What is addiction?

Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. Addiction is most commonly associated with gambling, drugs, alcohol and smoking, but it's possible to be addicted to just about anything.

There are lots of reasons why addictions begin. In the case of drugs and alcohol, they affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These substances give you a feeling of wellbeing that lasts for a short time. This can be enjoyable and may make you feel like you can cope more easily with problems you are experiencing.

Taking substances becomes a problem when you start to depend on them - when you feel you need to take a substance to feel good, or to feel less bad.

What causes addiction?

Dr John Marsden from the National Addiction Centre talks about what causes people to become addicted.

The effects of substance misuse can manifest in many ways both physically and mentally. When it becomes an addiction, you may feel that you are unable to prioritise the things that were once important to you in the same way. Addiction can get in the way of success at work or at college/university, and can make it impossible to maintain healthy relationships with the people you care about.

If you think you may be addicted to alcohol or drugs, ask yourself the following questions in this self-screening questionnaire (PDF)

Remember, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge that there is a problem and seeking support. Substance misuse can be life changing. Help and support is available.

Check out our page on Drug and Alcohol Support for more information.

Dealing with substance misuse in the workplace

During difficult social and economic times, alcohol and drug use often increases. This is supported by Drinkaware’s recent finding that 25% of people were drinking more than usual due to lockdown (Drinkaware, 2021). A further survey by Release found that 43% of respondents had increased their drug use during the pandemic (Aldridge, 2021).

The issue of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace has consequentially increased and can negatively impact employee health, work performance, conduct and safety. Substance misuse costs employers in the UK billions of pounds annually due to inefficient job performance, workplace accidents and absenteeism (CIPD, 2020).

Signs of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace

While not everyone who uses drugs and/or alcohol will begin to misuse or become dependent on them, even infrequent use can impact on the workplace in many ways including:

  • Increased absence
  • Problems with punctuality
  • Reduced work performance and productivity
  • Safety risks to the individual and others
  • Possibility of erratic workplace behaviour
  • Adverse impact on company reputation and customer relations
  • Negative impact on team morale

*Remember: all the signs shown above may be caused by other factors and should be regarded only as indications that an employee may be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Drug and alcohol policy in the workplace

Employers must ensure they have a clear policy on substance misuse which should outline:

  • The purpose and scope of the policy
  • The dangers of substance misuse for both the misuser and their colleagues
  • Expectations of staff behaviour at work
  • Any disciplinary consequences
  • The importance of early identification and treatment
  • Help which will be offered to the employee
  • An assurance of confidentiality

Guidance for managers

Managers and supervisors should be educated in how to recognise and deal with substance use issues. CIPD have created a comprehensive guide to help employers and line managers not only manage drug and alcohol misuse at work, but also support employees when dealing with disclosures.

See CIPD's guide and supporting references.

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Updated on: 20/04/2022