drugs taken by individuals, and their application in various programs and contexts. Controversies associated with various methods, including urine analysis and hair analysis, are examined.Thomas Mieczkowski.

Drug Testing at Work: A Guide for Employers and Employees (1998) provides reliable, current information on the legal issues and the technology of drug testing in the workplace, and shows step-by-step how to set up a testing program. Beverly A. Potter, Sebastian Orfali.


Pass the Test: An Employee Guide to Drug Testing (1999) explains the technical side of drug testing as well as how workers can exercise their legal rights to decline tests or dispute results. Beverly A. Potter, J. Sebastian Orfali.

Pissing on Demand: Workplace Drug Testing and the Rise of the Detox Industry(2004) examines the drug testing phenomenon along with the resulting rise of the anti-drug testing movement, or the detox industry, that works to beat these tests. Strategies include over-the-counter products like body flushers that sound innocent but are really designed to mask the presence of illegal drugs. Kenneth D. Tunnell.

Surveillance, Privacy, and the Law: Employee Drug Testing and the Politics of Social Control(1994) examines the historical context of the 1980s when the War on Drugs ushered in the era of workplace drug testing and the eventual approval of drug testing by the US Supreme Court. Examines why the momentum behind testing was so strong and the opposition to testing so ineffective. John Gilliom.

Printed Resources – Recovery and Workplace Substance Abuse

Addiction recovery is also known as life after treatment or living clean and sober.

Recovery at Work: A Clean and Sober Guide  (1990) offers advice to recovered substance abusers who are re-entering the workforce on setting career goals, dealing with tough interview questions, and handling job stress Carol Cox Smith

For more information on life after treatment see the Addiction Recovery section.

Printed Resources – The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Workplace Substance Abuse

Is There an Alcoholic in The Workplace? (1998) is a pamphlet that introduces the fellowship of AA to managers, personnel professionals and co-workers if and when they have an employee/co-worker who is struggling with alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous

Chapter 10 of Alcoholics Anonymous is dedicated to employers. It is a personal story of an employer and is found in the 3rd edition of Alcoholics Anonymous.

For more information on the Twelve Steps see the 12 Step Support Groups section.

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Websites Specific to Workplace Substance Abuse

American Association of Medical Review Officers

APOLNET – Workplace Alcohol Policies

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS)

Canadian Employee Assistance Program Association (CEAPA)

Division of Workplace Programs (SAMHSA)

Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association

Employee Assistance Professionals Association

Employee Assistance Society of North America

ILO Database on Substance Abuse and Tobacco in the Workplace

SafeWork – International Labour Organization (ILO)

Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF)

General Information on Workplace Substance Abuse

Alcohol and the Workplace (July 1999) explains that there are several factors that contribute to problem drinking in the workplace. Employers can mitigate some of these factors and motivate employees to seek help for alcohol problems. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Alcohol Alert, No. 44.

The Basics: Alcohol, Other Drugs and Gambling (2006) Information for Leaders – It’s Our Business. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Brief Analysis of Current Workplace Substance Abuse Issues and Activities in Canada (July 2007) is a legal opinion that provides (1) current research on alcohol and drug use patterns and impacts, (2) government initiatives, (3) trends in policy development, and (4) current legal climate in Canada. Barbara Butler & Associates.

Dealing with the Troubled Employee (2006) Information for Leaders – It’s Our Business. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Don’t mix it: A guide for employers on alcohol at work (2007) has been developed to help the owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses deal with alcohol-related problems at work. Health and Safety Executive. UK.

Online Resources – Company Functions and Workplace Substance Abuse

Being Sued Can Ruin a Good Party: A Social Host’s Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Legal Liability (October 2006) will help you understand your potential legal liability, safeguard your family and friends, and minimize the alcohol-related problems that generate civil suits. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Having a party? Great tips to lower your risks as a host (2006) shows you how to run an alcohol-related event on- or off-property. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Keeping Good Company: An Employer’s Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Alcohol Liability (October 2006) focuses primarily on a different alcohol concern – namely, an employer’s potential civil liability for hosting, organizing or sponsoring events including alcohol. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). 

Sobering Thoughts on Safe Partying: A Guide to Avoiding Legal Liability (2nd Edition) (October 2006) shows you steps to take as a host to safeguard your guests and reduce your risks of being sued. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Trends in Liquor Host Liability (March 2006) reviews the liability of both commercial hosts (bars, restaurants, etc.), employer hosts, and social hosts (friends, family members, etc.). Whitelaw Twining Law Corporation.

