Addiction Awareness for Managers

September 04, 2023

The misuse of alcohol and drugs can impact the workplace in many ways, including lower productivity, sickness-related absence, inappropriate behaviour, accidents and poor performance. Although the use of alcohol and drugs usually occurs outside of the workplace, the potential impact on productivity, fellow employees and the workplace means that this is an issue that people managers need to understand and be equipped to deal with.

Defining Substance Misuse and Addiction

When considering the misuse of alcohol and drugs, and addictive behaviours such as gambling, shopping etc., it can be useful to think of a scale from recreational use to full-blown addiction, as follows:
Recreational: Use of substances to create altered states of consciousness and for non-medical purposes.
Substance Misuse: Harmful use of substances for non-medical purposes. Person will use drugs/drink to escape emotional/physical pain instead of using more adaptive coping strategies.
Dependence: Physical consequence of substance misuse. The body adapts to a drug and needs more to achieve a certain effect (tolerance). A person will experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction: The compulsive or persistent engagement with a substance or behaviour without the ability to abstain/control at will, which often causes negative outcomes for the individual

The Scale of the Problem

On a national level, there is a 14.8% prevalence of alcohol use disorder amongst Irish adults, rising to 37% for male drinkers aged 15-24 years (Health Research Board Drug & Alcohol Survey, 2021). In addition, 51% of drinkers are classified as hazardous drinkers using a WHO screening tool. The HRB survey also found that 7.4% of adults reported using illegal drugs in the last year.

Although there is insufficient data to know precisely the extent of the problem in workplaces, a report by the British Medical Association in 2016 (Alcohol, drugs and the workplace – The role of medical professionals) reported that alcohol and illicit drug use is prevalent in those who are in work and is a growing concern for employers. The rates of illicit drug use among workers was found to be lower than those of the unemployed, however, the gap between the two groups appears to be narrowing and it is clear that a significant proportion of workers use illicit drugs (BMA, 2016).

A HRB report published in June this year showed that cocaine had overtaken opioids including heroin to become the most common problem drug. Health professionals speak of cocaine use being ‘normalised’ and ‘glamourised’ to the point that it affects all ages and social groups.

Signs of Alcohol/ Drug Misuse

Some common signs that managers may notice which could indicate alcohol or drug misuse are listed below. These signs can arise from misuse of both illicit drugs and also from the misuse of prescription and over the counter drugs. Of course, these signs are not specific to alcohol and drug misuse and can be caused by a variety of other factors, so caution should be exercised before making quick judgements.

Possible Indicators of Alcohol/ Drug Misuse


  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Lack of concentration



  • Poor health
  • Medical conditions
  • Accidents



  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor attendance
  • Poor work performance
  • Driving under the influence
  • Relationship difficulties (with friends, colleagues, managers and customers)

Managing Issues and Providing Support

It is essential that employers have support mechanisms in place so managers feel confident dealing with alcohol/ drug misuse or addiction issues that may arise in the workplace. Managers should be given appropriate training, so they feel confident discussing sensitive issues with staff and supporting them to get the help they need. Where an employee is misusing alcohol or drugs and it is having an impact at work, or an employee discloses an addiction problem, it is important that managers handle these situations professionally, with compassion and in line with company policy.

From an organisational culture point of view, employees should feel able to ask for support and know their employer will provide it. By clearly communicating the support on offer, employees will be encouraged to disclose any problems.

In the event of an employee disclosing an addiction problem, managers should treat the matter in a non-judgemental and confidential way. A manager should offer appropriate support (e.g., occupational health, employee assistance programme for general information and resources, health insurance/ benefit plans) and signpost towards resources offered in the community (e.g., AA, Narcotics Anonymous etc.). If an employee is already engaged with support services, consideration can be given to how the company can accommodate the employee (e.g., time off for appointments). Managers should also consider any health and safety implications related to the employee’s job and remind the employee of what is laid out in the company’s Drug & Alcohol Policy (if one exists).

A Drug & Alcohol Policy contributes to developing a supportive workplace that assists staff with substance misuse/ addiction issues, whilst also setting out clear expectations of staff behaviour and the potential consequences for failing to meet these expectations. It is important that the organisation’s culture supports the aim of the policy with regards to protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.

This article is Part 2 of a two-part series related to Intoxicants and Addiction in the Workplace. The first part which covered the misuse of intoxicants in the workplace and outlined what to carefully consider before introducing testing in the workplace. You can read the article here. 

Dr. Carol Rogan PhD, C.Psychol., Ps.S.I., CMIOSH
Chartered Psychologist
Irish Life Wellbeing


Useful Resources



Ibec webinars

Ibec KC Connect in 15 webinars
August edition:
Intoxicants Testing in the Workplace
Broadcast on Tuesday 15 August
Watch the recording here

September edition:
Managing Intoxicants in the Workplace
Tuesday 12 September 10:00 – 10:15am
Book here

Upcoming Training: Ibec Academy Courses

The following two courses will be very beneficial for anyone concerned with the misuse of intoxicants in their workplace:

Managing Intoxicants in the Workplace

Thursday 28th September 2023 (half day)
€215 (member rate)
This course is designed to help organisations proactively manage intoxicants in the workplace. It will be delivered by Employer Relations, OHS, and Occupational Health experts.
More information and how to book can be found via this link

Addiction Awareness for Managers

Friday 20th October 2023 (half day)
€294 (member rate)
The aim of the Addiction Awareness Programme for Managers is to increase managers’ confidence and competence in dealing with problem alcohol and drug use/ addiction in their teams. The course, delivered by psychologists, will provide managers with information on different types of addiction, typical signs and symptoms of addiction, and legal obligations on employers. It will also provide information on managing addiction issues and provide managers with a toolbox of practical coaching skills for supporting sensitive conversations.
More information and how to book can be found via this link