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By Barbara Black
Addiction causes untold damage to personal lives, relationships and careers. It’s expensive, too. In fact, the estimated annual cost to the employer of an addicted person is $10,000, due to lost productivity. Researchers figure that workers with substance abuse problems take three times as much sick leave and make twice as many mistakes as non-abusers.
Roughly 10 per cent of the general population has some form of addiction; between three and four per cent of those people have acute problems. It’s likely that the Concordia community reflects these statistics.
Now the university is offering DARP, a program to help those affected by addiction, through the Employee Assistance Program. Access is on a voluntary and non-monitored basis, similar to access to other EAP services. Roughly seven per cent of employees at Concordia are already using the EAP.
Miriam Posner is a member of the EAP committee.
“Concordia’s program focuses on prevention and education, whereas others have established programs that tend to deal with situations once they have become a labour relations issue,” she said. “In this sense, Concordia’s program is unique.”
No formal structure existed at Concordia to assist employees who might have an addition, Posner said. “It really depended on whether a department agreed to or could financially support an employee seeking treatment.” It has taken some time to get the program off the ground, in part because it is so important to ensure confidentiality.
The idea is to offer preventive information and care before substance abuse becomes an issue in the workplace or at home, and focus on non-monitored referrals rather than last-chance “performance-based” agreements.
Here’s how to tell whether you or someone close to you is developing a drinking problem. Experts consider abuse, for men, 14 standard drinks per week or more than 12 episodes of five social drinks per day over 90 days; for women, this would be nine drinks and more, or more than 12 episodes of four drinks per day over the last 90 days.
In the case of cannabis, use two to three times a week or more is considered abuse; for other drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, speed, etc., abuse means one to three times a month or more.
Many people are users of alcohol. They may have a drink socially or a drink with dinner, but they rarely go beyond a standard drink.
However, some users build up a tolerance to alcohol, drinking more to get the same effect as before. They may drink for the same reasons, but with an increase in physiological need. They may deny they have a problem with drinking, and experience stress in their relationships. Driving under the influence may occur, and their health may deteriorate.
For the full-blown addict, life revolves around drinking or drug use. He or she has withdrawal symptoms and blackouts; there may be damage to the liver, heart, brain or kidneys.
Here’s how you might notice the impact of addiction in the workplace: frequent absenteeism, especially Monday mornings; lack of concentration at work; diminished or changed social interactions with co-workers; decreased quality and quantity of work performed; decreased alertness, especially in safety-sensitive positions (machinery, labs, security); change in appearance and presentation; inappropriate behaviours or work performance.
Managers and colleagues are cautioned not try to act either as therapists or enablers; instead, they should focus on work performance, acting on behaviours as they appear. Once work issues are identified, there are ways to help the employee can rectify the situation.
Concordia’s DARP received full support and commitment from the then Office of Institutional Relations and most recently from the President’s Executive Group.
“If only one employee is freed of addiction, it will have been worth it,” Posner said.
EAP services are provided by the well-known counselling firm Shepell.fgi on a 24/7 basis, with direct access to a front-line counsellor; an employee does not have to leave a message and wait for a call back. If you want to contact the program, please call 1-800-387-4765; for service in French, 1-800-361-5676.