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Substance Abuse

A number of construction sites that I am currently working on have sent out lots of information on substance abuse.

It seems to be on the increase. Substance abuse includes alcohol and/or drugs. In any industry drink/drugs and work don’t mix; both impact on brain function reducing levels of awareness and alertness and slowing down reaction times.
Substance abuse

Main points:

  • If you are suspected of being under the influence of drink or drugs at work you will be sent off-site/home and face the possibility of disciplinary action.
  • Ultimately you could lose your job, and a reputation of having a drink/drug problem could make finding other employment difficult.
  • Those under the influence of drink or drugs are not only a risk to themselves but to every employee on site – do not let them put you at risk.

Discussion points:

  • Don’t get drunk the night before and expect to work safely on-site the next day. Alcohol takes time to work its way out of the system. As a rough guide, a single unit of alcohol (a single spirit or glass of wine, or ½ a pint of beer) will take one hour to leave your body.
  • Be aware of the signs of drug use which include watery eyes, pinpoint or dilated pupils, running nose, constant sniffing, tight lips, sores, ulcers, trembling, fatigue and irritability. If you see such signs then report it and help eliminate a serious risk – ignore it and it could be you that gets hurt!
  • Be aware of prescribed drugs as well as illegal drugs. Some prescribed drugs can cause drowsiness, etc – be responsible. If you are on prescribed drugs advise your site manager.
  • Confine your drinking to social occasions where there is suitable recovery time, and if offered drugs just say “no”! As well as creating a risk in the workplace, drink and drug abuse will damage your body.


Physical Signs of Drug Abuse

Changes in Appetite

Some drugs will suppress appetite while others may cause rapid weight gain. If you notice that someone’s weight has changed without explanation, it could mean that they have begun to regularly use addictive substances.

Red Eyes & Dilated or Constricted Pupils

There is often a direct link between chemical alterations of the brain becoming visible through the eyes. Some drugs will cause redness or bloodshot eyes, while some will alter pupil size. It is important to pay attention to people’s eyes, as that is usually a very telling indicator that they may be using drugs.

Needle Marks

People who inject drugs will have marks or small wounds, usually on their arms. These may also appear on the legs, hands, or sometimes even feet. These marks may become infected depending on the cleanliness of the needles used. Scarring may occur through repeated injection at the same spot.

Loss of Interest in Hygiene or Grooming Habits

When drug use becomes a priority in someone’s life, hygiene and outward appearance may become less and less important. Some may forget they haven’t taken care of themselves because of the mental effects of their drug use. Others simply stop caring as their time is consumed by the high and then getting more of their drug so they can get high again.

Signs of Withdrawal or Overdose

If someone is experiencing withdrawal or overdose symptoms, there is a good chance that they may be struggling with addiction. Seeking medical attention is critical in these situations, even if you are unsure of what they’ve taken or if they’re even using drugs. Knowing what withdrawal symptoms and overdose symptoms look like may save someone’s life.

Anxiety or Paranoia

Increased drug abuse can lead to anxiety or paranoia, especially if the drug has left their system and they are experiencing withdrawal.

Environmental Signs of a Drug Problem

Unusual Smells

Some drugs, like alcohol, marijuana, crack, or meth, have distinct smells that individuals may try to cover up. Repeated and constant use will be hard to disguise. You may notice those smells on their clothes, in their car or bedroom, or on their breath or skin.

Finding Drug Paraphernalia

If you find smoking devices, needles, oil vaporizers, or stashes of different devices needed for drug use, you may want to discuss with them as to what those items are and why they have them.

Deodorizers or Incense to Cover Up Smells

Some drugs have very strong smells. You may notice this person spraying areas such as their room or car, wearing very strong cologne or perfume, or even burning candles and incense to cover it. This is concerning especially if this is a new behaviour.

Behaviours to look out for

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Some of the most abused drugs are stimulants or depressants. Excessive use and abuse of these drugs can cause intense highs characterized by hyperactivity and periods of insomnia or intense lows that cause long periods of sleeping or drowsiness. Addictive substances alter the brain’s natural circadian rhythm which can actually cause sleep disturbances well after someone has stopped using the drug.

