Today’s workplace faces many significant challenges ranging from stagnant wages to pension regulations. However, perhaps no challenge is more serious than dealing with the issue of drug abuse and addiction. It is a substantial problem that has a very real, and negative, impact on workplace productivity and employee safety. Understanding the scope of the problem is key to addressing it effectively.

For the purposes of this post, we draw a distinction between alcohol and drugs even though there is no clear distinction in a clinical sense. Furthermore, we will focus mainly on prescription and illicit drugs commonly used by today’s workers. Our purpose here is to help you understand the full scope of the workplace drug addiction issue so that you can begin to address it where you work.

Prescription Drugs

The drug culture of the 1960s opened our eyes to illicit substances such as LSD and PCP. However, human beings had been abusing drugs long before the Timothy Leary’s of the world came on the scene. Humanity has been doing so through a wide range of medications legally prescribed by doctors.

Attention has only been given to prescription drugs in the last several decades because it was not as widespread a problem compared to alcohol and illicit drugs. Nonetheless, it is a serious problem today. People taking prescription medications for legitimate reasons can easily find themselves addicted to those drugs by the time their course of treatment is concluded.

Here is a short list of the most commonly abused prescription drug classes:

  • Opioids – Opioids are a class of drugs mainly used in clinical settings for pain management. Morphine and codeine are but two examples. Such drugs are most often prescribed in pill form under very strict guidelines. Nevertheless, addicts are known to crush pills into powder in order to snort the drug for a quicker high.
  • Sedatives – Also known as central nervous system depressants, sedatives are prescription medications such as alprazolam and lorazepam. These drugs are routinely used to treat insomnia and anxiety issues. Unfortunately, they are very quickly tolerated by the nervous system, resulting in a high rate of dependence.
  • Stimulants – The opposite end of sedatives are stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall. Addiction to prescription stimulants is not as prevalent as sedative and opioid addiction, but it is possible nonetheless. Stimulants are commonly used to treat things such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The difficult challenge where prescription drugs are concerned is trying to identify the difference between abuse and addiction. In either case, using prescription medications inappropriately can affect a worker’s performance significantly. They can inhibit attention, cause mood swings, interfere with co-worker relationships, and so on.

Illicit Drugs

Most of us are familiar with the names of the most commonly used illicit drugs. Before we list some of them, it must be noted that employers are required by law to ensure their premises are not being used as a place to engage in criminal activity involving these substances. This includes the manufacture, distribution, possession, and use of illicit drugs. If an employer is aware of such activity on site, management has a legal responsibility to cause such activity to decease and/or report it to authorities.

With that said, here is a list of the most commonly abused illicit drugs and classes of drugs:

  • Heroin – Heroin is normally injected, smoked, or inhaled. It is a derivative of morphine that is highly addictive and rapidly destructive.
  • CocaineCocaine comes in many forms including straight up powder and crack ‘rocks’. Some forms of the drug are more dangerous than others, leading to extreme episodes of psychosis.
  • Cannabis – Also known as marijuana, cannabis is one of the most commonly used recreational drugs around the world. The proponents of recreational use have long maintained cannabis is not addictive and largely harmless; recent research has shown both claims to be untrue. Cannabis is addictive and harmful
  • HallucinogensHallucinogenic drugs include things such as LSD and PCP. The effects of such drugs can be extreme, including episodes of violence and excessive paranoia.
  • Inhalants – This is a class of drugs either derived from, or directly related to, common chemicals and solvents. The biggest danger in using inhalants comes from the fact that the highs they produce last only a few minutes. Users must constantly inhale to keep the buzz going.
  • Amphetamines – Amphetamines are a class of drugs that create pleasurable sensations by increasing dopamine production. Of all amphetamines used today, methamphetamine is probably the most well known. A meth addiction offers a fast and turbulent road to misery.

As an employer, you may have a workplace environment in which one or more of these drugs are readily being used by a certain segment of your workers. There might even be some dealing going on in the break room or the car park. It is your responsibility to pay attention for any signs of illegal drug activity on your premises.

In cases of organised illegal activity, you may want to get the police involved. Instances of individual use may be better dealt with by management intervention and offers of treatment assistance. At any rate, we encourage you to learn how to recognise the signs and symptoms of drug addiction in order to better identify problems in your own workplace.


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