Small Business Brief

Safety & Loss Prevention

8 Telling Signs of a High Functioning Addict in the Workplace

One of your employees seems a little off. You have an inkling that they may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, but you don’t want to accuse your employee without knowing for sure. 

Drug and alcohol addiction in the workplace is a lot more common than you think. In fact, 68.9% of drug users and 76.1% of heavy drinkers are employed. 

How do you tell if one of your employees is a high-functioning addict? We’ll walk you through the signs of an addict and what measures you should take. 

Signs of a High-Functioning Addict

With millions of addicts employed around the United States, it’s not unlikely that one of your employees has an addiction. The symptoms can be subtle, making it hard to identify a problem. A functioning drug addict doesn’t look the part of a stereotypical addict–they hide it very well.

If your employee shows any of these signs, you should take action. 

1. Missing or Being Late to Work

Functional addicts aren’t strangers to being late to work or missing days altogether. An addict who had a rough weekend of heavy drug and alcohol use might call out on Monday morning. 

High-functioning addicts also tend to be habitually late. They might stay up late at night doing drugs or drinking, making it difficult for them to get up early. The other employees might even have a running joke that this problem employee is always late. 

Alcohol and drug use have several negative effects on the body. Sleepiness, brain damage, increased blood pressure, and more are just some of the things that can cause a high-functioning addict to use up sick days. 

2. Unhygienic Appearance 

Drug and alcohol addicts are prone to having a disheveled appearance. While your other employees might follow the dress code, an employee who’s a high-functioning addict won’t pay much attention. 

In addition, an addict might also have dirty clothes, wear the same outfit for several days, or have unkempt hair.

A functioning meth addict might don long sleeves in the summer to cover up track marks from needle injections. 

Coke addiction behavior can also affect an employee’s appearance. An addiction to coke or alcohol can lead an employee to wear sunglasses, or excessively use eyedrops to conceal their bloodshot eyes.

3.  Mood Swings

A high-functioning addict may have been reported to your HR department for their odd or aggressive behavior. If they seem to be a problem in the workplace, then you’ll need to start discussing options with your employee.

Addicts can have mood swings and angry outbursts over petty conflicts. A small disagreement between a co-worker and a high-functioning addict can quickly turn into a loud argument. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there might be moments that this employee appears to be energetic and upbeat. This can signal that the addict took drugs or alcohol before or during work. 

4. Decreased Mental Sharpness

Your employee isn’t performing up to expectations, and their ability to get things done has decreased since they started. You might see this employee walking around the workplace, seemingly occupied. But in reality, they’re not accomplishing anything. 

Having an employee who’s a high-functioning addict can negatively affect other employees and the business itself. Their poor performance can result in a company’s lack of sales and productivity. In addition, addicts who operate heavy machinery in the workplace can end up hurting themselves and others due to a lack of mental sharpness. 

You might need to speak with this employee privately in order to create a more productive office environment

5. Weight Loss

A high-functioning addict can have rapid weight changes. Weight loss is an especially common symptom among drug users.

Certain drugs can cause addicts to have no appetite, leading to poor nutrition and the loss of body fat. In some cases, drugs can actually replace food for addicts. 

Cocaine is notorious for causing weight loss–it actually affects a person’s metabolism. A cocaine addict can eat a lot of food without gaining weight. Cocaine alters the body’s fat storage, making most cocaine addicts very thin. 

6. Making Excuses

Your employee seems to have an excuse for everything. Maybe they claim that they were late to work because of a flat tire for the fifth time. They might even blame other employees for shortcomings on projects.

You might be wondering: “Why do addicts lie?” High-functioning addicts often make excuses for their mistakes in an attempt to hide their addiction.

They don’t believe that they have a problem because they’re able to get up and go to work every day. In reality, their drug and alcohol use severely impacts their performance. 

7. Long Lunch Breaks

Your company has a one-hour lunch policy, but you find that your employee is sneaking out for one-and-a-half to two hours. Instead of eating in the break room like they usually do, they leave the office. 

This can be a red flag if your employee is showing any of these other signs along with taking a longer than usual lunch.

Your employee might be skipping a meal, and replacing it with drugs or alcohol. Some people don’t realize that alcohol is secretly addictive, making them think it’s okay to drink during lunch. 

Pay special attention to how your employee acts after they come back from break. Check to see if your employee smells of alcohol or if they’re behaving unusually. 

8. Poor Co-worker Relationships

Your employee used to be sociable and friendly at work. They might’ve even kept in contact with a few of their co-workers outside of work. 

In recent times, your employee has become more and more isolated. They no longer sit with anyone at lunch and tend to keep to themselves. High-functioning addicts can become distant from friends, especially if their friends tried to discuss their problem with them. 

Handling the Situation

When you suspect that one of your employees is a high functioning addict, you should pull the employee aside and confront them about their problem.

Give them an ultimatum that they must try to receive treatment or they will be terminated. Suggest some ways that they can find help, and see if your small business has the type of insurance plan that covers treatment. 

If you decide that the employee is causing too many problems for your company, check out our article on how to properly terminate an employee