Noticeably Different Energy Levels

People often use drugs to change the way they feel, whether to increase pleasure or calm anxiety. If you notice that someone has a drastic change in their usual mood, either they are extremely euphoric or drowsy, it could indicate drug use.

Drastic Personality Change

Over time, drug use alters the chemical and functional structures of the brain. This can result in personality changes. Addiction and the intense need for a drug may cause someone who is normally very docile to become agitated and aggressive. Also, stimulant drugs may cause a normally depressed person to appear very energetic or even manic.

Being Dishonest or Sneaky, Hiding Things, or Needing Increased Privacy

Most people are not going to be very public about their drug use, especially if it’s to an illegal substance. You may notice that they are lying about where they are or who they’re with. Maybe their story keeps changing, and they can never seem to be honest about what they’ve been up to. They may try to sneak in or out of the house, try to hide their drugs in their room or car, and they may spend more time alone in their room with the door locked. They may also choose to spend more time than usual away from home to hide their use.

General Lack of Motivation, Energy, or Self-Esteem

Because of the ups and downs involved with drug abuse, you may notice that this person is showing more depressive side effects, especially when they’re coming down from a high. They may choose to sleep all the time or not want to do anything that requires them to be out of reach of their drug. They may be depressed when they are not high or start to look at themselves negatively.

Outbursts, Resentful Behaviour, Intense Irritability, or Mood Swings

Though the drugs themselves may cause a change in mood, they may also display signs of irritability or agitation when they do not have the drug in their system or if they’re running out of ways to get that drug. They may become moody and not want to talk to you or anyone that may notice changes due to drug use.

Forgetfulness, Trouble Concentrating, or Paying Attention

Some drugs may cause impaired memory, inability to focus, or loss of time due to blackouts. These often lead individuals to become forgetful. The fact that drug use can often become a top priority may also cause them to lose interest in any other responsibilities. They may forget about plans or things they were supposed to do. Though being forgetful is not an immediate cause for concern, if you notice that they are suddenly neglecting their responsibilities, forgetting about commitments, or you notice they appear to be spaced out and non-communicative, you may want to pay attention to the other signs.

Financial Problems

Most people struggling with addiction are going to have some form of financial problems considering most, if not all, of their money is supporting their habit. They might have also lost their job due to a lack of productivity. They may show signs of an increased need for money with little explanation as to why. They may either borrow or steal to pay for their drug use.

Increased Defensiveness

They may become defensive when asked about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, or who they’ve been hanging out with. They may especially become defensive if you ask them about drugs or addiction.

Loss of Memory

The areas of the brain affected and changed by drug abuse are the same areas of the brain that control cognition and include learning, memory, and higher reasoning. When drugs are abused, those areas in the brain are altered. This disrupts normal functions and may cause a deficit in memory.

Risky Behaviour

People who abuse drugs or alcohol may also engage in risky behaviour such as combining two or more drugs, risky sexual behaviour, driving while under the influence, or putting themselves in dangerous situations to get more of the drug.

Social Signs that Someone is On Drugs

New Friend Group or Hangout Spots

When someone is sliding into addiction, they tend to hang out with people who also use their drug of choice, or use any kind of substance for that matter. Someone may begin to distance themselves from their old friends or loved ones that may try to get them to stop.

A Decline in Work Performance

If they have a job or career, you may also notice declining performance in the professional aspects as drug use becomes the number one priority. They may no longer be able to focus. There may also be no drive to complete work or perform how they once did, especially if work-related stress is what led to substance abuse in the first place.

Missing Work with No Legitimate Excuse

In order to get high or to hide their drug abuse, people may miss work but have no good excuse as to why. They may have even told you that they were still going to work.

Loss of Interest in Family Activities or Things They Used to Do

Drug use can cause depression or isolation because your loved one doesn’t want anyone to know about their use. They may feel some shame or guilt. The drug may be causing chemical changes to their brain that makes them anxious or reduces their ability to enjoy things that they used to like.

Relationship Problems

Many people struggling with addiction cannot support healthy relationships because their priority is drug use. They may miss important events to get high. They may be deceitful and behave in suspicious ways. They often let drug use get in the way of their relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners.

Legal Troubles

Many people struggling with an addiction have some interaction with the law at some point in their life. This may be because they got caught in possession of a drug, they were selling it, or they may drive while intoxicated and hurt someone.