Signs of Drug Use at Work

People who use alcohol or other drugs while they are working may be putting themselves and their colleagues in considerable danger. Knowing how to recognize the signs of drug use at work can help you maintain a safe workplace. It can also help you identify colleagues who may need professional help.

General Signs of Drug Use & Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction are not synonymous terms. Some people are able to use certain drugs without becoming dependent on them. Others, however, may develop an addiction after using a drug just a few times. Drug abuse refers to the misuse of alcohol and other substances. The following are common signs of drug use at work or elsewhere:

  • Slurring speech
  • Glassy eyes
  • Constricted or dilated pupils
  • Impaired coordination
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Acting with uncharacteristic anger or aggressiveness

When a person’s drug use leads to addiction, the individual may exhibit the following signs:

  • Needing to use more of the drug to get the desired effects
  • Using the drug when it is clearly unsafe to do so
  • Continuing to use the drug even after have problems due to prior use
  • Prioritizing drug use over personal and professional obligations
  • Experiencing physical and psychological distress when unable to use the drug

Many (but not all) people who use drugs at work do so because they have become addicted. Addiction can rob a person of the ability to exercise good judgment and resist self-defeating impulses. In other words, signs of drug use at work may also be signs that a person has a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction).

Signs of Alcohol Abuse at Work

Since alcohol is a legal substance in the U.S. for people over the age of 21, some jobs may allow an adult employee to have a beer or another alcoholic beverage at lunch, as long as the person does not become intoxicated. Other jobs may have a strict no-alcohol policy for all employees at all times during the workday.

For purposes of this discussion, we are defining alcohol abuse as any use of alcohol that leads to impairment, violates company policies, or jeopardizes the well-being of the individual or their co-workers. If a person has been using or abusing alcohol at work, they may exhibit signs such as the following:

  • Smell of beer, wine, or another beverage on their breath
  • Glassy eyes
  • Reddening of the cheeks
  • Problems with balance or coordination
  • Making inappropriate “jokes” or comments

Mood changes may also indicate that a person has recently consumed alcohol. If a person has developed alcohol use disorder (which is the clinical term for alcoholism), they may become agitated or irritable when they haven’t had a drink for a certain period of time. Then, once they’ve had that drink, they may suddenly become much more relaxed.

Signs of Opioid Abuse at Work

If a person has been abusing heroin, fentanyl, or another particularly powerful opioid, it’s unlikely that they will be able to function at work. But people who abuse prescription opioids such as Vicodin or OxyContin may use these drugs during the workday. If a person has been illicitly using prescription pills, they may exhibit the following signs of drug use at work:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Frequently drinking water (some opioids can cause dry mouth)
  • Frequently scratching themselves (itchiness can be a sign of opioid addiction)
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Asking to buy or borrow medication that was prescribed to someone else
  • Complaining about physical pain, then later demonstrating no discomfort
  • Having trouble focusing, concentrating, or following conversations

Taking prescription medications as directed by a qualified healthcare provider should not be considered a sign of drug use at work. But if the person continues to take the medication after their medical problem has been resolved, or if they take the pills more frequently or in larger amounts than directed, they may have become dependent on them. 

Signs of Marijuana Use at Work

The following signs may indicate that a person has been abusing marijuana at work:

  • Extreme fatigue or lethargy
  • Memory problems
  • Reddened eyes
  • Giggling or silliness
  • Difficulty with spatial awareness
  • General unsteadiness
  • Pungent, earthy odor

Marijuana is legal in some states, but using this substance while at work is almost universally banned. A person who risks their continued employment (as well as their health and safety) while engaging in this type of drug use at work may have a problem that requires professional help.

Drug Addiction Treatment Options in Birmingham, AL

If a person has become addicted to alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, or certain other substances, they may need to complete a detoxification program before fully engaging in treatment. Detoxification, or detox, is a short-term program that may include both medical and therapeutic support to help a person get through withdrawal. 

After detox, a person’s drug treatment may include residential care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and/or outpatient rehab. Some people will need to spend time in multiple programs, while others may enter and exit treatment at the same level. The following questions can help a person’s treatment team determine which types of care they should receive:

  • Which drug has the individual become addicted to?
  • How long have they been struggling with addiction? 
  • How much of the drug had they been abusing?
  • How has their addiction impacted their life?
  • Is their substance abuse related to untreated trauma?
  • Are they also experiencing any medical concerns?
  • Is their addiction is accompanied by anxiety, depression, or another co-occurring mental health concern?
  • Do they need round-the-clock care?
  • Do they have a stable environment to return to when treatment is not in session?
  • What are their short- and long-term goals?

Find Treatment for Drug Addiction in Birmingham, AL

Birmingham Treatment Center is a respected provider of comprehensive outpatient treatment for adults whose lives have been disrupted by drug use, addiction, and certain co-occurring mental health disorders. Programming options at our drug treatment center in Birmingham, Alabama, include detoxification, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programming, and outpatient rehab. If you have become addicted to alcohol or another drug, The Birmingham Treatment Center team is here for you. To learn how we can help, give us a call or visit our admissions page today.


  • Ian Henyon, LPC

    Having worked in a variety of clinical settings since 2008, Ian brings well over a decade of treatment center experience to the leadership role at Birmingham Recovery Center. As Executive Director, he is responsible for all aspects of BRC’s operations and provision of services. Being firmly grounded in the notion of servant leadership, Ian is focused on establishing a supportive work environment as a foundation for providing superior clinical services to BRC’s clients. Ian combines his extensive knowledge of treating addiction and psychiatric illness with the recognition that addiction is a disorder of the brain, to ensure that all clients are treated with the highest levels of respect and compassion. Ian is a licensed professional counselor. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and he received a Master of Science degree from Prescott College.


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