Most of the time this blog is dedicated to helping leaders help people go from good to better in job performance. But sometimes there are obstacles that prevent individuals from performing to their potential, some that are more involved than a supervisor can fully address. One of these is when poor performance stems from addiction. It is a personal issue that becomes a business issue when it impacts your workplace, so leaders need to consider both the person and the business when developing policy and handling problems.

We have seen instances where a leader or loved one was completely puzzled (or hurt) by inconsistency in behavior and later discovered that the “bad” behavior was done under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the addiction in full swing was only realized after money or valuable property was stolen. Just as is the case with other habits of thought, unless our radar is tuned to signs of addiction we might not see it until either the person has a significant negative incident or we are personally impacted by their actions.

The stereotype of the addict shows someone with poor grooming slouching on a street corner, or a hoodlum hanging out trying to sell or buy crystal meth. But recent news has covered the explosion of overdose deaths from opioid addiction, a form of addiction that often begins with legal, prescribed drugs and leads into overuse and abuse. Oxycontin (oxycodone) in particular has been part of this escalation for people in all walks of life. Prescribed for pain by a physician, Oxycontin is highly addictive. Physicians who prescribe Oxycontin for pain are trying to minimize the dose and minimize the time a patient takes it specifically because of its high risk of addiction.

The perceived benefit to a “recreational” illegal user is that, because it is a prescribed substance, the user knows exactly what amount of Oxy they’re taking. It’s a “reliable high” without some of the risks of street drugs like heroin, which are sold in varying strengths and with additives that you only discover once you’ve used them (sometimes with disastrous results.) But addiction to prescription opioids can lead to criminal behavior of “shopping” physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions, and even an escalation into heroin to maintain a high and avoid excruciating withdrawal symptoms.

From the National Alcohol Substance Abuse Information Center:

Addiction does begin with drug abuse when an individual makes a conscious choice to use drugs, but addiction is not just “a lot of drug use.” Recent scientific research provides overwhelming evidence that not only does drug addiction interfere with normal brain functioning, creating powerful feelings of pleasure, but drug use can also have long-term effects on brain metabolism and activity. At some point, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction, a chronic, relapsing illness. Those people with a drug addiction suffer from a compulsive drug craving and usage and cannot quit by themselves. Treatment for drug addiction is necessary to end this compulsive behavior.

Your business needs to have a drug policy as part of your employee handbook, and in addition you may want to consider engaging an EAP (employee assistance program) for employees to access confidentially. They may be using, and although their substance use has not yet appeared in workplace results, it is of concern to them. We can help you with this aspect of your handbook and advise you on drug testing policies, emergency procedures for your business site, etc.

From a personal perspective, if you are concerned about someone who you think might have addiction problems, or if you are concerned about your own behavior, check out this website for information about symptoms, intervention, and treatment options: http://www.addictioncareoptions.com Information is your ally in these situations, because you might already be enabling someone whose behavior has now become so familiar to you that you don’t see the addiction. You might be the person who can help them take the first steps toward kicking their addiction. This is no time for standing on the sidelines.

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