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Addiction is not checked at the door when an employee clocks in

Being prepared to manage addiction in the workplace is not solely for the benefit of a company, but is also vitally important for the mental and physical health of a quality workforce

Addiction is not set aside as emails are sent or projects managed. Addiction follows and finds its way into every part of the life of a person suffering from addiction, including the workplace.

Companies cannot ignore the fact that employees with addiction continue to be “functioning”, which may cost the company in terms of profit and productivity. However, being prepared to manage addiction in the workplace is not solely for the benefit of a company, but is also vitally important for the mental and physical health of a quality workforce.

As addiction is linked to impaired cognitive function, poor decision-making and decreased focus, it’s notable that workplace productivity may reduce, deadlines may be missed, and the quality of work may decline. Workplace accidents may increase, and mental health presenteeism – when an employee feels pressured to show up for work – can significantly cost employers as addiction can affect an employee’s daily functioning with impaired motor skills, and poor co-ordination and judgment which can lead to avoidable errors in the workplace.

“Addiction-related absenteeism, decreased productivity and increased accidents can result in financial losses for the organisation due to decreased efficiency and increased insurance costs,” says Keith Cassidy, clinic manager at Smarmore Castle, a private addiction clinic in Co Louth. “Employers may bear the brunt of healthcare costs associated with addiction, including medical treatment, therapy and rehabilitation programmes for employees struggling with addiction.”


Added to this disruption at a productivity and financial level, employee relations may be adversely affected as “addiction-related behaviour, such as mood swings, irritability and inconsistent performance, can lead to conflicts with colleagues, supervisors, and customers”, says Cassidy, who previously worked as a private psychotherapist.

“This disrupts the work environment and can harm team dynamics. Individuals struggling with addiction may frequently miss work due to health issues or personal problems related to their addiction. This can disrupt the workflow, place additional burdens on co-workers, and result in increased workloads for others. Colleagues often become frustrated and demotivated when they must cover for an addicted co-worker or witness their struggles.”

This disruptive behaviour has the potential to lead to decreased morale and job satisfaction among the workforce, which can heighten the stigmatisation of addiction in the workplace. This, in turn, can create barriers for those seeking support and help.

“Breaking the stigma surrounding addiction in the workplace is crucial for creating a more supportive and understanding environment,” says Cassidy. “Thankfully we are more educated and open about addiction as a society. However, there remains a stigma and shame associated with addiction.

“Co-workers’ opinions and beliefs can be informed by society in general and their own experiences of addiction at home or growing up. This can lead to harsh judgements or a process of enabling the addict in the mistaken belief that this is helping.”

Cassidy highlights some measures employers can take when supporting an employee. “Providing education about addiction, its causes and effects, can help dispel misconceptions and reduce stigma,” he says. “Workshops, seminars and informational resources can contribute to a better understanding of addiction as a medical condition rather than a moral failing.”

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have become an important resource for companies, with a vast range of supports available to employees including for those struggling with addiction. Ensuring employees are aware that these supports exist and that they are confidential in nature is vital for employees to pursue support and not feel as though there is a threat to their job security.

Furthermore, Cassidy emphasises the importance of developing clear policies that address substance-use disorders and mental health issues in a compassionate and fair manner. “These policies should focus on support and treatment rather than punitive measures,” he says. Employees should feel understood and supported, and “comfortable discussing their challenges, including addiction, without fear of retribution. Encourage open conversations about mental health and wellbeing.”

Training for managers from the top down, including educating leaders on the signs of addiction and how to approach an employee in a sensitive and supportive manner, is important in order to connect employees with the appropriate resources to guide them to recovery. As such, when discussing addiction in the workplace Cassidy also recommends encouraging the use of non-judgmental and empathetic language when discussing addiction and avoiding derogatory terms or stereotypes that perpetuate stigma.

“Management and leadership play a critical role in shaping workplace culture,” says Cassidy. “When leaders openly acknowledge the challenges of addiction and the importance of support it sets a tone of empathy and understanding. When leaders and managers share their own experiences or demonstrate empathy and support it can encourage others to do the same.”

Employers do not have to build these supports on their own, and Cassidy recommends collaborating with mental health professionals, addiction specialists and organisations that focus on reducing addiction stigma and supporting employees in finding a route to treatment and recovery. “Its important employers get HR advice on this issue before dealing with an employee,” says Cassidy. “Their expertise can provide guidance on best practice.”

Cassidy points out that in order to break the stigma surrounding addiction in the workplace employers must actively encourage and create a “culture of empathy, understanding, and support” within all departments from leadership to HR departments and to all employees. In doing so they create “environments where individuals feel safe seeking help for their addiction-related challenges”.

“Recognise and celebrate the achievements of individuals who are in recovery. This can help shift the narrative from focusing solely on the negative aspects of addiction to highlighting the strength and resilience of those in recovery.”

Companies, employers, and leaders can provide necessary support by ensuring confidentiality for an employee who is struggling; showing empathy and genuine concern for their issues; highlighting availability and access to resources, programmes, counselling and treatment options; offering flexible working arrangements or additional time off if needed; actively supporting employees with a support plan; providing open communication and educating all concerned; offering continued support; and by celebrating an employee’s recovery milestones.

“My advice is focused on the best approach for someone who wants help with an addiction and is not HR advice,” says Cassidy. “If an employee is seeking help with an addiction then it is important to be open and encouraging with them. It takes a world of painful experiences for anyone in addiction to seek help. Non-judgemental and compassion are key ingredients here. We see many people being supported by employers to come to treatment by financially supporting them through covering the costs of treatment and allowing them the 4-5 weeks to complete the programme. If financial support is not possible then affording them the time off to complete treatment or attend appointments is a key feature of support, as well as continuing support upon returning to work.”

Finally, Cassidy calls upon employers to remember that everyone’s situation is unique. “It’s important to tailor the approach to the employee’s needs and preferences. Providing a supportive environment can make a significant difference in an employee’s journey toward recovery and their ability to continue contributing to the workplace in a meaningful way.”


  1. HSE Addiction Services
  2. Addiction Counsellors of Ireland
  3. Family Addiction Support Network

Addiction series

  1. Introduction
  2. Gaming
  3. Routes to recovery
  4. At the workplace
Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family