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Helping a Colleague Who May Need Addiction Treatment


When we think about wellbeing in the workplace, we often focus on physical health needs, such as nutrition and exercise. Or we focus on mental wellbeing and ways to promote a healthy mind, like mindfulness, meditation and other relaxation strategies. But what do you do when you suspect a colleague has a bigger problem like addiction? Recognizing that someone you care about needs addiction treatment is no easy matter, especially when that person is a colleague.


Start With the Signs

Even when someone is showing signs of substance abuse that raise an alarm, there is a natural tendency to cast doubt on our concerns. How do you know that substance abuse is really what’s going on? If you are worried about someone, start by educating yourself on substance abuse so you know the signs and symptoms. These are just a few of the signs that your friend or colleague may need treatment for substance abuse:

  • They repeatedly shows physical symptoms, including headache, anxiety, and nausea.

  • They neglect obligations, such as showing up for work late or sporadically.

  • They have relationship issues, such as difficulty getting along with coworkers.

  • You notice a change in their appearance, such as poor hygiene or looking unkempt. Changes in appearance may also include sudden weight fluctuation, dilated pupils, and bloodshot eyes.

Just one of these signs doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, but noticing these signs repeatedly may mean they need help. ADrugRehab describes how “Addiction is tricky and calculating, and it’s the only disease that can take more than one person down with it, if it is left unchallenged. Addiction dramatically alters the lives of not just the addicted person, but of everyone within his or her vicinity, namely family and friends." If your colleague is showing these signs at work, then the problem is clearly impacting how they do their job and affecting others in the office, in addition to harming their own wellbeing.

How to Support Your Colleague

The best thing you can do for your colleague is to be supportive and let them know about your concern without showing any judgement. The stigma associated with addiction leads many people to feel shame about their disease, and according to Psychology Today, this feeling is one of the greatest barriers to seeking treatment. The reality is that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and the person affected should be treated like any other patient who needs help. As a concerned friend and colleague, you may not be able to change the social stigma, but you can communicate with them in a way that they know you truly care and aren’t ashamed of them for what they’re going through.

How to Approach Them With Your Concerns

Many people feel like someone suffering from addiction will hit a low point before getting treatment, or that the person will ask for help when they need it. The problem with this mindset is that your colleague may get much worse, with serious consequences, before asking for help. Getting early treatment is often easier on the person who needs help, and it also prevents these worse outcomes for everyone involved.

Approaching this topic is never easy, but start by keeping a positive message in all of your interactions. You want to come across as supportive, rather than confrontational. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends setting aside a time when you can speak to them alone without being interrupted. Try to make the conversation a dialogue so your colleague doesn’t feel attacked, which means listening too. Let them know why you’re concerned and share with them the worrisome behaviors you have noticed.

Even when you approach the issue with utmost compassion, your colleague may not be ready to acknowledge they have a problem. Understand that this may be the beginning of an ongoing conversation, and don’t hesitate to seek out additional resources that will help you keep the dialogue open. Addiction is a chronic disease, and recovery is an ongoing process, but you can be a positive force in this person’s life by caring and encouraging them to seek treatment.

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We can help you create a workplace where people can safely open up about these issues, including Creating Mental Health Champions in the Workplace, or Training teams on Mental Health First Aid. Get in touch to know more!

#mentalhealth #addiction #workplace

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