Substance abuse poses a significant challenge in the workplace, impacting not only individuals but also the overall safety and productivity of the organization. Recognizing the signs of substance abuse is crucial for fostering a healthy work environment.

In the workplace, substance abuse can lead to a decline in job performance, strained relationships with colleagues, and overall well-being issues. 

In 2020, substance abuse took a hefty toll on Canada's economy, hitting a whopping $49.1 billion, according to data from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA)

For employers, this means trouble, with lost productivity costing $589 per person and adding up to a massive $22.4 billion annually. 

Shockingly, 26% of employees are either dealing with addiction or heading home to confront active addiction. These numbers emphasize the crucial need for awareness and understanding of the signs of substance abuse in the workplace.

Early identification of these signs is critical to taking proactive measures, addressing the problem, and offering support to those affected.

Identifying signs of substance abuse helps employers, coworkers, and the individuals involved to take appropriate action. This can include seeking help, implementing workplace policies, or providing support programs. 

7 Warning Signs Your Employees Are Using Drugs and Alcohol

Keep reading if you want to understand the importance of early identification of substance abuse and explore its signs on the mental and physical health of the employees.

1. Behavioral Signs

When it comes to recognizing signs of substance abuse in the workplace, understanding behavioral issues is crucial. There can be changes in performance or mood swings. Let’s explore the behavioral signs of substance abuse in detail.

Changes in Work Performance

Substance abuse can significantly impact an individual's ability to perform effectively at work. Signs such as decreased productivity and increased absenteeism can occur repeatedly, pointing to potential issues related to substance use.

Unexplained Mood Swings

Mood changes can be a prominent indicator of substance abuse. Employees struggling with substance issues may display unexplained mood swings, including:

  1. Irritability: Individuals may become easily annoyed or angered, reacting disproportionately to situations.

  2. Agitation: Restlessness and an inability to focus or sit still can be signs of emotional turbulence linked to substance misuse.

  3. Euphoria: Periods of unexplained euphoria or joy may also be observed, reflecting the influence of substances.

Recognizing these behavioral signs is crucial for employers and colleagues to offer support and facilitate intervention when necessary. Early identification and intervention can contribute to the individual's overall well-being and help maintain a healthy workplace environment.

2. Physical Signs

Along with emotional and behavioral signs, it is essential to watch out for physical signs related to substance abuse in the workplace. Here are some of the main signs you should look for:

Changes in Appearance

There are various aspects of physical changes in appearance that can indicate substance abuse. 

  1. Poor Personal Hygiene: Individuals struggling with substance abuse may neglect personal hygiene. Unkempt appearance, unwashed clothes, and a general decline in grooming standards can be noticeable indicators.

  2. Bloodshot Eyes: Red or bloodshot eyes can be a physical indicator of substance use. It may result from the effects of certain substances or the lifestyle factors associated with substance abuse, such as lack of sleep.

Coordination and Motor Skills

Along with changes in appearance, substance abuse can also be evident through compromised motor skills and coordination. Here are some of the main symptoms:

  1. Tremors: Shaking or tremors in the hands or other body parts can be a physical indication of substance withdrawal or the influence of certain substances. It can affect an individual's ability to perform delicate motor tasks.

  2. Unsteady Gait: Difficulty maintaining balance and an unsteady walk may be observed. This could indicate the impact of substances on the central nervous system, affecting coordination and motor functions.

Recognizing these physical signs is essential for creating a supportive and understanding workplace environment. It also promotes a culture of empathy and assistance within the workplace community.

3. Interpersonal Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Substance abuse can have a significant impact on an individual's behavior and interactions in the workplace. Recognizing these interpersonal signs is crucial for fostering a supportive workplace environment and providing appropriate assistance to those in need.

Relationship Changes


Substance abuse can cause rifts in relationships, be it personal or professional. Here are some of the significant changes you can expect:

  1. Conflict with Colleagues: Individuals grappling with substance abuse may display increased irritability, mood swings, or engage in conflicts with colleagues. Substance use can profoundly affect one's mood and behavior, leading to strained relationships with coworkers.

  2. Isolation: A person struggling with substance abuse may withdraw from social interactions and isolate themselves from colleagues. This isolation can be a result of the individual trying to conceal their substance use or coping with the challenges associated with it.

Communication Issues

Communication issues are a clear sign of substance abuse in the workplace. Following are the signs associated with communication that can be identified easily. 

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Substance abuse can impair cognitive functions, making it challenging for individuals to concentrate on tasks. This difficulty in focusing may result in reduced productivity, increased errors, and decreased work performance.

  • Slurred Speech: Certain substances can impact speech patterns, causing slurred or incoherent speech. Colleagues may notice changes in the individual's ability to articulate thoughts clearly, indicating substance-related issues.

Addressing these interpersonal signs involves fostering a workplace culture that encourages open communication and seeks to support employees facing challenges related to substance abuse. 

4. Work-related Signs of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Substance abuse can manifest in various work-related signs that may indicate an individual is facing challenges with substances. Here are some of the significant work-related signs.