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Online Resources – Company Policy and Workplace Substance Abuse

Smoking Policy for the Workplace (1999) is for employers and those working with them to promote the health and welfare of employees, particularly environmental health officers and health promotion advisors. Martin Raw, Health Education Authority.

You Are The Key: 10 Steps for Employers to a Drug-Free Workplace (2007) explains to employers how the can design and implement a drug-free workplace policy. Sunshine Coast Health Center.

Online Resources – Co-Worker Support and Workplace Substance Abuse

Workplace Peer Support (2006) discusses how co-workers can effectively encourage someone experiencing personal problems to get help. It’s Our Business – Information for Leaders. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Online Resources – Drug Testing and Workplace Substance Abuse

Alcohol/Drug Policy Development and Employee Testing (2006) It’s Our Business – Information for Leaders. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Current Legal Context: Employee Testing (December 2007) is a legal opinion that provides a Canadian context for drug testing in workplaces. Barbara Butler & Associates.

Drug Detection Periods is a table listing how long various drugs stay in the human body. San Diego Reference Laboratory.

Online Resources – Employee Assistance Programs and Workplace Substance Abuse

Employee Assistance Programs: Workplace Opportunities for Intervening in Alcohol Problems (September 2003) Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems Research.

Online Resources – Employer Guides for Workplace Substance Abuse

Alcohol in the Workplace: A Simple Guide (August 2007) outlines how companies can develop an alcohol policy. Health Education Board of Scotland, UK.

Don’t Mix It: A Guide for Employers on Alcohol at Work (August 2007) has been developed to help the owners and managers of small- and medium- sized businesses deal with alcohol-related problems at work. Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Drug Misuse at Work: A Guide for Employers (June 2004) helps owners and managers of businesses and other organizations, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, deal with drug-related problems at work. Health and Safety Executive (HSE), UK. ISBN 0-7176-2402-1.

Making Workplaces Drug-Free (March/April 2008) is a kit for employers to help them establish a drug-free workplace. SAMHSA News, Volume 16, Number 2.

You are the Key: 10 Steps to a Drug-Free Workplace (2006) shows companies in a step-by-step format how to implement a drug-free workplace policy. Sunshine Coast Health Center.

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Online Resources – Family Members of Substance Abusing Employees

An Addiction in the Family: What it Means for the Workplace (2006) explores the consequences when an employee has an alcohol or drug problem in the family. It’s Our Business – Information for Leaders. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Online Resources – Health, Wellness and Workplace Substance Abuse

Workplace Health and Wellness (2006) discusses the benefits of health and wellness initiatives in the workplace including having an employee assistance program. It’s Our Business – Information for Leaders. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Online Resources – Impaired Driving and Workplace Substance Abuse

Driving for work: Drink and Drugs recommends that employers put in place all ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to ensure that staff are fit and competent to drive safely. Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Birmingham, UK.

Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets (April 2004) is a collection of fact sheets that present the current scientific knowledge in the area of drugs and human performance, including driving. US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For information on how specific drugs affect performance and driving refer to the Drug Information section.

Online Resources – Medical Professionals and Workplace Substance Abuse

Indicators of Problematic Substance Use is designed for educating nurses about early identification of affected nurses who are using substances. College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia.

Online Resources – Research and Workplace Substance Abuse

15% of US Workers Report Workplace Alcohol Use or Impairment in Past Year (February 2006) Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) FAX, Volume 15, Issue 5.

Inability to Concentrate, Missed Deadlines, and Poor Attendance Most Common Ways in Which Family Members’ Substance abuse Affects Workers  (April 2005)  Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) FAX, Volume 14, Issue 16.

Substance Use and Gambling in the Workplace 2002: A Replication Study (2006) was a survey in Alberta about drug, alcohol and gambling attitudes and perceptions. . It’s Our Business – Information for Leaders. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Work-based Alcohol Risks in Alberta; An Assessment(November 1993) a study of the Alberta workforce found that alcohol availability, workplace social controls, stress/alienation, and workplace culture had the biggest influence on drinking patterns at work. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).

Worker Substance Use, by Industry Category (August 2007) shows that the highest rates of illicit drug use were among full-time workers found in the accommodations and food services, and construction. Heavy alcohol use rates by occupation also included. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs (US) (June 2007) presents findings on substance use among workers and on workplace drug policy and programs from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs). DHHS Publication 07-4273. Office of Applied Studies (OAS).

For additional research data on workplace substance abuse refer to the Worker Substance Use and Workplace Drug Policies section of the Office of Applied Studies website, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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My wife just did the family program last weekend and it was very good for her. Being in a group of people that are in the same position as her is just as vital as me coming to a group with people in the same position as myself.

- Vancouver, BC

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