Have you had a dry January? Do you feel better for it? If yes, that's great – a lot of us can keep our relationship with alcohol and drugs under control. Sadly, some people can't, and the statistics on alcohol and drug addiction are frightening.
More than a third of adults have taken a recreational drug at some point in their lives, and 28 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds have used a recreational drug in the past 12 months. In addition, nearly half of us are taking prescription drugs at any one time.
Usage becomes addiction when a person becomes dependent, physically and psychologically. Dependency is characterised by a feeling of not being able to do without a drug and a desperate need to obtain and consume it to alleviate feelings that arise from not having it.
It becomes an HR issue when an occasional excess turns into a must-have fix that affects someone's work, breaches your charity's policies or health and safety rules or increases their sickness absence beyond reasonable levels.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires both staff and employees to maintain a safe working environment; either or both could be liable if an alcohol or drug-related accident occurs at work.
Clearly, some workplaces – typically those concerned with the field of dependency or addiction, or employing people such as drivers - have a policy of no alcohol or drugs. When dealing with alcohol or drug misuse at work, charities and their HR departments have to strike a balance between using the disciplinary procedure for conduct-related incidents and providing support if individuals have acknowledged they have a problem.
A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that of those people with alcohol or drug problems who were referred by their employers to specialist treatment or rehabilitation support, more than 60 per cent remained working for their organisations after overcoming their problems.
Alcohol and drug addiction are like illnesses – it's no one's fault, and it can be hard to stop someone taking drugs or drinking. Unless it is a clear conduct issue, there are three basic steps for managers to follow:
- Give honest, straightforward feedback in a caring way;
- Offer assistance to find help;
- Offer ongoing support.
It's one of those difficult conversations no one wants to have at work, and reports of problems might be anecdotal and hard to substantiate. HR staff can be seen as killjoys, but both health and safety and staff wellbeing are part of our remit. Developing a drugs and alcohol policy gives you a framework in which to operate supportively and appropriately. The Health and Safety Executive website provides more guidance on how to develop a policy.