In North America, most people know someone who either struggles with or has over come addiction. Many types of drugs can trap people and create a slow decay in their lives.
The current issue and focus in the work world is the legalization of marijuana. This will certainly have implications for appropriate use and safety.
However, it seems that many drugs that are already legal have often had far less scrutiny cast on them.
The increase in prescription opioid use has had a massive effect on our culture, both in and out of our work lives. And the impact to families has been massive and negative.
In 2016, 21 million prescriptions were written in Canada alone. Most of these were legitimate and helped to alleviate pain. But many of them also led to full-blown addiction.
Anecdotally, I have seen numerous instances of an individual having an injury or illness and being prescribed an opioid-based painkiller. These same individuals went on to lose their overall well-being, then their careers, then their families.
Similarly, I’ve watched the effects of alcohol slowly debilitate an individual. Going from a young and enthusiastic individual, to gradually increasing their level of depression, altering their moods, and leading to a state of misery that is often projected outwardly to the people who are part of their lives.
In my work as a union representative, I see addiction-related issues on a regular basis. The obvious cases are brought to my attention so that myself and the union can bring the necessary support to help those struggling with addiction overcome their struggles.
The less obvious cases creep up in behaviour at the workplace. Consistent absences, angry outbursts, failing to follow job requirements properly, negative behaviours, health-related issues, and safety concerns do not always account for an addiction issue. But, in combination, they often are symptomatic of addiction.
The conventional war on illegal drugs has by most accounts been an utter failure. The campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s did little to stem the tide of drug abuse and only served to fill our prisons.
Fortunately, with the help of science, we know that the way to win the real war on drugs is by helping people with addictions—not by locking them up as criminals and treating them as if they were unworthy of help.
It can be difficult and intimidating to approach a coworker suffering from addiction. However, it is important to remember that living with an addiction is a miserable experience for the individual too.
If you’re uncomfortable approaching a coworker who you think may be suffering from an addiction, you can always reach out to your employer, or if you have concerns with that, discuss it with your union steward or representative. They can point you to available resources. Many, many people have bravely overcome their addiction with proper help and gone on to live fuller, positive lives as a result.
If there are people in your life who could use help, the first step is talking to them with care and compassion. Fostering the dignity of people in our lives is never an inappropriate impulse.