Hiding in plain sight: How to identify addicts within the society

Identifying addicts in the office can be difficult, but businesses need to do more to spot and support addicts in the office.

Generally, the image the words ‘substance dependence’ or ‘addiction’ conjures is of a homeless or low-functioning person, scarcely able to carry out his or her normal activities in society or perform work expectations in the business place.

It’s more complicated than that, as many people struggling with addiction or substance dependence problems are very capable of hiding in plain sight, particularly at the beginning stage of their addictive behaviour. An addict and any other individual with an alcohol or drug dependence problem is not always the scraggy-looking man or woman loafing or drifting about on the streets. Alarmingly, they could be your partner or colleague at work. Even perhaps, your children’s teacher at school, a pastor at church, or a surgeon at the hospital.

Such addicts are known as high-functioning addicts, and it is our duty to identify and help them before it’s too late.
As professionals in their own fields, this category of people may make some effort “managing” their addiction or addiction tendencies and may feel they have it under control, but addiction is a slowly evolving disease that eventually takes control of the mind and body.

Drug abuse, as an addiction, affects workers and businesses from all professions and niches, and no institution is immune.

Drug dependence can quickly develop even before the user realises an addiction taking hold. Whatever the reason for beginning, when tolerance and dependence on drugs become full blown, it can be enormously difficult to desist from substance abuse.

Sometimes, people using drugs or alcohol are unconscious of their dependencies, and in cases where they are, some go to great lengths to cover up their behaviour. Substance abuse is a silent epidemic, and thousands of people and their families have been affected by it.

Sadly, a professional or co-worker with an addiction problem can live with it and get on with their work life unnoticed for years, and by the time this behaviour is finally discovered, it is a nasty surprise not just for the friends and family, but also the health of the company, especially if the individual mans a sensitive position.

How do addicts in the workplace manage to hide in plain sight?

High-functioning addicts are usually high flyers in society, such as business executives and professional colleagues. More often than not, they are revered as respected members of the community, performing as role models to both old and young. Such addicts are able to conceal their behaviour through denial, confinement, and by living a double life.

Society-friendly addicts live in a world of denial. They fool themselves into thinking that their important jobs give them a basis to rationalise their drug abuse, despite experiencing blackouts on a daily basis.

Confinement to certain activities or restriction from others helps the addicts to continue to use drugs while hiding the fact from their bosses, colleagues and loved ones. They don’t drive, for fear of DUI charges, they don’t travel a long distance, for fear of being too far from their supplier when they start to experience withdrawal symptoms, and so on.

Despite their attempts to hide their addiction, those closest to them have to endure the paranoia, crazy mood swings and general unpredictable way of life with an addict. Because of their dependence, high-functioning drug users have to live double lives. Evidence of their other lifestyle would only be obvious in funds mysteriously disappearing, secret bank accounts and extra credit cards.

Signs a worker or colleague might be having an addiction or drug dependence problem

When a partner, company executive or member of staff is struggling with a substance use problem, there are a few give-away signs you may notice often recurring with them at work and affecting their performance.

They have sudden mood swings
They have a general poor hygiene
They exhibit some unexplained behaviours
They occasionally disappear from their for long periods of time
They are tired most of the time
Increased absenteeism or tardiness
They switch coworker friendships
Items suddenly go missing in the office
They have frequent injuries or accidents
They look unexplainably ill in the mornings
They drink more than necessary at outings
They make excuses (often work-related excuses) for their behaviour
Their interests in hobbies and other regular activities decline

It’s important to remember that these are telltale signs of a drug or alcohol use problem, but they could as well be symptoms of other undetected issues, and not an addiction problem.

How to Help Co-Workers, Business Executives and Other Professional Friends Struggling with an Addiction or Dependence Problem

Early uncovering of this behaviour in the business environment can lead to potentially life-saving help, and even the health or survival of the company in the long run, if the individual is an important business partner or in charge of a high-profiled role.

An appropriate time needs to be found in which to discuss the behaviour with the addict, such as when they show signs of regret and remorse. Confronting a hung over or inebriated worker or colleague or threatening to fire them could be counter-productive.

A practical option is to organise an intervention. A successful intervention involves creating a calm, peaceful and loving atmosphere where a small group of loved ones and concerned colleagues can let the addict know, in a caring but firm manner, how their behaviour makes them feel.

Daniel Gerrard of Addiction Helper believes in the power of intervention to help addicts recover. In planning the recovery process, he adopts a methodical approach and builds a family tree by trying to know everyone personally, their relationships and backgrounds.

When an individual can admit they have a problem and seek help, knowing they have the support of their loved ones is a big motivation for getting cured.

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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