Employers Work To Cure Addictions
Positive attitude necessary to help workers find support and recover
BY RENÉE HUANG
A once-efficient employee who now misses deadlines. Erratic behavior. Fluctuations in weight, grooming and appearance.
While such signs may indicate a stressed-out employee, Addiction experts say it could also signify a deeper personal battle with Drugs or Alcohol.
One director of an Ottawa policy think tank has noticed less public attention on substance abuse in the past few years, a marked change from the early nineties when Statistics Canada commissioned annual drug surveys. The result, he says is a hole of statistical information on how many Canadians are struggling with abuse at the workplace.
"Since the mid-nineties, rates of use among young people have been climbing; We need to have these numbers to see if we're going to have a mini-crisis on our hands," says Richard Garlick, communications director for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. "When adolescents start experimenting with Drug use in high school and university, they certainly carry these behaviors into young adulthood and into the workplace."
What's also changed in the past 10 years is the prevalence of employee assistance programs, which help organizations deal with internal workplace issues such as Addictions and stress.
"Companies realize it's more profitable to support a worker through recovery instead of just firing them and having to retrain someone New," says Dennis James, director of clinical operations at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
However, employee assistance programs (EAP) were not common enough in the 1980s to help nurse Don Crocock, a recovered cocaine addict from his own personal hell.
During the eighties and early nineties, he would spend lunch breaks from his industrial manufacturing job in St. Catherines drinking and getting high. "I'd head off to a bar and drink a bit and score cocaine there. I never did it at home because I had a wife and kid," says Mr. Crocock, who would often skip off the rest of the day. Today, with the support of his wife, he has been clean since 1993, the same year he started his own union assistance program, after realizing that others could benefit from his experiences.
He and other EAP professionals believe positive attitudes toward substance abuse are necessary for people to find the support and resources they need to recover.
Angelina Chiu is a Toronto-based workplace consultant who helps companies place addicts in appropriate rehabilitation programs and reintegrate them into the workplace.
"The workplace has made tremendous strides in understanding and helping their employees. Before, it was like, 'You're outta here' if you admit to having substance abuse problems," said Ms. Chiu, who worked for the CAMH for 20 years. "Now they [companies] understand that it's an illness. People with Addiction illness are coming out because they know they will be assisted, and they know their job won't be jeopardized."
According to the latest Alcohol and Drugs survey, conducted in 1994, one in four Canadians reported having used an illicit Drug, cannabis being the most popular, at least once in his or her lifetime.
A 1991 study commissioned by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission on addict6ions in the workplace found that 5.2 percent of the province's workforce reported drinking during lunch and other breaks.
The study found that more than 60 percent of Albertan organizations responded to News of an employee's substance use with progressive discipline - ranging from warnings to suspensions and termination - and referrals to professional counseling or medical treatment. At least 46 percent said supervisors would provide counseling to troubled workers.
Mr. Crocok says, however, that many bridges still have to be crossed in brining substance abuse out into the open. He's made it his mission to break down stereotypes of people with substance abuse problems.
"There are still ongoing stigmas... of substance abusers being unemployable," says Mr. Crock who became a certified EAP professional in 1998 and won the CAMH Foundation's Courage to Come Back Award this year. "One of the problems in the workplace is a proportion of people who still look at substance abuse and Addiction as a weakness of character and a lack of moral fiber. I find it very, very distressing"
Tony Colangelo, vice-president EAP and work-life solutions for FGI, Canada's largest EAP provider says many people who approach the company for counseling programs are reluctant to admit a dark affair with substance use. "They talk about stress or marital problems, and then alcohol may come up as a secondary issue," he says. Absenteeism is one of the most common symptoms of a person with Addiction problems, he adds.
In recent years, substance abuse counselors have also noticed a growing number of people with multiple Addictions.
"Alcohol was and is by far the most widely used substance. The change that has occurred over the past 20 years is people are using a more wide range of substances," Mr. James says. "Today people use Alcohol and they will use tranquilizers, Marijuana, Cocaine" as well.
Special to The Globe and Mail
The Globe and Mail, July 24, 2002