Unexplained Financial Problems

Sudden and unexplained financial problems can be an indication of substance abuse. Here are some of the main signs you need to look for:

  1. Frequent Borrowing from Coworkers: Individuals struggling with substance abuse may face financial difficulties due to their spending on substances. As a result, they may frequently borrow money from coworkers to support their habits.

  2. Requests for Advances: Employees dealing with substance-related issues may find themselves in urgent need of money and may approach colleagues or supervisors requesting salary advances. This financial strain can be a red flag for potential substance abuse.

Involvement in Workplace Accidents


If the employee is involved in multiple workplace accidents, there is a strong possibility of substance abuse, and it should be considered seriously. 

  1. Increased Risk of Injuries: Substance abuse can impair coordination, cognitive function, and decision-making, leading to an increased risk of accidents in the workplace. Individuals under the influence may be more prone to injuries, posing a danger to themselves and their colleagues.

  2. Frequent Mistakes or Errors: Substance use can compromise an individual's ability to perform tasks accurately. Colleagues and supervisors may observe a pattern of increased mistakes, errors, or lapses in judgment, signaling potential substance-related issues affecting job performance.

Addressing these work-related signs involves open communication and support for employees facing challenges.  

Implementing awareness programs and providing resources for financial counseling and substance abuse assistance can contribute to a healthier work environment and prevent accidents in the workplace.

5. Observation and Reporting of Signs of Substance Abuse

Creating a workplace culture that encourages observation and reporting of signs of substance abuse is crucial for maintaining a safe and healthy environment. Colleagues and supervisors are vital in identifying early warning signs and taking appropriate actions.

Training for Supervisors and Colleagues

Providing substance abuse awareness for employees equips them with the knowledge and skills to recognize signs of substance abuse. This training should emphasize the importance of empathizing with the situation, maintaining confidentiality, and understanding the available resources.

Canada Safety Training offers specialized programs to educate employees on various safety aspects, including substance abuse awareness. 

These programs empower colleagues to identify signs of substance abuse, report hazards, and contribute to a supportive work environment.

By integrating training initiatives from organizations like Canada Safety Training, workplaces can enhance their safety culture. 

This collaborative approach contributes to a workplace where individuals struggling with substance abuse can seek help without fear of stigma, fostering a culture of empathy, support, and safety.

6. Company Policies and Intervention for Substance Abuse

Ensuring a safe and supportive workplace involves the implementation of robust company policies and effective intervention strategies to address substance abuse.

Reviewing and Updating Substance Abuse Policies

Establishing a solid foundation for tackling substance abuse in the workplace begins with clear and regularly reviewed company policies. 

These policies should cover guidelines on drug and alcohol use, testing procedures, consequences for violations, and support mechanisms for employees facing such challenges. 

The key is to ensure these policies stay relevant and adaptable to evolving circumstances through regular reviews and updates. This way, organizations can effectively address substance abuse issues, fostering a safer and more supportive work environment.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Incorporating Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) into company initiatives provides a valuable resource for employees facing substance abuse challenges. EAPs offer confidential counseling, support services, and referrals to treatment programs. 

By promoting awareness and accessibility of EAPs, companies contribute to a culture that prioritizes the well-being of their workforce.

Interventions and Support for Affected Employees

Creating effective interventions is the perfect mixture of firmness and compassion. 

Organizations should set up procedures for identifying needed employees and offering the proper support. This might include rehabilitation programs, counseling services, or partnerships with external agencies. 

By supporting employees with alcohol problems on their recovery path, companies show dedication to their well-being. This approach contributes to a workplace culture that values and prioritizes each individual's health.

7. Legal Considerations in Substance Abuse Management

When addressing substance abuse in the workplace, companies must navigate various legal considerations to ensure compliance, fairness, and the protection of employees and the organization.

Understanding Legal Obligations

Companies must clearly understand legal obligations related to substance abuse in the workplace. This includes compliance with local, regional, and national laws governing employee rights, privacy, and safety. 

By staying informed about legal frameworks, companies can shape their policies and interventions to align with existing regulations.

Balancing Confidentiality and Workplace Safety

One crucial aspect of legal considerations involves striking a delicate balance between respecting employee confidentiality and ensuring workplace safety. Laws often protect an individual's right to privacy. Still, employers also must provide a safe working environment. 

Companies must establish protocols that maintain the privacy of individuals while addressing substance abuse concerns in a manner that safeguards the workforce's well-being.

By carefully navigating these legal considerations, companies can create a framework that respects individual rights, complies with legal standards, and fosters a safety culture at the workplace.


Acknowledging and addressing signs of substance abuse in the workplace is a critical component of maintaining a safe, healthy, and productive work environment. 

From behavioral and physical indicators to interpersonal and work-related signs, understanding these red flags allows organizations to intervene early and provide necessary support.

A comprehensive approach involves observation and reporting mechanisms, tailored training for supervisors and colleagues, and the establishment of robust company policies.

Additionally, legal considerations emphasize the need for a delicate balance between respecting individual privacy rights and ensuring overall workplace safety.

By integrating substance abuse management into corporate policies, companies can proactively address the challenges posed by substance abuse. 

Through these collective efforts, organizations can create a work environment that helps employees overcome substance-related challenges and contribute positively to the workplace community!