What Would You Do If A Colleague Had An Addiction?

The stigma surrounding addiction may prevent a person from seeking help, especially in their place of work where fears of dismissal can heighten their concerns.

See Also: How to comabat addiction without letting it ruin your career

Many people think addictions are limited to harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs (either prescription or illegal). This is untrue: people can also be addicted to gambling, the internet, eating, and many other things. Awareness and understanding of addiction is the first step in helping people.

I spoke to Claire Rimmer, the Lead Addictions Therapist at The Priory Hospital in Altrincham, about the signs that somebody may be struggling with an addiction, and steps that you can take to assist.

Who is at Risk?

Claire told said that when talking to people with addictions about their triggers, there is often a correlation between risk of addiction and perceived workplace stress: “if [employees] are struggling to cope, they can turn towards substance abuse behaviour”.

She also explained that there may be a correlation between addictive behaviours and success in other areas of life. The implications are that the risk of addiction is not limited to just one set of employees: entry level staff under stress may be just as susceptible as people in high powered jobs like senior management. There is, however, statistical data from the ONS pointing to the fact that administrators and junior executives are the highest risk group for developing mental health conditions.

What are the Impacts on the Workplace?

An addiction has huge potential to negatively impact an employee’s life and their performance within a company: often these factors will lead to increased stress and fuel the problem further. When relationships, financial stability and emotional state are on the line, it is naïve and ineffective to treat an addiction as a problem with a quick and easy fix.

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) revealed that alcohol addiction was a frequently cited reason for (or at least a factor in) dismissal among organisations. The statistics are much higher than you may think, too: 27% of employers have cited drug misuse as causing problems in the workplace; 60% cited alcohol.

Identifying warning signs and offering support at an early stage can be pivotal in aiding the recovery process.

Signs of a Potential Addiction

Claire told us of a few changes in behaviour that may be indicative of an addiction:

  • Mood swings and reduced ability to control temper
  • A negative outlook and attitude
  • Increasingly defensive, especially overreaction to criticism
  • Reduced interest in fulfilling responsibilities
  • Change in appearance, especially lack of concern about appearance
  • Sudden weight loss
  • More frequent and unexplained absences
  • Changes in performance, usually lowered
  • General fatigue

It is worth remembering that employees may take steps to hide their addiction, and may be reluctant to discuss it for reasons mentioned previously. To avoid putting them on the defensive and potentially increasing the stress they are feeling, it is advised that you offer a confidential and anonymous discussion.

It is also worth remembering that these factors can point to multiple other causes.

Offering Help

If you begin to feel concerned that an employee or colleague is showing signs of a potential addiction, remember that the need for sensitivity is paramount.

To broach the topic in a manner that will not trigger a defensive and counterproductive response:

  • Raise any concerns in person and in private
  • Be friendly, not judgemental or accusative
  • Discuss the situation factually, rather than appealing to feelings
  • Be specific when referring to events, rather than speaking vaguely
  • Emphasise a positive and solution-based approach to the next steps

The adage that the first step toward fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem is partially true with addictions, and it may be the case that having a forum in which to discuss next steps will be received well by the person. It is important to remember these factors and to attempt to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues in general. Claire says that “there is quite a way to go with educating companies and employers about addiction and understanding how they can then support colleagues”

If you’d like to learn more about addiction, read the dedicated page on

Have you ever had a colleague who suffered from an addiction? How was he treated by the management?