In my role as a consultant, I often I get calls from managers and union leaders who ask me to evaluate one of their employees. Frequently, they tell me that they believe this person does not have a problem with substances or psychological issues. They might say something like, “They are just having a tough time right now.”
Whenever I hear such a statement, a red flag goes up immediately, even though the person who is communicating this information is probably trying to reassure me that there is nothing wrong. However, it is also possible that they might be trying to influence the outcome of my assessment, so it is favorable to their employee.
There are many well-known people who have struggled with addiction. In fact, some political leaders, actors, directors, and CEO’s, are among the many Americans suffering from addiction. We all read stories about these high-profile individuals on a regular basis. Therefore, why do we still think of an addict as someone who is unshaven, sits on the corner, and speaks to himself holding a brown bag containing a beer? The reality is that only a small percentage of people with substance abuse disorders fall into this category.
People with substance abuse disorders are found in organizations, the corporate boardroom, church leadership, and in the elite world of professional sports. Substance abusers are often highly driven people who seek extremes in life. They not only work in high level positions; their denial can also be on a high level. They may rationalize their use by pointing out to the clinician and others that they are church-going, have a high-powered job, or coach Little League, therefore they couldn’t possibly have a problem.
If the person is addicted to prescription medication, they may rationalize that a medical doctor is prescribing it, therefore it cannot be an issue. For instance, they might say something like, “My doctor says that I need this.” Many doctors are not aware that they are prescribing medication to someone who is addicted.
I recently worked with a financial manager who took a car service from his job to his home, which was about two hours away. He said that the car service guaranteed that he would be in a safe place when he blacked out from what he described as drinking 20 “watered down beers” in one setting. He felt that because the beers were watered down, he couldn’t have a problem.
Many people who are struggling with addiction appear to function well on the outside. However, their family or loved ones often have to deal with the instability, frantic lifestyle, and unpredictability that they bring to their personal life.
Additionally, employers may start to notice changes in the person’s behavior, mood instability, as well as diminished workplace performance.
If you have any concerns that someone might be struggling with addiction, it’s important to contact an experienced substance abuse counselor who can assist the person with getting into treatment.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.