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Substance Abuse’s Impact on Relationships at Work

Interpersonal relationships are between two or more people and can consist of one-on-one interactions in person, via social media or email, in social settings, or the workplace. In the workplace, substance abuse can affect these relationships differently depending upon the nature of the relationship, whether among peers or in a manager/employee relationship.

One of the most obvious ways addiction affects interpersonal relationships is the change in the company an addict keeps. Once drug abuse becomes a habit, the user will choose to remove themselves from family and friends who show concern and surround themselves with other users. This provides a sense of belonging and eliminates questioning, accusing, or accountability to abstain.

Although drug abuse certainly affects familial and significant-other relationship dynamics exponentially, you can draw a parallel to much of the way it affects work relationships.

How Substance Abuse Changes Workplace Interactions

Regardless of the origins of a relationship, drug abuse will negatively impact it in many ways. Relationships between peers will be affected as well as that between managers and employees. Those battling substance misuse may exhibit behaviors that minimize the importance of the relationships or that are destructive to future interactions. Users may disregard their immediate actions and the fallout their behavior will inevitably have moving forward.
These destructive behaviors may include:

  • Neglecting important duties, conversations, or interactions
  • Choosing to use or remain in a drug-related situation over work-related duties and interactions
  • Missing meetings, days of work, or customer-facing interactions
  • Showing no remorse for arguments or disagreements between coworkers or customers

Substance abuse often affects the “social health” of relationships, impacting the quality, longevity, and sustained positivity of previously rewarding relationships.

Emotional Effects of Substance Use

When a user becomes dependent, they may quickly vacillate between calm or happy and volatile either in reaction to the substance or as the result of withdrawal symptoms.
Emotionally volatile behavior may include:

  • Lashing out
  • Losing one’s temper
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to adhere to social-professional norms in the workplace
  • Acting erratically or over-emotional during the workday

When drugs or alcohol are consumed at work, and a person is intoxicated while working, the effects may be different. The addict may engage in inappropriate workplace behavior and act differently than they would if sober with peers, coworkers, and superiors. Additionally, interactions with clients or customers can be negatively impacted or compromised to the point of losing their business.
Some examples of intoxication at work or signs of substance abuse include:

  • Restlessness, agitation, and impulsivity
  • Erratic behavior
  • Sexually inappropriate behavior
  • Speaking loudly or with profanity
  • Argumentativeness or short-tempered
  • Short attention span

Unfortunately, when erratic and inappropriate behaviors make their way into the workplace, it is not long before profits are impacted, customers are lost, and performance drops. This gives management no other option than to consider termination or disciplinary action.

Enabling an Addict in the Workplace

When an addict is a beloved employee, a manager with years in a company, or well-liked among peers and coworkers, it is not as simple as letting that addict go. Unfortunately, this can lead to enabling or making it possible for the behavior (drug use) to continue without repercussion.
Enabling is exhibited as:

  • Transferring the employee to another department or storefront rather than termination
  • Reducing workload or expectations
  • Covering for the person’s mistakes, poor performance, or incomplete tasks
  • Hiding the employee from view when intoxicated
  • Attempting to help by being a friend
  • Making excuses for inappropriate behavior or downplaying

Repairing Relationships at Work

Whether you, a coworker, or a manager at work is exhibiting behavior that indicates substance abuse, it is critical to make a change to save what is left of the workplace relationships. Drug abuse can greatly affect a person’s ability to maintain client and customer relations when intoxicated or fighting withdrawal. When drugs or alcohol become too much to handle on one’s own, it is time to seek help.

Choose the power of psychiatric care, a rehabilitation program, and the knowledge of combating addiction afforded by professionals. Our New York addiction specialists and psychiatrists at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry can help. It is never too late to repair what drugs and alcohol have destroyed.

Featured in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors issue, Dr. Glazer is a recognized Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2015. With Dr. Glazer and the team, you can count on expert care and understanding as you move through recovery.