Alcohol and Substance Misuse

Abuse of alcohol or substances can effect work performance and jeopardise safety.

People under the influence of alcohol or substances at work are a hazard to themselves and the people they work with. Among substances that are deliberately misused are:

  • solvents
  • illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine
  • prescribed drugs such as tranquillisers, sleeping pills etc

Signs of alcohol misuse can include:

  • Increased aggression
  • Being defensive when drinking is mentioned
  • The 'shakes'

Signs of substance misuse can include:

  • Sudden behaviour changes including irritability and sometimes violence
  • Confusion
  • Impaired work performance including poor timekeeping and absence
  • Deterioration in relationships
  • Mood and energy fluctuations

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places a duty on the employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require risk assessments to be carried out.

If an employer knowingly allows an employee under the influence of drink or substance misuse to continue working and his/her behaviour places others at risk, the employer may be prosecuted.

Introducing a comprehensive and active alcohol and substance misuse policy covering the entire workforce can have significant benefits for employers, employees and colleagues.

Benefits of a workplace alcohol and substance misuse policy

All employees will be clear about what the organisation will and will not allow in relation to their personal alcohol and substance use as it affects their employment
When the policy is introduced opportunities will be provided for raising awareness of alcohol and substance misuse

Aims of a policy

  • To support affected employees rather than punish them
  • To recognise that alcohol and substance misuse is a health problem
  • To prevent alcohol and substance misuse by developing awareness
  • To identify employees with a problem at an early stage
  • To provide assistance to employees with alcohol and substance misuse related problems

Policy content

  • The procedures for dealing with alcohol and substance misuse should be clearly stated
  • It should ensure that it is clear that the procedures for dealing with alcohol and substance misuse related problems are separate from any disciplinary procedure
  • The procedures for referral by management, colleagues etc and self referral should be set out
  • It should recognise that relapses are not uncommon and must provide procedures for cases to be reviewed
  • The circumstances under which an employee should inform their employer that they are taking prescribed medication and how that may affect the way they are able to carry out their work should be covered
  • The policy should provide for strict confidentiality
  • Counselling and treatment has to be part of the policy
  • Training for all those responsible for implementing the policy and for employees so that they understand the policy should be included

Review of the policy

Regular monitoring and reviewing of the policy is vital if it is to be effective

Alcohol and substance misuse is a growing problem that has the potential to rob people not only of their health, but their jobs, their self-respect, their families and their friends.

It can bring untold misery not only to its victims but to others around them.

The introduction of an effective policy is not just good for society but good for business.


1. INDG 91: Drug Misuse at Work - A Guide for Employers (HSE)

2. INDG 240: Don't Mix It (HSE)

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