Spotting Substance Abuse
/ Author: CLAC Staff
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Spotting Substance Abuse

In the past 18 months, substance abuse has risen dramatically as people have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses of the pandemic. And now that the holidays are upon us, many people who struggle with substance use face additional temptations and triggers, including the presence of alcohol at many functions and the stress of the holiday season. 

How can you spot signs of substance abuse in your colleagues and loved ones, and what should you do about it? 


21% of Canadians will have an addiction at some point in their lifetime.

18.1% to alcohol 

6.8% to cannabis 

4% to other drugs

In Any Given Year

47,000 deaths are linked to substance abuse.

6.4% of males and 2.5% of females will struggle with addiction.

The Pandemic Effect

(April-December 2020)

89% increase in opioid deaths

21% increase in alcohol consumption among Canadians age 18-34


5 Top Heavy Alcohol Use Sectors* 

1. Mining (17.5%)
2. Construction (16.5%)
3. Accommodation, food services (11.8%)
4. Arts, entertainment, recreation (11.5%)
5. Utilities (10.3%)

5 Top Illicit Drug Use Sectors*

1. Accommodation, food services (19.1%)
2. Arts, entertainment, recreation (13.7%)
3. Management (12.1%)
4. Information (11.7%)
5. Construction (11.6%)

Top 5 Substance Use Disorder Sectors*

1. Accommodation, food services (16.9%)
2. Construction (14.3%)
3. Arts, entertainment, 
recreation (12.9%)
4. Mining (11.8%)
5. Utilities (11.5%)

*2019 US numbers


Different drugs have different effects. And some illnesses may look like drug use. Here are some common signs and symptoms of substance abuse to watch out for.


1. Decline in hygiene

2. Sudden weight loss or weight gain

3. Unsteady gait or slurred speech 

4. Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils

5. Flushed skin, inflamed nostrils/runny nose, needle marks


1. Mood swings, angry outbursts, increased conflict
2. Paranoia 
3. Agitation/hyperactivity
4. Sluggishness/lack of motivation 
5. Caginess or oversharing 


1. Lack of concentration/inattention 

2. Increased mistakes/accidents 

3. Not following the rules or safe work practices 

4. Absenteeism/lateness

5. Decreased productivity


1. Unbelievable excuses for behaviour 
2. Financial problems


It can be tempting to do nothing, or to even cover for the person struggling because you don’t want them to lose their job. But by covering things up, you are enabling the impaired person to continue using—harming themselves and others.

4 Dos

1. Do review your company’s internal policies—they may have a specific process.
2. Do document troubling/dangerous incidents (time, date, details).
3. Do talk to your supervisor.
4. Do refer your colleague to the employee and family assistance program (if you have it). You can do it anonymously through a note.

7 Don'ts

1. Don’t cover up their mistakes.
2. Don’t make excuses for them.
3. Don’t take on their responsibilities/give their responsibilities to others.
4. Don’t loan them money.
5. Don’t gossip about them.
6. Don’t try to counsel them.
7. Don’t try to diagnose them.


If you or someone you love has an addiction, CLAC’s case managers can help. If you need help, have questions, or want to speak with a substance abuse case manager, please call 1-877-863-5154 or email All inquiries will be handled in the strictest of confidence.

Access more resources about addiction on the My Health and Wellness page of If you are covered by a CLAC health and welfare benefits plan, you also have free access to LifeWorks, CLAC’s employee and family assistance program provider. You can find the login info on the EFAP page in the My Benefits section of



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