Addiction and dependence

Alcohol, controlled substances, medicines, cigarettes or gambling - addictions can take various forms. However, they have one thing in common: excessive consumption is dangerous to health. The transition from conscious consumption to addiction is a gradual process. It is therefore all the more important to be aware of your own consumption habits and to talk sensitively to anyone you know who has conspicuous issues with substance use with a view to preventing their situation from deteriorating. 

Dependence and its consequences

Person taking pills from a bottle

The numbers are alarming. In Germany, about 15 million adults aged 18 to 64 have a tobacco addiction, about 3.5 million adults have an alcohol addiction and about 1.9 million adults are addicted to pharmaceuticals. It is important to recognise addiction as a disease that is not of the sufferer’s own choosing. The transition from habitual consumption to dependence is smooth and usually takes place over an extended period of time. The initial positive effects of addictive substance use, such as feelings of pleasure, relaxation and freedom from cares and concerns, gradually wane and make way for abusive consumption. Behavioural changes can be observed in work performance, social behaviour, health and external appearance. The accumulation of individual days of absence, failure to keep appointments, unreliability, strong fluctuations in performance, an increasing willingness to take risks, incomprehensible mood swings, withdrawal and a lack of emotional detachment are all possible indications of substance addiction.   

Why is it important to talk about substance use?

It is not an easy task to talk to people close to you who have problematic substance use. One reason for this is that the person concerned usually has no wish to talk about the subject and their habit is generally associated with feelings of shame or denial. It is not the task of managers, colleagues or family members to diagnose addiction. Instead, they can draw attention to changes in behaviour and how this is apparent in the workplace or in private surroundings.   

1. Each of us has a role model function
You can set an example through your own approach to dealing with substances. If you draw attention to unusual behaviour and intervene at an early stage, you are representing a healthy lifestyle.
2. You work against the “taboo subject”
By informing yourself about approaches to addictive substance use and its consequences and speaking transparently about it, you are demonstrating an open, non-judgemental attitude towards your fellow human beings.
3. You promote thinking about substance use
By talking to your fellow human beings and demonstrating an open mind, you can help people you know to reconsider their own previously unreflective consumption and perhaps even reduce it.
4. You offer yourself as a discussion partner
Through your open and empathetic manner, you can help affected people to put aside their inhibitions and open up to you. You offer them the opportunity to overcome their fear or shame and have the confidence to talk about their addiction or their use of addictive substances.

As a manager, how do you address employees who are conspicuous users of addictive substances?

If there is a suspicion that conspicuous behaviour in the workplace might be related to an addiction problem, the manager and the person concerned should discuss the matter together.  

Describe conspicuous behaviour
Clearly and openly state the reason for the conversation and describe your observations in the workplace; you might say something like "I get the impression that you’re not in the best of health at the moment. I’ve noticed for some time that your hands are shaking and you seem very tired and unfocused" or "I’ve noticed that you’ve missed quite a few appointments in the last couple of weeks". Mention your suspicion that the abnormal behaviour might be related to substance abuse and, if possible, name the place, time and frequency.
Point out expectations and consequences
State what you expect of the employee and provide them with references to the company agreement or any other relevant guidelines as well as pointing out possible consequences under labour law.
Suggest possible sources of help
Offer your support and discuss possible sources of help. Point out how the company can provide support in the form of access to external employee counselling, a company doctor or an addiction counselling centre, for example. However, you should also emphasise the individual responsibility of the person concerned. Whether they seek help or not is a matter for them.
Come to an agreement
Come to a concrete agreement and schedule an obligatory follow-up meeting. Also make a note of the conversation to ensure comprehensible and transparent communication.

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