Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace
Drugs have been a part of the American story since the rise of modern industrial capitalism in America. If drugs have existed since the beginning, so have drug problems, and so have attempts to solve these drug problems.
Drug and alcohol abuse is not a new problem within individuals at work. The increase of Media recognition across the world in general has raised and highlighted the problem as a vital issue facing the average worker today. The use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace as an issue has found it is not only a workplace problem, but a way to reach out and offer help to the employee and their families. The awareness of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace allows the addiction to be recognized, programs to implement for preventative measures, and possibly solutions to be found to the problems arising out of substance abuse at the workplace.
The history of drugs in the American workplace has been much more doubtful. While sentiments similar to those motivating the drug-free workplace movement can be traced back to the early years of the American republic, so can instances of employers condoning or even encouraging certain drug use as means of increasing worker productivity. (Team, 2008)
During the rise of modern industrial capitalism in America, manufactured goods in small workshops were organized. The master craftsman worked and usually lived alongside his team of apprentices, with the workshop functioning as a kind of all-male family. It was common for the master and apprentices to take a break from work to share a drink right on the shop floor. It surely slowed down production, but it made the work more tolerable while building the social bond. By 1820??™s the Industrial Revolution Movement was taking its place in America and the small workshops gave way to modern capitalist factories. The master craftsmen became bosses, while the apprentices became wage laborers. The new factories organized to maximize production, which banned on the job drinking of intoxicating drinks. In short, this transformation meant that employers come to demand maximum production from their workers. Maximum production from the workers meant the traditional shop floor drink had to go. This was the birth of the drug-free workplace. (Team, 2008)
As alcohol was being pushed out, new drugs were being introduced. These drugs were intended to increase production by giving them energy. These new drugs, caffeine and nicotine, helped workers endure long hours of wage labor. They often worked ten to fourteen hour days and they needed a way to sustain energy and hunger, and stay focused in order to survive. (Team, 2008)
The first new tradition of drug use was teatime. By mid-afternoon, a short rest and a cup of tea provided just the lift needed to make it to the end of the shift. The tea delivered a dose of stimulating caffeine, the sugar, a dose of short term energy, and the protein in the milk suppressed the workers appetite. At some point most Americans turned to coffee instead of tea. (Croft, 2000)
Caffeine was not the only drug used to boost production. Illegal drugs were in play also. They served the same purpose, to keep the worker awake and alert for more productivity. These same drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and steroids are still a highly abused drug in the workplace today.
Should we be worried about drugs and alcohol being used and abused in the workplace today Substance abuse is everyone??™s concern. According to the American Counsel for Drug Education (ACDE) the worker next to you may be drunk, high, or hung over. In the workplace, these abusers become your problem in that they increase risk of accidents, lower productivity, raise insurance cost, and reduce profits. They can cost you your job or possibly even your life.
So what is substance abuse and how does one recognize it Abusers can be dependent, meaning that they have to have the drug to get through the day, but they can also be psychological dependents, meaning they are using for recreational purposes. Substance abuse covers a range of behaviors that can go far beyond dependency. It includes any use of drugs and alcohol that threatens physical or mental health, inhibits responsible personal relationships, or diminishes the ability to meet social or work obligation. (Steeves, 2011)
Substance abuse can be difficult to identify. There are signs one can watch for in their co-workers that could be addiction problems. Some of those signs include these: Unexplained absences, erratic work patterns, reduced productivity, poor personal hygiene, or frequent accidents both on and off the job. (Hazeldon Foundation, n.d.) Physical signs include bloodshot or glassy eyes, persistent cough, extreme mood swings, become paranoid or delusional, and or signs of physical deterioration. (Steeves, 2011)
Now that you know what to look for the question is this: What can be done about the abuse You should never cover for the abuser, lend them money, or cover for their poor work performance. This will only protect them and make it possible to continue the abuse. If you suspect the abuse, you should pas word to your supervisor. This allows the problem to be handled by qualified professionals. Often times, employers are reluctant to let management know of drug abuse, worried the co-worker dismissed from his or her job, but the threat of being fired often provides a reality check to the worker??™s substance abuse and prompt him or her to accept help that was probably ignored in the past, and more importantly remain in treatment long enough to make changes in attitude and behavior. (Newstrom, 2009)
Employers should adopt a substance abuse policy to support affected employees rather than punish them, though the policy must say that possession or dealing drugs at the workplace will be reported to the police immediately. If an employee admits to being a drug user, the policy should seek to help the worker rather than lead simply to dismissal. Employee Assistance Programs offer counseling and treatment as well as the time off for treatment to successfully complete a rehabilitation program that will generally bring back the abuser to the workplace. (Deloqu, 2007)
Today most of us are familiar with the concept of the drug free workplace. Substance abuse is banned on most job sites, many companies drug test their employees, and the Department of Labors Drug Free Workplace Alliance exists for no purpose other than to encourage companies to institute anti-drug programs for their employees. The message is clear: Substance abuse and work do not mix!
Croft, J. (2000) Drugs and the Legalization Debate the Rosen Publishing Group Inc.
Deloqu, N. (2007, November) Professional Safety. Essential Elements of a Drug Free Workplace, pp. Vol. 52, issue II, page 48-51, and 4p.
Hazeldon Foundation (N.D.) about.com. Retrieved December 23, 2011, from family substance abuse affects American workers: http://alcoholism.about.com
Newstrom, J. (2007) Supervision Managing for Results. McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Steeves, R. (2011, September) Occupational health, Recognizing Drug Abuse at Work, pp. Vol. 63, issue 9, p 27-30 4p.
Team, S. E, (2008, November 11) Retrieved January 12, 2012, from labor in history of drugs in America: http://www.shmoop.com/drugs-america