This page provides guidance for managers on how to approach the problem of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace.CIPD logo

The best way of dealing with the real or potential effects of drugs and alcohol at work is to make expert advice and help readily available. 

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

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.

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

Prescribed medicines

Prescribed or over-the-counter medicines might cause impairment to an individual’s performance at work. You should encourage individuals to seek advice from their GP or pharmacist on any medicines they are taking. If appropriate, encourage them to discuss any problems with an occupational health service if they feel this would be helpful.

A ‘high functioning addict’ signs

The term 'high functioning addict' describes someone who is managing to mask their addiction. The fact that they are functioning 'well', means they are less likely to seek treatment as they may not always recognise that there is a problem. As an employer, it can be difficult to identify these individuals, but here are some signs to look out for.

Criminal activity

The possession of illegal drugs with the intention to deal is illegal and should be reported to the police. As a manager you will need to be aware of this when drafting policies. Random testing of staff, as a tool for managing substance misuse, is not appropriate for NHS employers.

Self-referral, treatment and rehabilitation

Staff should be encouraged to seek help through their GP's provision of confidential advice and assistance. In consultation with the employee, their GP will take steps to arrange for counselling, treatment and rehabilitation, with periodic testing if appropriate. Employees at all levels and in all professions should be made aware that they can consult their local occupational health service to discuss any matter associated with drug or alcohol misuse.

Staff can also confidentially self-refer to our team. As a manager, you can also refer on behalf of a colleague - you must have consent to do this. 

The contact details of local organisations that can provide assistance to staff members, who may feel unable to consult their own occupational health service, should be prominently displayed and readily available to all staff. All this information can be found on our drug and alcohol advice/support lines page.

Employers should not automatically invoke disciplinary action for voluntary referrals where the employee successfully undergoes a programme of treatment.

More information can be found in this PDF.

The role of occupational health services

Occupational health may be where the problem is acknowledged first. This may be through self-referral, management referral or when another issue has been raised. If employees acknowledge an alcohol or drug problem, they should be referred to the occupational health service. Non-compliance with the referral and action recommended by the occupational health service might lead to disciplinary action.

On referral to the occupational health service, an assessment should be made of the employee’s fitness for duty. This should be a specialist comprehensive medical assessment. Following assessment, the occupational health service should advise the line manager of the employee’s fitness for work on medical grounds.

However, not all occupational health services will have the appropriate experience and knowledge to enable them to deal with this problem. The occupational health service will normally liaise with the GP, who should arrange treatment, involving specialists in the management of alcohol or drug misuse.

The second role of occupational health is managing the employee’s return to work. Those treating substance misuse are not always aware of the occupational implications and there is a role for occupational physicians in ensuring a suitable and satisfactory return to work. In the majority of cases, the employee should be returning to the same work they were doing before the problem was recognised.


Employees are entitled to representation by a colleague or friend, or by a union or professional organisation representative, at any stage of the management process that has been outlined. Management has the right to the support of the human resources department.