Alcohol and Drug Addiction Overview

Alcohol and drug addiction is when these substances have control over the person taking and consuming them, as opposed to the over way round, to the point at which it could be harmful. It is thought that as many as 1 in 3 people in the UK are addicted to something.

What are the signs and risks of alcohol and drug addiction?

Signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Often feeling like you need a drink, particularly first thing in the morning
  • Getting into trouble as a result of drinking
  • Comments from others on the amount you drink
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping drinking, such as:
    • Hand tremors
    • Sweating
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Hallucinations
    • Difficulty sleeping

The risks of alcohol addiction include:

  • Accidents and injuries to oneself
  • Reduced fertility
  • Violence and being vulnerable to violence
  • And longer-term illness such as:
    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Various cancers, including mouth cancer
    • Pancreatitis.

Signs of drug addiction include:

  • Continuing to take a drug after it is no longer needed for medical treatment
  • Needing to take increasing quantities of the substance to achieve the same effect
  • Thinking constantly about how to get more of the drug, when you will next be able to take it, etc.
  • Losing interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Borrowing or stealing money to fund the drug
  • Bloodshot eyes or bad breath
  • Complaints from friends, family and colleagues about behaviour changes
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the drug wears off, such as:
    • Hand tremors
    • Sweating
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Hallucinations
    • Difficulty sleeping

The risks of drug addiction include:

  • Exacerbated existing mental health problems, or the onset of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, etc.
  • Hepatitis and HIV if sharing needles
  • Nerve damage
  • Mouth cancer, particularly in the case of methamphetamine addiction.

How is alcohol and drug addiction treated?

Depending on the nature of the addiction and the substance that the person is addicted to, there will be different recommended courses of action, once the person has seen their GP or an alcohol/drug treatment service.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is often recommended and allows the person to talk through how their behaviours and thoughts are linked and what they might be able to do to stop thoughts leading to drug or alcohol-related behaviour.

Medicine can be prescribed, such as in the case of opioid addiction, so that the person can come off their heroin and begin to reduce their intake by using methadone in more controlled quantities.

In the case of alcohol, medication can be prescribed to reduce the person’s urge to drink, or to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Some people attend detox clinics where they stop drinking or using drugs completely in a controlled environment so that they do not come into danger through the effects of withdrawal, which can sometimes be fatal (listed in the previous section).

Group therapy can also help some people with addictions, as mutual support and discussion can help them feel like they are not alone. Mental health issues and feelings of isolation in people with addictions are common and are factored into treatment.

There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for an employee with alcohol and drug addiction:

An employer is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for their employee with alcohol or drug addiction issues under certain conditions:

  • If drug addiction has been caused by long-term prescribed medication, such as opioids for chronic pain.
  • If an existing mental health condition has limited the extent to which they can be held responsible for developing an addiction or dependency (a medical report can determine whether the employer will need to make reasonable adjustments for this underlying condition, for example stress, which may have led the employee to develop alcohol misuse problems)
  • If the employee has developed a condition as a result of their addiction which is covered by the Equality Act, such as depression, anxiety, cancers, etc.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with alcohol and drug addiction?

Employers do not have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with alcohol and drug addiction. However, most employers would want to signpost and support an employee to access professional help for their alcohol or drug addiction. This may include making simple adjustments to support the employees recovery: 

  • Flexible working hours to accommodate medical appointments and the side effects of withdrawal or any other medication which someone with an alcohol or drug addiction may be taking as part of their treatment.
  • Adjustments to duties depending on other conditions or symptoms which may have developed as a result of the employee’s alcohol or drug addiction. For example, an employee reducing their consumption as part of treatment may experience hand tremors which may make operating machinery dangerous.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s alcohol and drug addiction and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work, as well as raising awareness of the risk factors such as stress or other mental health issues which can lead to addiction.
  • Prevention of alcohol addiction if relevant, such as changes to workplace party culture – for example, an open bar at a Christmas party or other celebration.

Alcohol and drug addiction Signposting

We are with you – charity providing free and confidential advice and support via online chat to people with drug and alcohol misuse issues, and raising awareness of the impact of these issues on mental health.

Action on Addiction – charity providing advice, treatment and family support to those affected by all types of addiction, as well as conducting research into treatment and improving the provision of services in the UK (0300 330 0659).

Alcohol Change UK – charity working to create a society free from the negative effects of alcohol and problems such as poverty and homelessness which can result from alcohol dependency. They do this by campaigning for better information, better policy and regulations, new social norms and better support. They signpost the national helpline Drinkline (0300 123 1110).

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