Do you suspect that a team member has a drink or drug problem? Perhaps their work isn’t up to the necessary standard, or their physical appearance suggests a dependence. You might have even seen them under the influence during work. In this article, Rapid Formations look at what you – the business owner – can do to support an employee with a drink or drug addiction.

Why do you think an employee has a problem?

Before you discuss the matter with your employee, which is the only way to genuinely start helping, you must be clear on why you believe they are alcohol or drug dependent. This is an extremely personal issue (even if it is impacting their work) and suggesting this to them, whether they do or do not have a problem, could result in the breakdown of your relationship. Because of this, you should be confident in your judgement that they do have an issue.

Was there a one-off case at an office event or is this the result of a series of incidents? If the former, consider holding off for the moment and instead, closely monitor the situation. If your business has a management team, explain your suspicions to a trusted member (do not tell multiple people) and request that they keep an eye out for behaviour that suggests a problem too.

However, if you are confident that you are correct, the next step is to discuss this with your team member.

Talk to the employee

Arrange a 1-2-1 meeting with the individual in the most private space that you have available in your workplace. When the time comes for the meeting, express your concerns in as sensitive a manner as possible. Set out all the reasons why you have come to this conclusion without accusing them. There’s a fine line between asking someone if they have a problem and telling them that they have one.

Make it fundamentally clear that this is not a performance review, and that work is secondary to their well-being – you just want to offer your support (assuming, of course, that this is true).

How the employee reacts should then inform how you behave, but in all cases, you need to actively listen to what they have to say. Whether they deny that they have a problem or admit to it, you must give them ample room to talk, without interjecting. They may even leave the room.

In instances where the employee denies a dependence on alcohol or drugs, our advice is to again, hear them out, and then apologise for any misunderstanding. You should then suggest that they get back to work (see ‘Follow-up’ below). Now is not the time to discuss their performance any further.

However, if they accept that they do have a problem, ask what you can do to help. You should then consider letting them go home for the day (if they wish to).


Regardless of how your conversion goes, you should follow up with an email, thanking them for their time and sharing links to the below resources (even if they have denied the suggestion):

Alcohol support:

NHS inform – Alcohol

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

We Are With You

SMART Recovery

Drug support:

Drug addiction: getting help


If the employee stated that you were wrong, you should continue to closely monitor the situation looking for further signs of alcohol or drug misuse. If the individual’s performance is suffering, you should attempt to have another discussion with them about this.

However, if these meeting requests are refused (or simply don’t go well) you are within your rights to treat the individual as you would any other employee and take steps to dismiss them for being incapable of doing their job to the required standard – if this is the avenue that you wish to go down.

Of course, if the individual was receptive to your initial discussion and is working to make themselves better, it’s advisable to show a level of understanding and do what you can to help them (generally, employment law views dependence as a form of sickness, if you did want to dismiss an employee with an addiction, you must first give them the opportunity to get better).

Things you can do to help

As well as sharing useful resources, you should discuss with the employee what you and your business can do to support them. Here are a few ways that you can help:

  • Allow the employee to work from home on days in which they are prone to partake in drinking or drug use (for example, Fridays)
  • Remove alcohol from the office or from plain sight
  • Organise team events where alcohol is not involved (or at least not the sole focus)

You should also ask the employee whether they want their colleagues to know about the situation, as an extra level of support could be useful as they strive to recover (this will also explain why some of the above steps have been implemented). You must absolutely respect their wishes regarding this.

Ultimately, it’s up to your employee to take the necessary steps to deal with their drink or drug problem. However, a good manager will do everything they can to support a team member who is on this journey.

Thanks for reading

Dealing with and supporting an employee with a drink or drug problem will be one of the hardest things a business owner will have to encounter. We hope you find this article useful if you ever do find yourself in this situation.

If you have been sitting on a business idea and you’re now ready to turn it into a reality, Rapid Formations can help. Offering a range of company formation packages, starting at only £12.99, they can get you up and running in as little as 3 – 6 working hours. What are you waiting for? Take a look at their company formation package now.



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