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Home Blog Overcoming the stigma of addiction: Breaking the silence at work

Overcoming the stigma of addiction: Breaking the silence at work

Posted by Mandy Donnison
on 06 Oct 2023

What’s included?

  1. Introduction
  2. Prevalence of addiction in the workplace
  3. How addiction can affect your work
  4. Overcoming the stigma of addiction
  5. Breaking the silence of addiction at work
  6. How can Delamere help with addiction?

The silence of addiction is deafening in the workplace. The pressures of performing, conforming, and adhering to cultural norms means our work selves are often very different to our private personas. 

Very few workers feel capable of opening up to colleagues about their problems. There may not even be an appropriate space to discuss sensitive issues and addiction is still highly stigmatised within our society despite it being the leading risk factor for ill health, disability, and mortality. 

So, what can you do if you’re worried about addiction. How can you overcome the stigma of addiction and break the silence at work? Here, we highlight the problem of substance abuse in the workplace and what staff and employers can do to foster a more open work culture.

Get support for alcohol or drug addiction. Speak to Delamere

Prevalence of addiction in the workplace

If alcohol and/or drug abuse is allowed to continue in the workplace and not addressed by employers it can be harmful to both the business and the employee. According to a US government survey more than 70% of people who are addicted to alcohol or illicit substances continue to maintain employment and to remain functioning¹. 

The number of employees engaging in substance abuse during work hours is also surprisingly high. A survey by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern revealed that 27% of employees said that drug misuse was a problem at work and 60% had experienced problems with staff drinking alcohol. 

Substance abuse costs the UK workplace dearly as these facts from Hygiene UK confirm:

  • 60% of poor performance is related to substance abuse
  • 70% of people who abuse drugs are employed full time
  • 3 million employees turn up for work under the influence every year
  • 1 in 10 small businesses have experienced an employee’s drug taking

The TUC, the Trade Unions’ organisation that protects workers’ rights believe there is no place for drugs and alcohol in the workplace, but that employers should not interfere with people’s private lives. 

How addiction can affect your work

Drinking alcohol to excess or being reliant on drugs has multiple cognitive, emotional, and behavioural impacts on an individual. As a result, one of the most obvious problems for both employee and employer is poor performance and lack of productivity. A recent report showed 42% of employees with substance use disorders believe they are less productive due to their addiction. 

If you are struggling with addiction, you will most likely display these symptoms in the workplace:

  • Decreased performance and ability to carry out tasks
  • Frequently being late or taking time off
  • Severe mood swings, outbursts, or inappropriate responses 
  • Increased isolation due to guilt or shame
  • Slowed reactions or slurred speech
  • Being more prone to accidents and injuries
  • Displaying a negative or apathetic attitude
  • Changes in physical appearance

It can be hard to recognise these signs in yourself while operating under the fog of drink or drugs, but they are difficult to conceal from your work colleagues and employer. If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s important you try to access help. 

Overcoming the stigma of addiction

First, you need to get over the stigma of addiction and understand that it is an uncontrollable brain disease rather than a life choice. We’re often hit with the headlines of how much addiction in the workplace costs employers. But the focus is always on the weeks of missed working hours and lost productivity rather than empathy for the addicted person.

As a result, the person suffering is often forced to feel guilt, self-loathing, shame, and embarrassment.They might be fearful of other people’s reactions and worry that being honest about alcoholism or drug addiction will damage their career. The truth is that people often admire those who are open about their problems and are willing to try to overcome them. 

If you’re working in an environment that makes speaking out difficult you can help to break the stigma of addiction by:

Educating people

Research and read as much about alcohol or drug addiction as possible and spread messages of support to others. You could ask an external resource to come into your workplace to give a talk on substance use disorders or set up an event for an addiction charity or mental health support group. 

Challenge negative stereotypes

If you hear people being negative about drug or alcohol addiction, get armed with the facts and be ready to challenge them. This is just as important in the office as it is outside of work. Social media can be a breeding ground of contempt for addiction and misrepresentation. Be ready to speak out.

Changing the language of addiction

The vocabulary used when discussing addiction is often derogatory and contributes to stigma. Instead of using words like ‘abuser’ and ‘addict’, try saying ‘person with a substance use disorder’. Choosing more appropriate language can help someone to feel understood and be more likely to ask for help.

Breaking the silence of addiction at work

Problems can be compounded if work is the cause of your addiction. How do you tell your boss the pressure of your job is the reason for your drug or alcohol problem? Work burnout has risen sharply since the pandemic as people work longer hours in stressful conditions to combat rising costs, workforce shortages and enforced job changes. 

Job burnout can make people feel overwhelmed and can fuel mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Some workers may turn to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. If you are struggling with addiction, it can be a daunting prospect to break the silence and tell your boss or colleagues about your problem. 

Here are a few pointers to bear in mind before speaking up:

  • Remember, your employer and peers are there to support you. 
  • Research your company’s health and safety policy first.
  • It is highly unlikely you will lose your job – substance use disorders are classed as an illness just like any other health condition.
  • Get an official diagnosis from your GP and a sick note or referral to a respected rehabilitation programme.
  • Tell as many or as few people as you feel comfortable. Your boss should show discretion and let you take time off for recovery. 
  • If you feel unjustly treated you can claim unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.

How can Delamere help with addiction?

The first step is admitting you are no longer in control and need help. At our wellness retreat beside Delamere Forest you can escape the pressures of everyday life and get the tailored support you need in non-judgemental surroundings. We create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all. 

Our purpose-built centre has been specifically designed to meet your needs. We can help you detox from alcohol or drugs from the comfort of your own ensuite room. Your dedicated medical team includes holistic therapists who will work will you to identify the root cause of your problems and develop a future-proof plan for recovery.

Every residential rehab programme is unique to you and your situation. We use a combination of evidence-based psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and somatic healing techniques, including breathwork and meditation, to give you the tools to overcome addiction. 

We actively encourage family and friends to get involved in your treatment. This can include liaising with your employer and keeping them up to date on your progress. You will leave our care with 12 months of ongoing therapeutic support to help you return to work confidently as a changed person with a new outlook on life.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-45, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4725. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012.

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About the author: Mandy Donnison

Mandy manages our admin, HR and finance functions here at Delamere. Find out more about Mandy on our team page.

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