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Signs of Substance Use at Work

Missing work

  • Employees who are using opioids or other substances may start coming in late or missing work more often. They may call or text in sick frequently, give unrealistic excuses, or give no excuse at all.

  • When they do come to work, employees may still miss part of their scheduled workday. For example, you may notice that employees:

  1. Fall asleep at work

  2. Disappear for part of the workday

  3. Spend long periods of time in the bathroom

  4. Show up for their full shift, but don’t get much work done


Poor job performance

  • Substance use can make it hard for employees to do their jobs. You may notice that employees:

  1. Have trouble focusing

  2. Forget key details

  3. Make more mistakes

  4. Miss deadlines or take longer than usual to complete tasks


Trouble interacting with others

  • Substance use can cause mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression. These emotional changes may affect interactions with coworkers and customers.

  • You may notice that employees who are using substances:

  1. Get frustrated or angry more often

  2. Have trouble communicating

  3. Seem to “shut down” or isolate themselves from other people

  4. Create or participate in conflicts with other employees


Physical changes

  • People who are using substances may start to neglect their regular self-care routines, like showering or washing clothes. You may notice changes in your employee’s personal hygiene.

  • You may also notice physical signs of substance use, like:

  1. Very big or very small pupils

  2. Slurred speech

  3. Body odor

  4. An unsteady walk


Accidents and injuries

  • The physical and mental effects of substance use can make it hard for employees to do their jobs safely — so employees who are using substances may have more workplace accidents or injuries.



Employees who have been diagnosed with certain medical and/or mental health conditions may exhibit a similar set of concerning behaviors. Be cognizant not to accuse or label an individual exhibiting these traits, but rather be prepared to begin discussions, unless it becomes clear that the employee may be jeopardizing their own health and safety or that of someone else in the workplace.

Updated 8/30/21
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