How should an Employer Manage Addicted Employees

In an ideal world, you would never be faced with the difficult challenge of managing employees with addictions. However, the reality is that most business owners and managers will be in charge of at least one addicted employee if not, many.

Learning how to effectively manage people with addictions is an important move. While some employers may simply fire somebody for having an addiction, this is hardly always necessary. Unless their work performance suffers or they’re bringing discomfort or dangers into the workplace, many drug addicts are perfectly capable of being capable hard workers.

As their employer, you can use your authority and position to actually help this individual make positive changes in their life. However, working with a functional addict may require a few extra steps. We’ll discuss those in this section.

Functional and Nonfunctional Addictions

People with addictions can roughly be separated into the two categories of functional or non-functional.

Non-functional drug addicts are pretty easy to identify and most likely won’t last long at their job. Non-functional drug addicts are very conspicuous and may behave impulsively and without inhibition. They may be dishonest and deceptive, and their lack of accountability is largely responsible for the bad reputation that drug users get.

Functional addicts, on the other hand, are simply people who suffer from an addiction that they can’t beat. Most functional addicts want to, or have already, sought treatment, but without much success. Nonetheless, they remain capable and presentable, causing no risk or discomfort to their coworkers, forever pursued by the demon on their shoulders. When they are revealed to have an addiction, they are often subject to the same scorn and judgment that dysfunctional addicts attract.

Managing Employees With Addictions

The first point that should be stressed is that you should manage all of your employees equally. Many functional drug users have had their employment terminated despite being hard-working and dedicated simply due to their habits. These are things that you can do to ensure that your business continues to run smoothly.

Create a judgment-free space.

While more and more people come to realize it every day, not everyone understands yet that drug addiction does not define an individual’s character. Many assume that anybody involved with drugs must be a thief, liar, and cheat. Be firm in reminding your employees (and yourself, if necessary) that it is unacceptable to judge or discriminate against others for anything besides their words and actions.

Reduce triggers and challenges in the workplace.

Many managers are unaware of the many triggering issues that can emerge in the workplace itself. The previous section of this guide provides some suggestions on how to develop a work environment that will create risks for your employees.

Allow the employee time to get sober.

Many functional drug addicts remain addicted because they’re afraid to ask for time off to seek treatment. Oftentimes they will try to overcome their addictions over a long weekend, suffering through the worst of withdrawals, and then returning to work on day 4 of their detox.

This is extremely stressful, potentially dangerous, and rarely successful. Medical detox programs usually take no longer than a week; try to find someone to sub in for your employee while they sober up.


Running a business is hard. Employees, addicted or otherwise, always present numerous challenges. Managing an addicted employee is an extra challenge, but hardly one that can’t be overcome.

Be sure to handle the situation with care and compassion. You may never know it, but your decision may help to save a struggling person’s life.

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